Sailin' Shoes

Originally Performed ByLittle Feat
Original AlbumSailin' Shoes (1972)
Music/LyricsLowell George
Phish Debut2010-10-31
Last Played2010-10-31
Current Gap535
HistorianMartin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)


The “cocaine tree,” formally known as Erythroxylum coca, is actually a diminutive shrub typically no more than seven to ten feet in height. This seemingly insignificant form of plant life native to western South America – the primary object of Lowell George’s “Sailin’ Shoes” affection – is the source of one of his favorite psychoactive alkaloids. This alkaloid is the substance that in the end may have played a lead role in Lowell’s early demise, and ultimately could lead to the fall of American society itself as a consequence of our government’s farcical “War on Drugs.” Despite its long history of beneficial use as Andean entheogen, anaesthetic medicine, and the party drug of choice for “rock stars” worldwide, ”cocaine is a hell of a drug.”

Phish, ”Sailin’ Shoes” – 10/31/10, Atlantic City, NJ

“Sailin’ Shoes” is the title track to Little Feat’s second album, which was originally entitled Thanks, I’ll Eat it Here, which in turn was ultimately the title of Lowell George’s solo album released shortly before his untimely passing. The 1972 Sailin’ Shoes version of “Sailin’ Shoes” is a simple folksy blues drawl that features backing vocals from Debbie Lindsey. Though the pole, line, and hole metaphors are unmistakable, it still evokes images of lazily paddling downstream on a Mississippi bayou with a special lady friend on the way to do some fishing. The 1978 Waiting for Columbus version by contrast has the languid fluidity of a levee failure-induced mudslide skidding toward its turbulent and raunchy terminus on the back wall of a New Orleans brothel. It is slow, it is sticky, and there is some nasty stuff sliding all over the place. 

The version that Phish performed during their Waiting for Columbus Halloween costume set, is unlike either one of the above. Not surprisingly – considering their familiarity with his cover of “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” – they opted for the further funked up version of “Sailing Shoes” released by Robert Palmer as the first track on his debut solo album in 1974. The Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley version of “Sailing Shoes” features Lowell George on guitar and New Orleans funk legends The Meters as Palmer’s backing band. It is this “more dance, less stagger” style that Phish emulates. Mike provided lead vocals for the Atlantic City Phish version and subsequently performed the tune as a funky second set staple during Mike Gordon Band shows throughout their fall 2010 tour. 

Mike Gordon Band, ”Sailin’ Shoes” – 11/6/10, West Hollywood, CA

Considering Mike’s apparent affinity for the tune it is a strong candidate to be the Halloween cover song that enters the regular Phish rotation. Considering what they have done with “Sally” in the past, the potential is there for everyone to cheer when they next break out the pole, lay it on the line, and put on their “Sailin’ Shoes.”

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