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Lowell George (1945 – 1979)

July 6, 2012

This isn’t an extremely late obituary so much as an honour to one of the best rockers to ever

strap on a Stratocaster.  Last week marked the 33rd anniversary of Lowell George’s death.

 

Before he picked up a guitar, though, this son of a chinchilla farmer picked up a harmonica.

At age six, he and his brother Hampton appeared on Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour.

The harp proved to be a gateway instrument.  George learned guitar at age 11, then got into

sitar and saxophone.  He mastered the flute at Hollywood High School, where he met Paul

Barrere.

 

George joined a rock band called The Factory when he was 20.  Richie Hayward was the

drummer.  The group’s main triumphs were an appearance on the sit-com F Troop, and

having two of their songs produced by Frank Zappa.

 

When The Factory split up, George played briefly with the Standells, of “Dirty Water” fame,

then with Zappa’s Mothers of Invention.  George claimed Zappa let him go because he wrote

the song “Willin'”, which has drug references (“if you give me weed, whites and wine…”).

 

So George founded the legendary Little Feat with Hayward, Mothers bassist Roy Estrada

and keyboardist Bill Payne, who had auditioned for the Mothers.  Zappa helped them land

a recording contract.

 

Little Feat’s first album featured “Willin'”, and it went on to become one of the band’s

signature songs.  Linda Ronstadt would later cover it.   But George couldn’t play the

slide guitar part due to a hand injury.  Ry Cooder did the honours.  George re-recorded

it on the group’s second album, Sailin’ Shoes.  Its title song also referenced drugs (“gee,

that cocaine tree look fine”).

 

The band broke up in 1972, then regrouped.  Kenny Gradney replaced Estrada, Sam

Clayton joined on percussion, and George’s high school friend Barrere added his guitar.

Dixie Chicken, their third album, became a fan favourite, as did the title song.

 

Little Feat did three more studio albums and a classic live double album, Waiting for

Columbus.  They started another one in 1979, but there was a lot of tension among the

members.  Payne and Barrere were moving toward jazz fusion, and George wasn’t in-

terested.  He had gained a lot of weight and his health was declining.

 

Just before his death, George said the group had disbanded.  He planned to reunite it

without Payne and Barrere.  But 11 days later, while on tour to promote his solo album

Thanks, I’ll Eat It Here, he died in his hotel room.  Cause of death was listed as a heart

attack; but his weight, past drug abuse and the grind of the road likely figured in.

 

His ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean.

 

Wikipedia lauds George “for his idiosyncratic genius, for crafting sophisticated and lyrics;

writing memorable songs, and for his high production standards.  He is also remembered

for his exuberant, unique slide style, which featured sustained, ringing legato lines.”

 

Little Feat is still around.  Payne, Barrere, Gradney and Clayton are still in it.  They

have a new album out this year.  On October 31, 2010, Phish performed all the songs

from Waiting for Columbus at their annual Halloween concert.

 

Please share George’s phenomenal talent with this and this.

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2 Comments
  1. Gordon permalink
    July 6, 2012 11:38 am

    Had no idea that’s where Ry Cooder got his start. Great reading as always.

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