Fat Man in the Bathtub
Music/Lyrics: Lowell George
Vocals: Page (lead); Mike, Trey (backing)
Original Artist: Little Feat
Original Album: Dixie Chicken (1973)
Historian: Scott Bernstein (ScottyB)
When Little Feat was at its best, the band blended complex rhythms, multiple styles and time signatures not only within the same song, but often within a few measures. Take the case of “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” one of the band’s signature originals, which features elements of funk, blues, doo-wop and Latin music underneath Lowell George’s gritty vocal delivery.
George’s lyrics tell the sad tale of protagonist “Spotcheck Billy,” who seems to be suffering from a lack of sex or drugs or both, depending on your view. Some have said that the song is an autobiographical account; that George is the “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” while others theorize that Lowell was referring to one of his many famous musician friends.
Little Feat first recorded “Fat Man in the Bathtub” for 1973’s Dixie Chicken, the band’s first album with Kenny Gradney on bass, Paul Barrere on second guitar and Sam Clayton on percussion. “Fat Man” saw its first live action in ‘73 and remained a staple of the group’s live repertoire throughout every period of their career.
Little Feat, “Fat Man in the Bathtub” – Pinkpop Music Festival, The Netherlands, 1976
“Fat Man” was the first song off of Waiting for Columbus Phish actually performed as their musical costume on 10/31/10, following a pre-recorded version of “Join The Band” and an introduction from Trey’s brother-in-law, Kevin Statesir. While both original guitarists – Paul Barrere and Lowell George – utilized slides in Little Feat’s live versions of the tune, Trey simulated their tones without using a slide by boosting the treble on his amp.
Though Halloween marked the Phish debut of “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” the quartet had actually attempted to learn the song in an early band rehearsal in Burlington, VT, according to David Fricke’s essay in the Waiting for Columbus Phishbill.
Phish, ”Fat Man in the Bathtub” – 10/31/10, Atlantic City, NJ
On 12/30/10, "Fat Man in the Bathtub" became the first WfC composition to be performed by Phish after Halloween, when it appeared in the first set after another Bathtub-related song – "Bathtub Gin." Clocking in at 5:32, the 12/30/10 version was extended a tad more than the Halloween take, with Fish laying down Richie Hayward's drum parts as well as some of percussionist Sam Clayton's fills that were handled by Giovanni Hidalgo on 10/31/10.