Lowell George

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Lowell George
Lowell-george.jpg
Background information
Birth name Lowell Thomas George
Born (1945-04-13)April 13, 1945
Hollywood, California, United States
Died June 29, 1979(1979-06-29) (aged 34)
Arlington, Virginia, United States
Genres Blues rock, rock and roll, boogie rock, southern rock, country rock, R&B, blues, funk, blue-eyed soul, swamp rock
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, producer
Instruments Guitar, vocals, harmonica, flute, saxophone, sitar
Years active 1965–1979
Labels Warner Bros.
Associated acts Little Feat, Frank Zappa, The Mothers of Invention, Grateful Dead, The Standells
Website Little Feat Website

Lowell Thomas George (April 13, 1945 – June 29, 1979) was an American songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer, who was the primary guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter for the rock band Little Feat.[1]

Early life

Lowell George was born in Hollywood, California, the son of Willard H. George, a furrier who raised chinchillas and supplied furs to the movie studios.

George's first instrument was the harmonica. At the age of six he appeared on Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour performing a duet with his older brother, Hampton. As a student at Hollywood High School (where he befriended Paul Barrere and future wife Elizabeth), he took up the flute in the school marching band and orchestra. He had already started to play Hampton's acoustic guitar at age 11, progressed to the electric guitar by his high school years, and later learned to play the saxophone, shakuhachi and sitar. During this period, George viewed the teen idol-oriented rock and roll of the era with contempt, instead favoring West Coast jazz and the soul jazz of Les McCann & Mose Allison. Following graduation in 1963, he briefly worked at a gas station (an experience that inspired such later songs as "Willin'") to support himself while studying art and art history at Los Angeles Valley College for two years.

Musical career

Early bands

Initially funded by the sale of his grandfather's stock, George's first band The Factory formed in 1965 and released at least one single on the Uni Records label, "Smile, Let Your Life Begin" (co-written by George). Members included future Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward (who replaced Dallas Taylor in September 1966), Martin Kibbee (a.k.a. Fred Martin) who would later co-write several Little Feat songs with George (including "Dixie Chicken" and "Rock and Roll Doctor"), and Warren Klein on guitar. Frank Zappa produced two tracks for the band, but they were not released until 1993 on the album Lightning-Rod Man, credited to Lowell George and The Factory.[2] The band made an appearance on the 1960s sitcom F Troop as "The Bedbugs". They were also featured in an episode of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., "Lost, the Colonel's Daughter" (season 3, episode 27). They appeared in the scene inside the A-Go-Go club, with their music heard playing loudly. They received credits at the end of the episode as "'The Factory' Lowell-Warren-Martin-Rich, Courtesy of Universal Records". Following the disbanding of The Factory, George briefly joined The Standells.

Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention

In November 1968, George joined Zappa's Mothers of Invention as rhythm guitarist and nominal lead vocalist; he can be heard on both Weasels Ripped My Flesh and the first disc of You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 5. During this period, he absorbed Zappa's autocratic leadership style and avant garde-influenced conceptual/procedural-oriented compositional methods. He earned his first production credit (in conjunction with Zappa and Russ Titelman) on Permanent Damage, an album recorded by "groupie group" The GTOs. George later asserted that "he performed no real function in the band" and left the group in May 1969 under nebulous circumstances. GTOs member Pamela Des Barres has claimed that George was fired by the abstemious Zappa for smoking marijuana, while he claimed at a 1975 Little Feat concert that he was fired because he "wrote a song ["Willin'"] about dope."[3] On the other hand, biographer Mark Brend asserts that Zappa "liked the song" but "thought there was no place for it in the Mothers' set"; George himself alternatively claimed that "it was decided that I should leave and form a band" by mutual agreement.

Little Feat

George performing in Buffalo, New York, May 1, 1977

After leaving the Mothers of Invention, George invited fellow musicians former Zappa bassist Roy Estrada, keyboardist Bill Payne and drummer Richie Hayward to form a new band, which they named Little Feat. George usually (but not always) played lead guitar and focused on slide guitar, but Ry Cooder played the slide on "Willin'" on the debut Little Feat album after George badly injured his hand while working on a powered model airplane, although George rerecorded some of his material and he played the rest of the slide work on the album. Mark Brend wrote that George's "use of compression defined his sound and gave him the means to play his extended melodic lines."[4]

Little Feat signed to Warner Bros. Records through Zappa's efforts and their first album was Little Feat, produced by Russ Titelman, but it was not a commercial success and only sold 11,000 copies on initial release.[5]

The follow-up album Sailin' Shoes, prodcued by Ted Templeman, was the band's first record to feature cover artwork by Neon Park, but despite good reviews and an improvement on its predecessor, the album fared no better commercially.

Estrada left the band in 1972 to join Captain Beefheart's Magic Band as well as to get away from the pollution in Los Angeles and he was replaced on bass by Kenny Gradney. In addition, Little Feat expanded to a sextet by adding a second guitarist Paul Barrere and percussionist Sam Clayton, thus cementing the classic line-up, and they took on a New Orleans funk direction with their next album Dixie Chicken, the first to be produced by George.[6]

By the spring of 1976, Little Feat were touring North America opening for The Who.[7]

In the 1970s, Little Feat released a stream of studio albums: Little Feat, Sailin' Shoes, Dixie Chicken, Feats Don't Fail Me Now, The Last Record Album, and Time Loves a Hero. The group's 1978 live album Waiting for Columbus became their best-selling album.

Tensions within the group, especially between George and Payne and, to a lesser extent, Barrère, regarding musical direction and leadership led to Payne and Barrère's departure from the group in 1979 and the group's subsequent disbandment. In an interview with Bill Flanagan conducted 11 days before his death, George stated that he was keen to re-form Little Feat without Payne and Barrère in order to reassert his full control over the group.[8]

Record production

George was also a producer, and produced the Grateful Dead's 1978 album Shakedown Street, as well as Little Feat's records and his own 1979 solo album Thanks, I'll Eat It Here; he also co-produced a couple of tracks on Valerie Carter's 1977 release Just A Stone's Throw Away. In 1977 he co-produced John Starling's debut solo album Long Time Gone.

Session work

When not working with Little Feat, George lent his talents as a session player. He played slide guitar on Barbara Keith's 1972 album Barbara Keith,[9] John Cale's 1973 album Paris 1919, Bonnie Raitt's Takin' My Time (Warner Bros. 1973) album (contributing slide guitar to "I Feel the Same" and "Guilty"), Harry Nilsson's Son of Schmilsson album (Take 54), James Taylor's Gorilla (contributing electric and slide guitar and backing vocals on the funk-influenced "Angry Blues")) and (uncredited but verified by Leo Nocentelli[citation needed]) the Meters' Just Kissed My Baby in 1974, and on John Sebastian's Tarzana Kid. In 1976 he played on Jackson Browne's The Pretender. Also with the Meters, George's slide work features prominently on Robert Palmer's first solo studio album, Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley recorded in New Orleans in 1974. Palmers's follow up record, 1975's "Pressure Drop" was produced by Lowell, and Little Feat were the core band on the sessions. Palmer kept the producer's credit because of a dispute between his label, Island, and Warners. Later CDs list Steve Smith as producer (Joe Smith was chairman of WB). Upon the record's release, the band and Palmer embarked on the tour that resulted in the recordings that made Little Feat famous, while, however great the Pressure Drop album is, Palmer's career languished.

Death

George led an overindulgent lifestyle of binge eating, alcoholism, and speedballs (heroin and cocaine mixed together), and he became obese in the last years of his life. By the time of his death, he weighed 308lb, 139kg (22 stone) and according to Fred Tackett, "We were driving down the New Jersey Turnpike in this bus and we stopped at this pizza joint off the highway. Everybody in the band shared a cheese pizza but Lowell bought a large pizza with everything on it, carried it to the back of the bus, and he ate the entire pizza by himself. He died two or three days later. So, when people ask me, 'What really killed Lowell?' I say, 'It was a pizza on the New Jersey Turnpike.'"[10][11]

On June 15, 1979, George began a tour in support of his solo album. On June 29, 1979, the morning after an appearance at Washington, D.C.'s Lisner Auditorium where the bulk of Waiting for Columbus had been recorded, George collapsed and died of a heart attack in his Arlington, Virginia, hotel room at the Twin Bridges Marriott. His heart attack was caused by an accidental cocaine overdose.[12][13] George's body was cremated in Washington, D.C., on August 2. His ashes were flown back to Los Angeles, where they were scattered from his fishing boat into the Pacific Ocean.[14][15][16]

Posthumous tributes and cover songs

Personal life

George was married twice. His first wife was Patty Price, with whom he had two sons Luke and Forest, but the marriage ended in divorce.[20]

He had a daughter, Inara Maryland George, with Elizabeth in 1974. The couple were married in 1976.[21] Inara is half of the musical duo The Bird and the Bee. Elizabeth also had a son Jed from a previous marriage.[22] George died just before Inara's fifth birthday.

References

  1. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 283. CN 5585. 
  2. ^ "Lowell George & The Factory – Lightning-Rod Man". Globalia.net. Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  3. ^ "Willin'". Little Feat Live at Auditorium Theatre. The Internet Archive. October 18, 1975. Retrieved December 22, 2012. 
  4. ^ Rock and Roll Doctor—Lowell George: Guitarist, Songwriter and Founder of Little Feat, by Mark Brend, Backbeat Books, Oct. 2002, p.75,
  5. ^ "Little Feat - Little Feat - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved December 6, 2017. 
  6. ^ "Dixie Chicken - Little Feat - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved December 6, 2017. 
  7. ^ Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. ISBN 1-84195-017-3. 
  8. ^ 'Written in My Soul' by Bill Flanagan ISBN 0-7119-2224-1 pp. 353-63.
  9. ^ Marios (October 5, 2013). "Rockasteria: Barbara Keith - Barbara Keith (1973 us, marvelous folk country rock, japan remaster)". Retrieved July 19, 2017. 
  10. ^ "Perfect Sound Forever: Lowell George- an appreciation". www.furious.com. Retrieved December 6, 2017. 
  11. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2000/aug/30/artsfeatures
  12. ^ Kurt Loder (September 14, 1979). "Lowe-Carter rock wedding". Anchorage Daily News. 
  13. ^ Forkes, Tim (November 22, 2015). "Lowell George and other thoughts". Los Angeles Post Examier. Archived from the original on March 10, 2017. Retrieved March 10, 2017. 
  14. ^ "Remembering Lowell George". www.amoeba.com. 29 June 2009. Retrieved 2014-08-06. 
  15. ^ "Little Feat: Waiting for Columbus". Allaboutjazz.com. Retrieved 2015-06-20. 
  16. ^ Harrington, Richard; Harrington, Richard (August 7, 1988). "ONE GIANT STEP FOR LITTLE FEAT". Retrieved July 19, 2017 – via washingtonpost.com. 
  17. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 329. CN 5585. 
  18. ^ "Deleted/Forwarding Page". Jrp-graphics.com. Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  19. ^ Adam Sweeting (August 30, 2000). "The late, great Lowell George". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-03-03. 
  20. ^ "Lowell George, 34, Musician, Led Rock Band, Little Feat". June 30, 1979. Retrieved July 19, 2017 – via washingtonpost.com. 
  21. ^ Fong-Torres, Ben (November 12, 2013). "Willin': The Story of Little Feat". Da Capo Press. Retrieved December 6, 2017 – via Google Books. 
  22. ^ "Lowell George's Little Feat Have Always Done Their Stuff, but Only Now Are They a Shoo-In – Vol. 9 No. 14". April 10, 1978. Retrieved July 19, 2017. 

External links

  • Little Feat website
  • Lowell George on IMDb
  • Lowell George at Find a Grave
  • Lowell George interview, Guitar Player magazine 1976
Awards
Preceded by
Jerry Garcia
AMA presidents Award
2009
Succeeded by
Not Yet Awarded
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