The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

The Big Heart and Soul with Little feet Feat

Well, they say -- time loves a hero.
But only time will tell.
If he’s real, he’s a legend from heaven.
If he ain’t, he’s a mouthpiece from hell.
--Bill Payne, Paul Barrere, Little Feat

In Hollywood, California, on the 13th day of April, 1945 -- while WWII was winding to a close, a star is born; albeit Lowell Thomas George was to become the meteoric stellar variety.

Don't you know, yeah yeah,
Don't you know that you are a shooting star,
Don't you know, don't you know.
Don't you know that you are a shooting star,
And all the world will love you just as long,
As long as you are.
--Paul Rodgers, Bad Company

Why'd You Do That Fur?

His father ran the Willard H. George Company Furriers store, of which the architecture and furnishings were in fabulous Art Deco style at 3330 Wilshire Boulevard, and he expanded to 2 other stores as well. Rich movie stars, producers, and studios bought his Chinchilla products. They even owned a ranch outside of town that was sold to Howard Hughes. Home was on Mulholland Drive between Laurel Canyon and Woodrow Wilson Drive, where celebrities often socialized with him and some went hunting with him like next door neighbor, Errol Flynn, comedians W.C. Fields and character actor Wallace Beery.

He had a brother, Hampton, who would later be deployed to Viet Nam after joining the army. Flynn's pet monkey used to hassle George as he recalled: "He used to spot me eating an apple, swing across the telephone wires, drop down, steal the apple and run." Nearby acquaintance, Martin Kibbee said of George, “He was born under a bad sign – the Hollywood sign.”

The young Lowell would use customer service charms and his tony upbringing (they lived in the hills above Grauman's Chinese Theater) to his benefit when working with the music industry a few decades later. In his lyrics later, he would use humor learned from some of those he might of met as a child, and a musical style that mixed big city sophistication with a love of 'down home' tunes. Later Warner Brothers' Van Dyke Parks would comment on this in Lowell's song "Fat Man in the Bathtub", "You see the physical comedy in Lowell George that you get from Buster Keaton. It's the tragicomedy of man in crisis - that's what Lowell did for me."

Harmonikinder

His musical start was at five playing the harmonica; his mother Florence, the pianist always encouraged her sons in this direction. He recalled in one of his last interviews that he was:

Taking lessons and learning all the notes. A teacher taught me how to read music, and all the time I was faking it... playing by ear. He'd say, "Hold that note." And I'd go humm. And he'd go, "No, that's not it." And then I would say, "You play it first..." which in terms of reading turned out to be a real drag. I never really did get to read a whole lot until I started playing flute and then... Music education at this stage is way out of the hands of the Board of Education.

Most kids learn to play music completely disassociated from school. They learn in another place. They learn from private teachers if they're classically oriented and they learn from records if they learn how to play... other kinds of music. The elementary school system has almost no business trying to teach music. Only at the college level does it ever get anywhere... maybe one out of fifty kids get some kind of information that is useful later.
His first onstage performance was part of a duet with brother Hampton on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour at the ripe old age of 6. They also were on the local Al Jarvis Talent Show on KLAC-TV where George would prophetically be in the same contest as Frank Zappa and his ventriloquist puppet show. (Both George and Frank did not win, the tap dance girl beat them.)

In a 1974 WHFS interview he told D.C. area D.J. and friend Cerphe that his brother did not like playing back up rhythm behind George as lead. Although he was interested in classical music flute, he started playing guitar when he was 11, (his overseas brother left his Spanish guitar behind). He also learned to play saxophone, and eventually try his hand at the sitar, studying at Ravi Shankar's Los Angeles studio.

Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o' nights.
Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (I, ii,)

Throughout his life Lowell would battle yo-yo weight problems, but that wouldn't stop him from zipping around the LA area in his very used Morgan sports car.

I have no kick against modern jazz,
Unless they try to play it too darn fast.
And change the beauty of the melody,
Until it sounds just like a symphony.
--Chuck Berry, "Rock and Roll Music"

At Hollywood High, George was a flutist for the marching band and the orchestra, and at that time he was playing guitar with another guitarist, Burbank native and junior high school student, Paul Barrere. Lowell told Michael Cregar about his playing there:

Yes. I was a jazzer at that time. I played flute. Legitimate flute and thought I was a jazzer. I hated rock and roll then. At that point I was not... you know... it was the Frankie Avalon story... who wanted it? Who needed it?
The young man's other musical acquaintances around this time were Frank Zappa and fellow schoolmate Martin F. Kibbee; along with his future wife. Kibbee told of Lowell's inclinations at this time that were certainly influential on his later work:
His taste in music at that time ran more to West Coast Jazz than, say, Jan and Dean or the Beach Boys. Les McCann and Mose Allison were appearing at Sunset Strip clubs like The Bit and The Renaissance where we hung out. Lowell wore a black turtleneck, the whole beatnik bit…

After high school Lowell was an Art History major at Valley Junior college and he enjoyed his music classes -- grooving on classical composers like Satie and Ives. His music teacher told him with his B average he should not spend time with pick up bands (George was offered 500 dollars for a gig), until he showed the instructor the relative pay scales of successful pros compared to educators. Around this time in 1965 he purchased his first Fender guitar and amp. While going to school, he made a little money working at a gas station (Lowell later admitted about "Willin'" and "Truck Stop Girl," that he "got a lot of inspiration from the characters I saw come through there.")

Put my money in your meter baby
so it won't run down,
But you caught me in the squeeze play
on the cheesy side of town,
Throw me a dime,
throw me a line.

'Cause there's a fat man
in the bathtub
with the blues,
I hear you moan,
I hear you moan,
I hear you moan...
--Lowell George

He became audaciously inspired to form a band after attending Byrd's concert at The Brave New World coffeehouse. This first band incarnation would be The Factory, with George doing doing vocals along with guitar, woodwinds, and some of the percussion, aided by Warren Klein, (later to be with the Stooges) on guitar, with his friends Hayward helping with drums and vocals, and Kibbe picking up the low end on bass.

Along with guitar he could likewise boast playing baritone sax, oboe, banjo, clarinet and the shakuhnachi (a Japanese bamboo flute). He actually was in the studio with his sax helping on cuts with Frank Sinatra, and even when under-aged, would stowaway into jazz clubs to hear the likes of Roland Kirk and Sonny Rollins.

Zappa helped produce some of their recordings (that were later released as Lowell George and the Factory Lightening Rod Man on a Bizarre/Straight imprint in 1993) while in in this line-up. The Mothers that helped out on that were, Frank Zappa with backing vocals, piano, and prepared (modified) piano, Marshal Leib did chimes, Mike Melvoin, piano, Elliot Ingber, guitar, Roy Estrada on bass, and saxophone work by Ian Underwood.

Waiting for a girl
and she gets me into fights,
Waiting for a girl --
we get drunk on Friday night.
She's a sight for sore eyes,
Waiting for a factory girl.
--Mick Jagger, Keith Richards

They played in small clubs in the area with a folksy, but rocking garage/psychedelia band sound like others in Southern California. These peers were The Electric Prunes, ("I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)")The Music Machine ("Talk Talk"), Arthur Lee's Love ("Hey Joe'), and Daryl Hooper's The Seeds ("Pushing Too Hard"). Their biggest success, small clubs not withstanding, was appearances on TV's F-Troop, February 9, 1967, as the rock group the Bed Bugs on "That's Show Biz," and the soundtrack for a Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. episode "Lost, the Colonel's Daughter." In April that year they had a couple of cuts released on the 7" 45s on the Uni label, "Smile, Let Your Life Begin," on the A side and, on the flipside, "When I Was A Apple."

When Lowell George left The Factory 1n 1967, the other remnants of The Factory went on their own way and joined with ex-Mothers, including guitarist Elliot Ingber, (a.k.a. The Winged Eel Fingerling and who was fired for tripping on LSD during a gig -- Zappa hated drugs), formed the Fraternity of Man. Drums were done by the one George would later recruit, Richard Hayward.

Love that Dirty Water

I'm gonna tell you somethin'
(and you'd better listen),
By the way you look
I can tell that you want some action.
Action is my middle name
-- Levine-Bellack, "Try It" The Standells

Too little too late for continued success for the Standells in changing times, Lowell joined the garage band as a vocalist in 1968. (Their real claim to fame was "Dirty Water" that became #11 in 1966). George recalled for ZigZag magazine, "I replaced Dicky Dodds, the lead singer. …he quit because he couldn't stand it. And I finally quit because I couldn't stand it either." Two months later he re-joined his old friends in the Fraternity of Man, helping them on the their second album produced by Tom Wilson. The group is most known for their track, "Don't Bogart Me" on the Easy Rider movie.

Don't bogart that joint, my friend,
Pass it over to me.

Roohhhhhhhhll another one,
Just like the other one.
This one's burnt to the end.
Come on and be a friend.

Don't bogart that joint, my friend,
Pass it over to me.
-- Elliot Ingber
In a kind of pot calling the kettle black, Lowell quipped why he left those other groups, because he saw "...a lot of my buddies fall by the wayside from psychedelics." By November Lowell hooked up Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention, who were famously or infamously doing their doo wop- California sound - early psychedelic - meets Igor Stravinsky.

Forget About the Brotherly or Otherly Love

Lowell replaced one of the actual Mother's of Inventions founders, Ray Collins, before Zappa had joined the Soul Giants, and then had it renamed. Collins left because he became disenchanted with the satirical style, instead, as he said, "I wanted to make beautiful music. I was raised on Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole." Ironically Zappa was hired by Collins to replace Ray Hunt, who supposedly had fisticuffs with the Soul Giants creator.

You know, your momma and your daddy,
Saying I'm no good for you.
They call me dirty from the alley,
Till I don't know what to do.

I get so tired of sneakin' around,
Just to get to your back door.
I crawl past the garbage and
Your momma jumps out, screamin'
"Don't come back no more,"
I can't take it.

My guitar wants to kill your mama,
My guitar wants to kill your mama,
My guitar wants to burn your dad.
I get real mean when it makes me mad,
--Frank Zappa

Lowell's contribution can be heard (i.e. guitar on the above track) on the albums, Hot Rats (1969)and Burny Weeny Sandwich (1970). Lowell told ZigZag magazine about his time with the Mothers:

Well, I wound up playing more guitar than singing. I was initially hired to be the singer because I guess Frank thought I could sing, but I really ended up playing more guitar than singing. We wound up doing a lot more instrumental stuff.
At one time Lowell offered the Mother's his song "Willin," while the tape of it was sent to multiple studios around this time.
I've been kicked by the wind, robbed by the sleet,
Had my head stoved in, but I'm still on my feet and I'm still, willin',
Now I smuggled some smokes and folks from Mexico.
Baked by the sun, every time I go to Mexico, and I'm still willin'...

And I been from Tucson to Tucumcari,
Tehachapi to Tonapah.
Driven every kind of rig that's ever been made,
Driven the back roads so I wouldn't get weighed.
And if you give me, weed, whites, and wine,
And you show me a sign...

I'll be willin', to be movin'
--Lowell George, 1977 video link
Both Frank and Lowell had a mutual admiration society thing going on with their creative wackiness, and Frank wisely, perhaps sternly, counseled George to take his talents and form his own band, so he did by May of 1969. George had told Roy Fraser his opinion of Zappa on an Australian radio station, "Musically he's far and away - exceeds all limits in terms of... I would say he's the Lawrence of Zany Rock and Roll in terms of the way the band's organized."

There is some likelihood that the zero tolerance of substance abuse was part of it. Lowell reasoned it thus, "He fired me when he heard I was writing my own music and told me to start my own band." Lowell also picked up for better or worse, Zappa's overly micromanaging techniques, though he bristled under some of them himself. While George would be influenced by the way Jazz was composed, he learned the method of dicing and splicing musical parts, especially with extended time in the studio, into a piece. Some of Zappa's advice later went unheedrd who said of Lowell, "There's another guy who shouldn't use drugs."

You take me down the Vine Street,
Stop when you hear the back beat;
And I'll sneak past the bouncer at the door,
Now I know that he ain't looking.
Not when the band is cooking,
Because he's watching the ladies dancing on the floor,
Going down in Hollywood:
You better hope that you don't run out of gas,

Down in Hollywood.
He'll drag you right out of your car and kick your ass.
Down in Hollywood,
They're standing on a corner waiting for a sucker like you.
Down in Hollywood,
Now, if you want to stay healthy just keep a-moving right on through.
Be careful, don't look back, keep moving, keep moving...
--Ry Cooder

If the Shoe Fits

...tis nor hand nor foot
nor any other part belonging to a man
What is in a name?
..Shakespeare, 'Romeo and Juliet"

So with bassist Roy Estrada, Richie Hayward slappin' some skins from his previous interactions, and an excellent piano player he met at Zappa's studio, Bill Payne; he had the nexus for his own new band. Payne recalled about his first impressions on first meeting him at George's home at Ben Lomond in Los Felix and those of forming a new band:

I got there as requested and he wasn’t around. Big surprise. There was a beautiful blonde who let me in and said, "Make yourself at home, he’ll be back in four hours."

So I looked at his record collection and his books – the Smithsonian Blues album which included Join The Band, Muddy Waters, John Coltrane, Lenny Bruce; and tomes by Carl Sandberg, Allen Ginsberg’s "Howl", {Hubert Selby Jr’s} Last Exit To Brooklyn... I knew I was going to like him even though he had a nasty looking Samurai sword on the wall, {George was a brown belt in the martial art Okinawake} and I was a hick from Waco, Texas.”

We talked about the kind of band we wanted it to be. Should we have a horn section? What should the bass player play? Are we going to relegate ourselves to one style of music? We decided there shouldn't be any limits to what we would do. If we wanted to play a waltz, great. If we wanted to play a straight-ahead song, fine.
Paul Barrere gave the reason for their name, Little Feat:
Lowell George had unusually little, fat feet and Jimmy Carl Black of The Mothers happened to make mention of them to Lowell with an expletive. Lowell deleted the expletive and the name was born with Feat instead of Feet, just like the Beatles. Neat huh?

The album and rock music styles had changed as the late 60s blended into the 70s, instead of long jams, the return to roots songs became prevalent, like the Band's Music from Big Pink. So when the Warner Brothers' Lenny Waronker heard the demo of "Willin'" so were they. They were in company with the progressive rock peers like The Youngbloods, Joni Mitchell, Arlo Guthrie, Van Dyke Parks, James Taylor, The Fugs, Deep Purple, Neil Young, and Van Morrison. Their first album would be simply Little Feat.

I Got Blisters on Mah Fingers

My baby called me up,
She said, "Why don't you ever take me out?
Pick me up in your brand new car ---
You shake the short change from your old fruit jar."

I put on my dancin' shoes,
We headed straight for the rhythm and blues.
The music was hot, but my baby was not:

I've got a rocket in my pocket, I said rocket,
Ya fingers in the socket,
Fingers in the socket,
fingers in the socket:

No way for you to stop it.

There's an interesting anecdote behind how great Lowell wound up primarily on the slide guitar, (he only experimented with it a little) and became a virtuoso similar to Ry Cooder. Before their first album he cut his left hand on his radio controlled model plane at home. His road manager Rick Harper remembered:

He never told anybody... he'd lost the feeling in two or three of his fingers. He said at first it was like marshmallow and he couldn't tell how much pressure to put on the strings.
Some of Lowell's distinctive sound, now that he adapted to slide because of that accident, came from the fact he didn't use glass, or a standard metal "bottleneckk" for his slide, but a socket used for pulling spark plugs from a wrench set (Perhaps the inspiration for the line, "...finger in the socket,") while his favorite open tuning was G major.

Debutantes

His tail-lights flickered as he pulled up to the truck stop,
The same old crowd was hanging out again tonight.
He said fill up my tank while I go check my load,
It feels like it's shifting all around.
He was the kind of man,
Do all he could.
Above all he had integrity:

(chorus) But he was so young,
And on a ten city run,
In love with a truck stop girl.

As he went inside hew was merrily greeted,
By the girl with who he was in love.
She held out a glass and said have another,
This is the last time we can meet.
With her hair piled up high and a look in her eye,
That would turn any good man's blood to wine.
All his eyes could see, all his eyes could see,
Was the stares from all those around him.
He ran out to the lot and climbed into his rig,
And drove off without tightening down.
It was a terrible thing,
To see what remained of the rig that poor danny was in:

(chorus)
--Lowell George

There is a link of Little Feat's LP rehearsals, here. Their sound, in the offset was considered country rock, though I would label it more eclectic and it still is somewhat more bluesy than, say, the Grateful Dead or the Band's style. Lowell is similar to the Allman Brothers' slide work, but his has more nuances. In 1971 they had their first album release, simply self-titled, Little Feat with 11 tracks, which included these written by Lowell, "Willin', (Lowell said this actual track was the demo for the Mothers), Hamburger Midnight, and "Truck Stop Girl." His piano player Bill Payne worked with Lowell on songs as well, such as "Strawberry Flats". The work includes Lowell's musical mentor, Howlin' Wolf with a medley, "Forty Four Blues/How Many More Years."

They had some session players on this endeavor as well, like Kirby Johnson doing the string and horn arrangements. Pianist Russ Titelman helped out with that other percussion work, and did backup vocals on "I've Been The One;" this track also featured Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel. Ry Cooder played slide guitar on on "Willin'" and "Forty Four Blues / How Many More Years."

Lowell's voice and guitar sound very, very good, but they would only get better.

Intercession

Because there ain't no man
Who got the money in his hand,
Who got any of that bread
Bein' slow in the head.

The easier it looks,
The hotter it hooks,
There ain't no such thing as easy money.
--Rikki Lee Jones

Warner Brothers, after dismal sales of this debut album, was ready to throw the boys under the proverbial bus, when they were saved by a van -- Warner Brothers' Van Dyke Parks, that is. They began their work on the sequel, Sailin' Shoes in the spring of 1971. Van Dyke Parks helped Lowell write the title cut. Neon Park began a trend of doing his offbeat Dali-esque album covers for this and they would continue this rest of their releases, (even after Neon Park's death in 1993). Lowell's "Trouble," "Texas Rose Café," and "Apolitical Blues" continued his askance-sided humor, the latter being a Howlin' Wolf tribute.

"Tripe Face Boogie," (the only one of 11 tracks not by Lowell, but written by Hayward and Payne) ran at a lightning fast clip and shows how talented and evolving these guys (Hayward, Estrada and Payne) were, polished, but not deliberately 'slick.' And on this more boogified release, Lowell's vocals and slide work showed continual improvement on what was already excellent. In the studio to assist were: Ron Elliott helping with guitar, Sneaky Pete Kleinow returned for his pedal steel, Milt Holland aided with percussion), and Debbie Lindsey was there for backup vocals. "Willin'" was on this second album, if he could have had his way it would be on all of them. (It would be on 1978's live Waiting for Columbus.)

Doctor, doctor, I feel so bad,
This is the worst day, I ever had.
Have you this misery a very long time?
Well if you if, I'll lay it on the line.

You've got to put on your sailin' shoes,
Put on your sailing shoes.
Everyone will start to cheer,
When you put on your sailin' shoes.
--Lowell George
The guys that were known as "America's Best Unknown Band" were starting to arrive -- as March of 1972's Rolling Stone called the songs: "...virtual treasure chests of haunting associations, sketches and scenarios...virile, touching songs...one super rock & roll band..."

Lowell once answered about who were his favorite musicians:

Any number of artists. There's a Mexican group who played on my record that I really like, Los Companjeros. Muddy Waters on one end and Ry Cooder on the other in terms of bottleneck guitar. In terms of singing, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye are not to be exceeded. Tony Bennett maybe is the best white singer on earth.

When asked if he had paid his dues he answered:
It was all fun, so I don't know about dues. I mean eighteen weeks of spaghetti dinners. Calling up some chicks to come over and do the dishes because they were stacked nine inches high on all fronts. And then we'd get a lot of flack about that. I mean I still run into those ladies that did the dishes, and I can't live it down. It was all fun. It was a difficult period, but it was all and all a kind of wellspring from which a lot of material was written.

Messin' in the Session

George's talents were in demand from other artists, for example, he played on Bonnie Raitt's Takin' My Time and helped with its production; and helped produce the Grateful Dead album in 1978, Shakedown Street. Becoming known as a most gracious hand in Southern California, he assisted James Taylor, and jump started the new jazz talent, Rikki Lee Jones, who needed an 'in' with Warners'. Lowell gave his opinion on the music industry and advice for future talent:

Along with the real jerks there are some real nice folks. I happen to think that Warner's have some of the nicest people working in the business.

Don't give away your publishing. That's the first rule. And don't spend your own money. Those are two bits of advice that have come out to be real true. A record company is there to provide financing for a record project and you shouldn't spend your own money.

Don't Ever Break the Chain

You yelled hey! when your car wouldn't start,
So you got real nervous and started to eat your heart out.
Now you're so fat your shoes don't fit on your feat,
You got trouble,
And it's tailor made.
Well mama lay your head down in the shade.

'Cause your eyes are tired, and your feat are too,
And you wish the world was as tired as you, whoa
Well I'll write a letter, and I'll send it away,
And put all the trouble in -int you had today.
--Lowell George

In the early 70s, (for some reason the exact dates are hard to find), there were three Price sisters, Patricia, Pamela and Priscilla that were connected to band members (Pam Hayward) or those involved with them (road manager Rick Harper's wife was Prissie). First George was married to Pattie (and had two sons Forrest, 9, and Luke, 6); but left her to marry recently divorced Elizabeth from George's friend husband Tom Levy. Similar to the Fleetwood Mac soap opera, Levy married the recently divorced Prissie. Pamela, the faithful sister quipped, "This is the most incestuous band I've ever heard of. It's a riot when the kids get together with all the different combinations."

Two trains runnin' - on that line,
One train's me,
and the other's a friend of mine.
Be all right, be just fine,
If this woman took the one train,
and left the other behind.
--Lowell George

Elizabeth also brought into their relation, a 9 year old son from her previous union, Jed. And while living in Topanga Canyon, they went on to have their own girl, while after Elizabeth joined him in a Maryland recording studio, the daughter was born in Baltimore on July 4th, 1974 and aptly named Inara Maryland Jones. Today, she is a talent in her own right, the second half of the Bird and Bee, the group, Merrick, and a third of the Living Sisters.

Sellin' Shoe Sails

So in 1972 their Sailin' Shoes, though critically praised, wasn't topping sales charts. Lowell, when asked a few years later about Little Feat being an 'unknown band' or 'musicians band,' (they were, it was Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page's favorite), he retorted:

That's the kiss of death. Would you like me to elucidate?

Well if you get to be known as a musician's band, that's what you become. In other words the media focuses itself on the fact that the group is highly respected amongst other bands and has not been successful. When in fact it's not true. I mean in the States right now we're probably more successful than we've ever been, and it's been that way for the last year or two. And in England -- when we arrived in England -- I was very surprised by the reception we got.

There was starting to be some friction (it would also continue) over some of Lowell's autocracy and idiosyncrasies; he would have them go to certain less endowed places to practice, or record (and don't forget the OCD wanting "Willin'" in some form or other repeated). Lowell would seem to be immune being the villain that the others were portrayed, as Payne remembered,

He was a charmer, made people think they were his best friend, especially when he took them to party.
And that he was forgiven by the other mates because,
Lowell was a part of the family and I can’t discount that. I mean, I fell for him too, because he was the best of what there was, a phenomenal singer and a brilliant slide player. Sure he was good and in the beginning he was in charge, but eventually we were dragging him along.

Therefore Roy Estrada returned to the Mothers, and Lowell, right after assisting Van Dyke Park's Caribbean flavored Discover America, since he was bored (a common tendency) with the same ole same ole, did some renovations leaning even more toward rhythm and blues.

Guitarist Paul Barrere came on board, who failed his audition years earlier, now would bring those great sounding harmonics (like ZZ Top) The bass replacement for Roy Estrada was Baton Rouge's finest son, Kenny Gradney, and for some additional percussion, especially congas, they added Sam Clayton. Clayton, too brought that New Orleans influence that would emerge with snappy syncopation in the band's next studio work. Their time on tour in the south was osmotically getting into their being. This was the band until 1979; These last three along with Payne reformed in 1988 and continue today, and Hayward would be with them too, but he recently passed at 64.

Memphis Tennessee Lam

The sheep for fodder follow the shepherd;
the shepherd for food follows not the sheep:
thou for 90 wages followest thy master;
thy master for wages follows not thee:
therefore thou art a sheep.
--Shakespeare, The Two Gentlemen of Verona Act I:I

Lowell cajoled the Warner folks to let him do a third album, Dixie Chicken, with the new lineup, and they even re-released the first album. Lowell would write 7 of the 10 tracks. They were aided by guitarists Bonnie Raitt and Mick Taylor, and more vocals with 3 Dog Night's Dan Hutton, Gloria Jones, who worked with Jerry Garcia (and wrote "Tainted Love); Bonnie Bramlet, (of Delaney and Bonnie fame), Debbie Lindsey, folk artist Tret Fure, and jazz singer/teacher Stephanie Spruill. The effort was further augmented by percussionist Milt Holland, (the first to de-segregate the LA musician's union), guitarist Fred Tackett, (who would join Little Feat later), and Brit bassist Malcolm Cecil.

Well we made all the hot spots.
My money flowed like wine.
Then that low down Southern whiskey,
began to fog my mind.
And I don't remember church bells,
or the money I put down.
On the white picket fence and boardwalk,
of the house at the edge of town.
But boy do I remember,
the strain of her refrain.
The nights we spent together,
and the way she called my name:

If you'll be my dixie chicken,
I'll be your Tennessee lamb.
And we can walk together,
down in Dixieland,
Down in dixieland -

They covered the fabulous Allen Toussaint piece, "On Your Way Down," and Fred Tackett's "Fool Yourself." Barrere and Payne co-wrote "Walkin' All Night." Besides the great title cut, the sheet music helped by his old friend Martin Kibbee, with its Honky Tonk piano, it has the masterful song, "Fat Man in the Bathtub." "Two Trains" sounds so authentic one, if one traded 1966 for 1866, one might think it had been around since steam locomotives.

Nadir, Honey is that You

He has some reason, else he could not beg.
I' th' last night’s storm I such a fellow saw,
Which made me think a man a worm. My son
Came then into my mind, and yet my mind
Was then scarce friends with him. I have heard more since.
As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods.

They kill us for their sport
. --Shakespeare, King Lear

Not only was touring getting to them, with its boredom, stress, homesickness and drug use (Lowell liked speedballs), but George's eccentricities were costing not only time but ducats. He would also begin to have a history of losing guitars, and many were stolen as he related:

Just turn your back for a second, and they're gone! If you play in bar bands in a town like Los Angeles, one wrong move, and it's all over. One time we were playing some place north of San Francisco, and we had a trailer. We put all our equipment in it, and parked the thing in front of our apartment. I was saying to myself at the time, "I'll sleep by the window, and when they try to steal it, I'll wake up and get them." I didn't hear a thing, nor did anyone else, and it was gone the next morning. I lost a real nice Strat.”
Anyway, 1974 saw another one of their band breakups.

Payne, who helped the Doobie Brothers a couple of years earlier was on their tour. This is when he helped Bonnie Raitt on Takin' My Time, and the much admired by George, dobro player Mike Auldridge; and the Tarzana project of John Sebastian as heard by their co-written song, "The Face of Appalachia."

Lowell later would prophetically say he liked performing live better than studio, he also had no problem with the junk food one eats when on the road, though it would have a consequence for him.

Feats Walkin' to New Orleans

Well the night that I got into town,
Was the night of the rain, it froze on the ground.
Down the street I heard such a sorrowful tune,
Comin' from the place they call the Spanish Moon.

Well I stepped inside and stood by the door,
While a dark girl sang and played the guitar.
There was hookers and hustlers, they filled up the room,
I heard about this place they call the Spanish Moon.

There's whiskey and bad cocaine,
Poison get you just the same.
And if that... that don't... kill you soon,
The women will down at the Spanish Moon.

Well I pawned my watch and I sold my ring,
Just to hear that girl sing, yeah yeah.
I don't care who, --you can wake up ruined,
You can lose it all down at the Spanish Moon.

Also in 1974, some of his Feats joined Lowell to help with Robert Palmer's Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley LP in New Orleans. Now Bourbon Street was on the bottom of his Feat, and he brought that Big Easiness to Little Feat's return to the studio in Maryland for Feats Don't Fail Me Now. Payne ("Oh Atlanta"), Kibbee, Hayward and Barrere, (with additional aid from Fred Martin with Lowell's, "Rock and Roll Doctor" {which became another nick for George}) wrote or co-wrote songs, with Lowell only solo credited with two, "Down the Road," and the absolute best funky tune in the world, in my 'umble pie opinion, "Spanish Moon." (I highly recommend hitting one of the links to video/audio of them playing "Spanish Moon" live, where it's at its best.) The title cut had Barrere and Kibbee co-writing it with Lowell. While that in that 1974 issue of Rolling Stone, Ben Gerson noted that

Little Feat's deviations here from their standard are "Spanish Moon" and "Wait Till the Shit Hits the Fan." "Spanish Moon" is a bayou trance, with growling voices, growling clavinet and spooky organ. But the horn arrangement is painfully hackneyed, and the entire number seems bogus. Perhaps Van Dyke Parks, who produced only this cut, should be blamed. ...

Though happy for the band's new stability and promised prosperity, I think we have a right to expect Little Feat to be more than just the aristocrat of boogie bands.
But, Billboard that year called it a:
Usual fine mix of rock, blues and country supported with superb vocalizing from this all too underrated group. Lowell George is easily one of the better rock guitarists on today's music scene, and his vocals combined with the singing and excellent keyboards of Bill Payne are one of the most winning combinations in contemporary music. The band is excellent, potentially commercial and it's a real mystery why they have not made it to a larger extent than they have. Band must rank near the top of any meaningful list of today's groups. Best cuts: "Rock And Roll Doctor," "Long Distance Love," "Front Page News," "Feats Don't Fail Me Now."
Now the grueling touring and promotion would begin.

1975 they went to England for the Warner Brothers Music Show, that highlighted the Doobie Brothers, Tower Of Power, Montrose and Graham Central Station. Barrere's recount of the band was:

We were a freight train comin 'atcha – kickin’ ass. We were always opening slots and blowing people off. That tour got sticky because of our reaction. Thing was... Little Feat weren’t showmen; we didn’t have a catalogue of hits. We just played. We had a jazz combo sensibility à la Miles Davis, plus a black R&B thing, down to Kenny’s bass and Sam’s percussion. Lowell was phenomenal – he made his slide, which he played with an old spark plug, conjure up Hawaiian melodies or pedal steel. It was so eclectic that we could be out of our skulls and still function. It was nirvana on stage, and it was funny. We were tongue-in-cheek with our stage props. We didn’t think: this is serious art.
Lowell, however, did think it was an aesthetic oeuvre, and he additionally strove for that monster hit, and ironically, by trying harder while burning the midnight oil in the studio, made it worse for his relationship with the other band members. But Lowell was a somewhat more complicated musician as he revealed commentingd on critics in an interview around this time with Dan Kening:

I don't read my press clippings, but there are a couple of people I have read because they took the group and put in their sense of humor about what the band was really about. And being in the music field can be a lot of fun, but it can also be a heartbreak. From the time I was 21, when I first started playing professionally, I thought I was hot stuff. From the time I was 23 until I was 28, I was completely under the impression that I wasn't any good. Just recently I started not caring about it at all - I just play! A big stumbling block is one's own attitude or vision of himself as a musician.

I've known guys that are great guitar players, but they've got such high standards of themselves that they're complete jerks, and nobody will play with them. And then there are those guys that are so scared! There's a guy, Elliot Ingber, who is such an amazing guitar player but thinks he's terrible. He played guitar on the Mother's Freak Out album, and with Captain Beefheart. One time I was jamming with Elliot and Jimi Hendrix, and Hendrix stopped playing to listen to the guy! But in front of an audience, nothing – the guy's scared stiff!

While in England, after becoming a phenomenonally smash hit with their live performances, they hung out with Brits like party animal Robert Palmer, (known earlier from New Orleans), along with Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones. Keith Richards told Lowell, “You’re a part of the family."

All of the good, good times were ours,
In the land of milk and honey.
And time, time has its scars,
Rainy days they turn to sunny ones.
Livin' the life, livin' the life lovin' everyone,

I've been down, but not like this before,
Can't be 'round this kind of show no more.
-- lyrics: Paul Barrere, "All that You Dream"

That year, too, they began working on a semi-prophetic album, (since the meaning of the title would be in name only), The Last Record Album. Though Lowell produced this effort, he was also starting to work on his solo album, Thanks , I'll Eat It Here. On this Last project Lowell George contributed "Down Below The Borderline," "Long Distance Love" and "Mercenary Territory," with Hayward assisting on the sheet music. Bill Payne pulled his Jeremiah-like piece in his "Somebody's Leavin,'" "And I know that you been hurting, 'cause I been hurtin' too."

Lowell was using this time in between tours and studio to help a lot of artists, who in turned helped them.

Feats Drivin

The boys found time to get another album finished, Time Loves a Hero, released in 1977. This featured another of Lowell's comedy infused tracks, "Rocket in My Pocket." However, without the input of the grittier blues-laden of Lowell interestingly highlighted the predominance of the other musicians' jazzy polished writing.

But, in 1977 was when they recorded their dynamite live performances in DC (they were the number one US fan base) and London that year, augmented with the Tower of Power horn section, resulting in their best efforts ever, Waiting for Columbus, released in 1978. It was number 7 on the Rolling Stone's "Readers' Poll: The 10 Best Live Albums of All Time." I confess I play the CD constantly, (it's in my vehicle' player now) sadly my budget 2 in 1 release doesn't include "Don't Bogart Me" and "Apolitical Blues". It's the best of a best of one could ever want.

This Time We're Really Breaking Up

Or How You Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm

Away, boy, from the troops, and save thyself;
For friends kill friends,
and the disorder's such As war were hoodwink'd.
-- Shakespeare, "The Merchant of Venice"
Because, as 1978 was rolling around, George was working on his solo album, he became extremely increasingly scarce (to abandonment) becoming the groups' final fabrication with Lowell, Down on the Farm. Lowell's three songs, along with everybody else was a professional yet insipid thing. The separation was turning into a divorce for Lowell and the others, and this in spite of the first time they saw money rolling in from Waiting for Columbus released in 1978.

Lowell had other problems, a back injury, pain killer addiction, possible alcoholism, weight gain, (over 300 lbs.) and Hepatitis (that laid him out much of 1978 and pushed the obesity). But Lowell, never the ego-tripper, he still helped out others when he could.

Payne mentioned later about their love of George, but also some of the problems, “There was always conflict and then also a lot of camaraderie. He played a huge part, the main part, but he couldn’t maneuver the business on his own. We became handcuffed, like in a dysfunctional marriage.”

Music to Stay

Lowell's Thanks I'll Eat it Here included Feats', Richie Hayward, Fred Tackett and Billy Payne; and there were old friends like Bonnie Raitt, and John Phillips and talents from other bands like Jimmy Greenspoon of Three Dog Night fame, Nicky Hopkins who did keyboard work for the Rolling Stones and Quicksilver and Jeff Porcaro of Toto. Assisting him also were John David Souther, Jim Keltner, David Foster, Floyd Sneed and, David Paich.

The Lowell penned tracks were "Honest Man", "Two Trains', and "20 Million Things to Do." Along with Allen Tousaint's "What Do You Want the Girl to Do?" he does his protégé Rikki Lee Jones' "Easy Money." He included Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek," in a kind of a tribute to Tony Bennett (as we've seen lately {2014} singing it and naming an album as such with Lady GaGa;) and he does a rendition of Don Bryant's "Can't Stand the Rain." There was some fan disappointment that there was less of Lowell's guitar work than they'd like.

Is it the lies?
Is it the style?
It's a mercenary territory,
I wish you knew the story.
I've been out here so long dreamin up songs,
I'm temporarily qualmless and sinking.

I've did my time in that rodeo,
It's been so long and I've got nothing to show.
Well I'm so plain loco,
Fool that I am I'd do it all over again.

Is it the style?
Is it the lies?
Is it the days into nights,
Or the "I'm sorry"s into fights.
Now some kind of man, he can't do anything wrong,
If I see him I'll tell him you're waiting.
'Cause I'm devoted for sure but my days are a blur,
Well your nights turn into my mornings.

Well I did my time in that rodeo,
Fool that I am I'd do it all over again.

He went on a relatively small two-week, 11 concert tour that summer of 1979 to promote his first and only solo effort; and it was said though George was doing an excellent job, the rapport with his ensemble, in spite of their professional caliber, was not quite the same as the Little Feat cadre. But his DC performances, still wearing his trademark white overalls, some said were better than those when with Little Feat. He seemed to be more moderate and ready for the spotlight as he told reporter Joanne Ostrow:

I'm having to be really careful of my health, I still drink straight alcohol, but not a quart at a sitting. And I won't try to stay awake five nights in a row.

After playing 90 energetic minutes plus extended encore for those SRO rabid fans on Thursday night June 29 at Georgetown's Lisner Auditorium in Washington DC, he was probably a bit winded so soon after his health debacle. Still he ordered a large pizza while staying at the Twin Bridges Marriott Hotel in a DC suburb, Arlington, Virginia, even though some said he said he was feeling some chest pains while onstage that night.

He was preparing for a radio interview the next day, like he had done on June 22nd and was wired about it and worked into the night and into 8 AM the next morning; but the room service man attested that there was no all night party as some reported. Stating that "They didn't even order any drinks; Mister George asked me where the game room was and that was it." Just a month ago Lowell had relayed about touring pressures to Ed O'Connell:

I could have done it in two weeks if I’d been able to prepare myself for it, but I was never able to until last December. Then after all the back and forth, the group breaks up in February or March. The world’s a weird, wild and wonderful place, and it seems to all happen to me. But it’s all okay.

Black and Blue Friday

What ugly sights of death within mine eyes! --Shakespeare, King Richard III

10 AM Friday, the 29th, in the hotel room, Lowell told his wife Elizabeth that he was having some breathing difficulty, (he complained of chest pains also earlier that morning) and he laid back down. According to her account, she called Gene Bano, the road manager, who witnessed Lowell saying he was feeling better when he saw him; and around this time, learned from the hotel, a maid inadvertently came into the room and witnessed Lowell lying in a fetal position on the bed, she was told quickly to leave, that he was just ill. Afterwards Elizabeth and Gene left to get breakfast.

The hotel corroborates the fact that Ms. George, her two children, and Bano returned to the room at 11 AM when just after that they called the hotel that Lowell was unconscious. After the 911 call was made, the hotel engineer went to assist with first aid until the dispatched help arrived. Mouth to mouth was in vain, as the engineer remembered, "...it was no use he had been dead for a while."

It wasn't too much later Arlington County Rescue Squad's No.75 arrived, and whose cardiac respiration failed, too. Elizabeth had told the police, the first one there was Mark Nell, that he had only been dead for 10 minutes, but the paramedics said it was more like 45 to a 120 minutes deceased. He was rushed to Arlington Park Hospital, with wife by his side, and was pronounced dead at 1:10 that afternoon. Warner's Marion Perkins put out the news, Lowell had died of a heart attack.

Nell ordered the autopsy, as was customary for those relatively young as Lowell was only 34, and did not interrogate Bano and her because they were so distraught. He reported there was no foul play, and "I did not find any drugs and there was no evidence that the room had been cleared of drugs either."

However, that engineer, who left when the police arrived, stated that he saw a large vial with a remnant of white powder and many prescription bottles visible when he first arrived; and a hurried bunch of movement at the time of the authorities' getting to the scene. Some at the hospital said that Lowell, post mortem, had the characteristic white lips and the blue tint around his eyes like those of an OD (and was the reason for an autopsy. Payne would be in pain as he commented on this sad occasion,

I wasn’t surprised. He didn’t set his affairs in order, there was no finance for his wife and children. We did a benefit concert at the Forum in Los Angeles and raised $250,000. It was the only practical way to deal with his death.

His ashes were scattered on his beloved Pacific Ocean.

Like the Dead without Garcia, the Doors without Morrison, and ad infinitum, (Hendrix, Janis, Cobain) -- Little Feat, though a great group continuing from 1988 until today, would not be the same with Lowell George's fine voice, song writing, and marvelous guitar playing.


This was the honorary song written and performed by Jackson Browne (who called George "the Orson Welles of rock,") for Lowell's 4 year old daughter, Inara:

Your father was a rounder,
He played that rock and roll.
A leaper and a bounder,
Down to his gypsy soul.

The music was his angel,
And sorrow was his star.
And those of us who follow,
Might hope to reach as far.

They're walking slow in Houston,
Speechless in D.C.
There's no way I could tell you,
What he meant to me.

Your mother's a survivor,
She'll do what must be done.
Her children will revive her,
And help her see the sun.

She almost knew that unison,
But the singing stopped too soon.
Now she shares the silence,
With a man up in the moon.

To speak of missing persons,
Tonight there's only one.
And we all carry with us what the man's begun,
And you can sing this song.

(chorus) On July, the fourth,
In the sunny South and the frozen North.
It's a day of loss, it's your day of birth,
Does it take a death to learn what a life is worth?

Your brothers are all older,
And they'll take it in their stride.
The world's a little colder,
But manhood's on their side.

Now you're the little girl child,
And you look so much like him.
And he's right there inside you,
Each time you want to sing.

Sing of missing persons,
Tonight there's only one.
But he's where you can find him when it's said and done,
And we will sing this song.

(chorus)
Jackson Browne, "Of Missing Persons"


Hear them 'live' in 1974 at Ultrasonic Studios ; then see how much they even became more fantabulous in 1977 at London's Rainbow Theatre,


Sources:
http://www.littlefeat.net/discography.html?dd_id=5
http://www.dmci.com/lowell/lowell.html
(And additional links from these and other searches.)

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