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Story Behind the Song: Little Feat's Classic Rock Staple 'Dixie Chicken'

"Dixie Chicken," a classic rock staple by Little Feat, went on to define the Southern music-loving Californians and inspire the former Dixie Chicks' name.

Lowell George, Little Feat's primary guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, co-wrote the future standard with Martin Kibbee (billed as Fred Martin). It tells of a visitor to the Commodore Hotel who goes from thinking he's met the love of his life to pouring his broken heart out to a bartender. They soon learn that other barflys at the hotel had been let down by the same potential suitor.

"Lowell and I had been up all night trying to write a song. We had the Ace Screen Door factory down on Laurel Canyon. As I was leaving, there was a chicken place with a sign that said, 'Dixie chicken,'" Kibbee later recalled in an interview. "He'd been playing the damn thing all night, you know, [imitates riff], which was going through my brain. By the time I got home, I had written this song. When I came back the next morning to the rehearsal hall at the Warner Bros. soundstage, I went, 'I've got it! I've got it!' And they all looked at me like, 'Puh-leeze, you're kidding!'"

Dixie Chicken became the title of the group's third album. Its 1973 release came at a time of transition for the band. Prior albums Little Feat (1971) and Sailin' Shoes (1972) sold poorly, and the group's lineup had become a revolving door. Two new members (guitarist Paul Barrere and congas player and percussionist Sam Clayton) shored up the band's New Orleans R&B/funk sound, while Kenny Gradney replaced original bassist Roy Estrada, who'd left to join Captain Beefheart's Magic Band. These newcomers teamed with keyboardist and synthesizer player Bill Payne, drummer Richie Hayward and George for the remainder of the '70's.

Noteworthy songs beyond Dixie Chicken's title track include Allen Toussaint's  "On Your Way Down," instrumental jam "Lafayette Railroad" and George compositions "Fat Man in the Bathtub," "Roll Um Easy" and "Kiss It Off."

"Dixie Chicken" wasn't an overnight success, but its fame grew after subsequent albums (namely million-selling live LP Waiting For Columbus (1978)) gained new fans hungry to hear Little Feat's earlier material. Once momentum was in Little Feat's favor, "Dixie Chicken" became easy pickings for rock radio.

It still hooks in listeners to this day because it's a Los Angeles-based band's earnest exploration of the great Southern music to come out of Memphis and New Orleans, highlighted by George's slide guitar solo and the backing vocals of roots rock icons Bonnie Raitt and Bonnie Bramlett.

Raitt, Emmylou Harris and Jesse Winchester joined Little Feat during a 1977 episode of the Midnight Special for a proto-jam band rendition of "Dixie Chicken" that captures the song's jazzy appeal even better than its classic studio version.

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When it came time for the pre-Natalie Maines Chicks to name their bluegrass band back in 1989, they picked Dixie Chicks as a homage to "Dixie Chicken." The Dixie Chicks got shortened to The Chicks on June 25, 2020 because of the term Dixie's Civil War connotations.

George died on June 29, 1979 while touring in support of solo album Thanks I'll Eat It Here. Little Feat's original 10-year run had recently ended due to creative differences.

Little Feat returned in 1987 and remain active. The second time around, they've crossed paths with country music, most famously through Travis Tritt collaboration "Bible Belt."

"Dixie Chicken" Lyrics

I've seen the bright lights of Memphis
And the Commodore Hotel
And underneath a street lamp I met a Southern belle
Well she took me to the river, where she cast her spell
And in that Southern moonlight, she sang a song so well

If you'll be my dixie chicken, I'll be your Tenessee lamb
And we can walk together down in dixieland
Down in Dixieland

Well we made all the hot spots. My money flowed like wine
Then that low down Southern whiskey began to fog my mind
And I don't remember church bells or the money I put down
On the white picket fence and boardwalk of the house at the edge of town
But boy do I remember the strain of her refrain
The nights we spent together, and the way she called my name

If you'll be my Dixie chicken, I'll be your Tenessee lamb
And we can walk together down in dixieland
Down in Dixieland

Well it's been a year since she ran away
Yes that guitar player sure could play
She always liked to sing along
She's always handy with a song
Then one night in the lobby of the Commodore Hotel
I chanced to meet a bartender who said he knew her well
And as he handed me a drink he began to hum a song
And all the boys there, at the bar, began to sign along

If you'll be my Dixie chicken, I'll be your Tenessee lamb
And we can walk together down in dixieland
Down in Dixieland

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Story Behind the Song: Little Feat's Classic Rock Staple 'Dixie Chicken'