Lowell George, Little Feat's front man and founder, passed away on June 29, 1979 and we all miss him and his nasty slide guitar. This writer had the good fortune to see the Fat Man play two nights at New York's famed Bottom Line only days before his fateful passing. Lowell was touring on his first and only solo effort Thanks I'll Eat it Here, a soulful compilation of songs that allowed Lowell to stretch his chops beyond the jazzy, keyboard jams Little Feat were experimenting with at the time (see i.e. "Red Streamliner" or "Day at the Dog Races").
He was a consummate show man and adored the band he tirelessly helped found. He had very little of that "ego" that plagued most rock stars and that was a quality about him that I found most satisfying. He was down to earth, earnest, funny and his performances highlighted this personality trait. He often told the story on stage about a time when he first met Howlin' Wolf. When Lowell finally got up the gumption and courage to introduce himself backstage to the R&B legend and offered him his guitar to play that evening, Wolf's curt response was: "….f#*k off kid!". Needless to say, the audience went nuts!!
His shows with Little Feat were nothing less than electrifying. He would sing a verse, back away from the mic and pull out a glass slide of some sort, and lean his body into a screeching jam that left little doubt about who was the pre eminent guitar player of his era. Then he would casually walk off stage to allow the band to kick it it another gear and then after 5 minutes or so, would scurry back and finish the song without missing a beat. Lowell was picked by Frank Zappa to be a member of the Mothers of Invention before he formed Little Feat. Just for grins, pick up Burnt Weeny Sandwich/Weasels Ripped My Flesh and listen for George's early guitar solos and be prepared to hear the trappings of what would become quintessential late 70's guitar driven rock and roll. What struck me most of Lowell's genius however was not only his guitar playing, but also his efforts at producing albums that embraced his musical universe before it was cool to be into reggae, cajun/creole zydeco, and straight rhythm and soul.
He produced the Grateful Dead's Shakedown Street and gave the Dead a real straight ahead rhythmic pulse that translated perfectly to their live shows. Little Feat also backed up early Robert Palmer albums such as Sneakin Sally Thru the Alley and the Jamaican tinged reggae offering Pressure Drop. All albums that travel way below the radar and sound as fresh and inspiring today as they did when they were recorded. It certainly is hard to miss someone who has been gone for as long as Lowell has – who left us with so little fanfare. Another casualty of the too much excess, too long on the road syndrome.
He was no icon but he did not need to be. He played music for himself and his fans and I am not ashamed to admit that I was one of them. His music came "Straight From the Heart" and it went straight into ours. I find it hard not to think of him and what could have been if only… and then I'll pop on a Bonnie Raitt CD and listen for that signature slide and just smile.
But what would probably make lowell happiest if he were here today would be a listen to his daughter, Inara George's new album The Bird and the Bee a breezy, cool, pop album that has a little of that early 60's psychedelic feel. Inara is relatively new on the music scene and I am sure if she just channels a little of that Waiting for Columbus mojo she'll do just fine. I am just not sure that I can wait any longer without hearing some of that down home country boogie beat Lowell made so well. And miss so bad.