Happy Anniversary; Little Feat, Representing the Mambo
26 years ago today, Little Feat released their ninth and final studio album for Warner Brothers, wrapping up a 19-year stint on the label which featured some of the band’s most iconic work.
Representing the Mambo was the second album by Little Feat 2.0, as it were, which is to say that it was the band’s second album with former Pure Prairie League frontman Craig Fuller serving as the band’s lead singer, but after the success of 1988’s Let It Roll had confirmed that fans of the Feat were comfortable with someone else stepping into Lowell George’s shoes, it was hardly a surprise that the band would return to the studio again.
“Texas Twister,” the first single from Representing the Mambo, was a huge radio hit, topping Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart, but as for the album itself, Bill Payne told Rhino a few years ago that at least one notable rock critic wasn’t exactly in love with the title.
“Once during an interview, Ben Fong Torres asked me, ‘What were you thinking?’” said Payne, laughing. “And I looked at him and laughed, and I said, ‘Are you talking about Representing the Mambo?’ He said, ‘Yeah!’ I said, ‘Aren’t you interested in how I knew what you were talking about? Look, Ben, I wanted to prove that we could turn left on a dime.’ When I realized we were a little too artsy with it – I’m not denigrating the song at all, but just in terms of Warners and public perception – I said, ‘If we’d called that record Texas Twister, I don’t know what would’ve happened, but I’d bet we would’ve probably been okay in terms of a good follow-up to Let It Roll.’ He says, ‘Yeah, but do you think that would’ve helped?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I do. Perception is everything.’ Perceptions and expectations.”
With that said, however, Payne did take the possibility of changing the title very seriously, to the point where he asked Little Feat’s longtime cover artist Neon Park to work up alternate artwork in case the album did end up being released as Texas Twister.
“I’m glad we put it out as Representing the Mambo, but I knew enough to think, ‘Gee, what if we’d done something different?’” admitted Payne. “And Neon indulged me on that, which I thought was quite cool.”
We’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention that Park’s contributions to the album weren’t limited solely to the cover art: he also contributed to the songwriting.
“I got him to help us write ‘Representing the Mambo,’” said Payne. “‘The new crowd says I remind them of Frank / Who died of excessive nymphets / In Barcelona,’ that was one of his lines. And so was the bit about high-heeled stilettos (in “Down in Flames”). So he could write as well as paint.”
In the wake of releasing Representing the Mambo, Little Feat decided to depart their longtime label home in favor of being the flagship band on Morgan Creek Records. Alas, the experience didn’t end up being everything they’d hoped it would be – in a 1993 interview with the Daily Press, guitarist Paul Barrere admitted, “It was kind of the old story of the grass looking greener on the other side of the fence, really” – but that didn’t stop the Feat: they just sailed on.