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Vinyl Tap: Lowell George – Thanks I’ll Eat It Here

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I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #39:

The death of a musical artist, whether of the emerging or the resurgent kind, seems especially unfortunate if you’ve seen him or her in person not too long before the demise. Because I had seen, as a kid back in 1966, a lively and spirited Bobby Fuller (“I Fought The Law,” "Let Her Dance") in an in-store appearance a few weeks before he was mysteriously found dead in a parked car in Hollywood, I personally found the controversial "suicide" theory implausible. And in seeing Roy Orbison in concert at the Arizona State Fair in 1988, a few months before he died of a heart attack, I shared a virtually communal experience with an audience of well-wishers happy to see a deserving pioneer in a triumphant comeback not only with the Traveling Wilburys but also with new solo album, Mystery Girl.

Lowell George, founding member and leading light of Little Feat, also succumbed to a fatal heart attack, in 1979, just as he was embarking on a promising solo career. While I didn’t see any of his early solo performances, I did catch one of the last Little Feat concerts — in their original incarnation — the year before at Santa Barbara’s Arlington Theater, just a two-block walk from where I lived at the time. It was a potent mix of the jazz-fusion direction of latter-day Little Feat and earlier George-led Dixie Chicken-style Feat – the eclectic retention of funk, R&B, country, blues, and pop that marked and was upheld in George’s first and only solo LP.

Indeed, Thanks I’ll Eat It Here sustains the lingering and bittersweet memories of that last show with an alternately celebratory and melancholic collection of songs that spotlights the soulful and silky fluidity of George’s vocals. That smooth sublimity is at a zenith in a cover of Allen Toussaint’s “What Do You Want The Girl To Do” and Ann Peebles’ “Can’t Stand The Rain.” A little more spunk and fun is found in Rickie Lee Jones’ “Easy Money,” while the off-kilter novelty of Jimmy Webb’s “Himmler’s Ring” adds a little vaudevillian spice to the variety.

But George shows he's more than a fine interpreter of some choice material. In addition to a punchy reprise of “Two Trains” from Dixie Chicken, George had a hand in writing or co-writing some other highlights, including the horn-backed, funky-but-chic “Honest Man,” and the quirky south-of-the-border tale “Cheek To Cheek.” The stand-out track, however, is the affecting “20 Million Things,” which wistfully reminds us of the distracting and transitory nature of life:

    If it's fix a fence, fender dents
    I've got lots of experience
    Rent gets spent
    And all the letters never written don't get sent
    It comes from confusion, all things I left undone
    It comes from moment to moment, day to day
    Time seems to slip away…

In effect — moment to moment, track to track — Thanks I’ll Eat It Here helps recapture a little of the time that slipped too easily away with Lowell George's death, though it must leave behind "all things [he] left undone."

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch

  • Mark Saleski

    nice one gordon. hmmm, even though i’m a huge Little Feat fan, i’ve never bought this particular record. gonna have to remedy that, because i’m dying to hear George’s take on “Easy Money”.

  • JC Mosquito

    I came to Little Feat only wthin the last ten years – what a wonderful band, and LG’s death is a loss in magnitude with that of Gram Prsons. Picking up his solo work is as necessary as adding in Parson’s solo albums with the Flying Burrito Brothers.

  • d alper

    Great piece about someone WAY under our musical radar. I saw lowell (small caps) perform both as a solo act and with the Feat but sadly, not with Zappa and the Mothers. I guess what made him so unique was his ability to boogie bi coastal. By that I mean he was a child of Topanga Canyon but called the NY -Baltimore-D.C. corridor his adopted home. But to truly appreciate his musical prowess just listen to the music he produced/co starred in for
    others. I.e. Robert Palmer’s Sneakin Sally album oozed lil feats signature boogie rhythms as did Palmer’s follow up sophomore offering Pressure Drop. And need we forget, the Deads’ Shakedown Street was signature lowell, even with the few, throw away, barely listenable tunes included. Lowell’s real genius was in his live performances. I think the author Gordon was as taken aback as I was after he had the good fortune to see him live. Lowell was, at all times on stage,a conductor, band leader, singer, virtuoso slide guitarist, story teller, and down right friendly! He will always be missed, and as long the Gordon Hauptfleishs’ of the world keep him in our collective conscious, we’ll be humming Can’t Stand the Rain in the shower for a long time coming.

  • http://www.gohah.blogspot.com Gordon L Hauptfleisch

    Thanks all for the comments. I’m now into Little Feat mode–I’ll be pulling out the old LPs and most likely picking up a remastered CD of “Waiting For Columbus,” a fine live album with bonus tracks.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/cristofer_gross Cristofer Gross

    Wonderful to read about my favorite band in someone else’s copy. George was — with the exception of Mr. Hendrix – the biggest loss of the prematurely departed ’70s rock figures. Those of us who remember, know that the great legends of Morrison and Joplin weren’t on the creative upsurge anymore. George never peaked. Your review of his last lp is testament. If you haven’t heard “Hoy Hoy,” you should get that one. And the tribute record from a few years back’ll warm the heart. I’ve seen a Bonnie Raitt quote calling Lowell “The best singer, songwriter and guitar player I’ve ever heard, hands down” and one from Jackson Browne labeling him “the Orson Welles of Rock.” Admittedly, those quotes are old. But then, so am I. The point I wanted to add to the sentiments above, is that anyone who stopped buying Feat lps in 1979 (as I did until the 1990s) should pick up where they left off. The band is still a tribute to its own prowess. There aren’t better players at their positions than Payne on piano, Hayward on drums and Gradney on bass. And the singing of Payne and Barrere still brings the children home. And, as for co-singer Shaun Murphy, if you need to check her credentials for membership, just listen to ‘Cadillac Hotel’ off “Ain’t Had Enough Fun.” Finally, there’s a lovely song on “Let it Roll” called “Hangin’ On to the Good Times” that is a great post-George soundtrack to this discussion. It may or may not be about him. I’ve never looked into it. But I’l always believe it is.

  • d alper

    P.S.
    I just noticed you recently Vinyl Tapped Dave Alvin’s West of the West. I saw Dave and his Band here in NYC about a month ago and he was great! Blew out the rafters of the Bowery Ballroom. But the one thing that got my goat was….no lowell on his album. Who better to cover as a West Coast rocker dude than the fat man himself? (props to j fed!)

  • http://www.vassargroup.com Rick Vassar

    Waiting for Columbus may be one of the best live albums of all time, although Eat A Peach (Allman Bros.) was great too.

    I must confess that one of my all time bonehead moves occurred in 1979. I believe Lowell George was playing @ Meriweather Post between DC and Baltimore. I got a call about 4PM that afternoon from a friend whos said he had an extra ticket. I didn’t have the cash so I told him I would catch him the next time around. Less than 12 hours later, he was dead.

    I should have learned my lesson from a few years before that, because I did the same thing with Skynyrd.

    My wife and I saw Little Feat about 15 years ago with the guy from P. Prairie league fronting. We weren’t expecting much, but they were actually pretty good.

  • Gordon L Hauptfleisch

    d alper: I can imagine how great Dave Alvin live could be. The Blasters were fantastic in concert back in the day. And I agree, California native Lowell George would’ve been a good choice for West of the West.

  • Gordon L Hauptfleisch

    Cristofer, thanks for the evocative comment–I agree George was still on the creative upsurge when he died.

    Rick: I’m sure you were kicking yourself after missing out on seeing that last Lowell George show. He was still in his thirties–who knew?

  • STM

    I discovered Lowell George through this album in the late ’70s? through a mate who was a fan. Many hours of joy, there was, and good memories. Thanks, Gordon, for jogging them.

    Unfortunately, I gave it away with most of my vinyl in the late ’80s, thinking there’d be no use for them and set about replacing everything with CDs.

    Some of the stuff that went included the rare Radio Birdman album and the Allman Brothers’ Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas, a whole heap of Rolling Stones, Beatles and Led Zeppelin and other assorted rockers, including the New York Dolls, Ramones and Mink De Ville – not to mention some rare reggae albums featuring session musicians recorded in Kingston, the first of Midnight Oil’s albums and an early INXS EP/single that is virtually impossible to get now.

    Wish I’d known.

  • Gordon L Hauptfleisch

    STM: I know how you feel–I’ll always rue the day I sold some collectibles to pay the rent. I should’ve slept in the street. I think I still have a promo copy of Radio Birdman, though, and the Stones’ Some Girls with the original uncensored cover. Thanks.

  • Jim

    Thanks…I’ll comment here. This is a pretty good album, it sort of completes the Feat collection quite nicely.
    Two Trains, Easy Money, 20 Million Things are just a few that really made sit up and take notice.
    It’s not quite as polished as a LF album, but it does the trick. If your a Lowell George fan I can honestly say you’ll like it.