Remembering Lowell George

11 January 2009

lowell-honest-man

I had a conversation with a friend over the weekend about the Little Feat singer and slide guitarist Lowell George, who died thirty years ago at the age of 34. Some (yes: me included)  think that Little Feat  were never as interesting or innovative afterwards.

The night he died I was working an night shift (as a young trainee) in the BBC Radio newsroom writing the overnight bulletins for Radio 1 and 2; the ‘copy taster‘ – also a fan of Little Feat – gave me the story and I went to the Night News Editor and told him I thought it was a story for R1/R2 bulletin. He looked at the wire copy and said, ‘who’s he, never heard of him’, which taught me something about never assuming that your audience is the same as you.

Later, in Sean O’Brien’s first poetry collection, The Indoor Park, I found this elegy. For a short while I had this off by heart. And since The Indoor Park is now out of print, I trust that he won’t mind my re-printing the poem here.

For Lowell George

What fills the heart is felt to make amends,

Until the flooded heart can no more choose

Release than never sing its staggered blues.

I wish you had not found such special friends.

At thirty-four, at three a.m., in bed,

Of overweight, helped on by dope and booze,

Before your talent bored you you were dead.

Sean O’Brien

The illustration above comes from yu-shio’s rock and roll illustration site, Everyday Rock,  in Japan (and in Japanese). Thanks to thumbrella for the pointer. The illustration below is of a ticket for Lowell George’s last concert.

lowell20ticket


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36 Responses to “Remembering Lowell George”

  1. shays Says:

    Well, I too lament the passing of Lowell George, and have for these thirty-odd years. So do the extant members of Little Feat (ALL of them), including the two or three new comers that have been in the band since reformation. But to say they have never been as interesting suggests one thing: you have not seen them since 1989 and quite possibly have not given their output since then a fair, unbiased listen. Lowell most definitely had a way with words and phrases that can never be replaced. But Paul Barrere and Billy Payne are not slouches as lyricists, either … I dare you to listen to Borderline Blues (a tribute to Neon Park) and not weep. As far as instrumentation, the band just grows better and better. Lowell was a phenomenal slide guitarist … but the two current guitarists in LF (Paul and Fred Tackett) are technically just as good, and since re-enlisting in the jamband approach, much more inventive.

    But LF is, as it always has been, primarily a performance-based band. You have to see them live. In their shows, they honor Lowell in everything they do, while having grown skilled and confident enough to make every classic Lowell song they do something recognizable but at the same time new and fresh. And then there’s the new stuff. Listen to Shaun. Watch her. She brings a dimension to the band that Lowell never could provide. And then there’s the guy who is the lynchpin … the conductor … the musical genius — Billy Payne. Ask almost any band if they would like him in their ensemble.


    • Really? one cant’s compare the current sell outs with LF with Lowell maybe it’s achick thing.

      • Scott Hays Says:

        mtch … “Sell outs”? Richie Hayward (RIP) and Billy Payne were co-founders of Little Feat with Lowell. Paul Barrere auditioned for the original band (he jokes that Lowell made him play “Dance of the Nubile Virgins” from the sheet music) and then joined in 1972 when it expanded to add him, Sam Clayton and Kenny Gradney. ALL of those guys are still in the band, with the exception of Richie (replaced by Gabe Ford … Robben Ford’s cousin). The only “new” guy is Fred Tackett, who was Lowell’s roommate and co-wrote some of the early Feat tunes. Shaun Murphy no longer is with the band, nor is Craig Fuller (Pure Prairie League).

        So, obviously, they haven’t gone out and hired a bunch of ringers to pose as “Little Feat”, and don’t meet that definition of “sell out”. Have they gone mainstream in some way that offends you? Have they started writing love songs or rap tunes?

        Let me try a different approach. Have you attended a Little Feat show in the last decade? How about since 1979? Do you even know what you are talking about?

        Please reread what I wrote. No one compares to Lowell. No one in Feat makes a comparison, or claims to be anything (or anyone) that they aren’t. But they still love Lowell, and include him and his spirit in everything they do.


      • Yes I have seen them 6 times, always looking for that special momen tsince they got back together sell out is harsh but it is just not the same without LG.

      • Bernhard Says:

        I’ve been a Feat Fan since ’77. I have a lot to say, but Scott is right. I saw Feat during their 80’s reunion tour and the audience was singing every song with the band. It is not the original members fault that Lowell George died. I think Lowell was the best songwriter that ever lived. I think Ritchie was the best rock drummer that ever lived. I could go on and on, but collectively, the remaining members of Feat are the best musicians around and they pay homage to Lowell during every show.

        Since the late 80’s their shows have been great.

        My trivia is that I talked to Fred Tackett briefly once and he was in Lowell’s touring band. He said Lowell ate an entire extra-large meat pizza on the bus the night before he died. Then at the hotel, he heard Lowell’s wife screaming for help early the next morning (i.e. 3-4am). He said he immediately went to the room and Lowell was either barely alive or already dead. He said it was “death by pizza.”

        The other trivia is that Gabe Ford is Robben Ford’s nephew, not cousin. Check out the Ford Brothers Blues Band, fronted by Patrick Ford (drummer). Patrick is Robben’s brother and Gabe’s dad. I am a big fan not a celebrity. I think replacing Ritchie Hayward is the toughest job on the planet. Just like ripping great music out after Lowell George died. I live near Patrick Ford and he told me that his instructions to Gabe were to never try to copy Ritchie, because it can’t be done. Just play as good as possible all the time, just like the rest of Feat.

        I am not a chick and neither is Scott. We’re Feat Fans.

      • Scott Hays Says:

        mtch … well, I can’t argue with your tastes; we all like different things, and we all like the same things differently. Lowell is always remembered by the band, and the band constantly honors him. What else can they do. But keep this in mind … Lowell was with Little Feat for 10 years. Little Feat has now been without Lowell for 23 years. Give Rooster Rag a listen. There’s nothing formulaic about it. It’s as eclectic and interesting as any of the band’s first three or four albums (some say Feats Don’t Fail Me Now was the first effort at commercial success, tho I disagree). It has the same creative energy as those first albums. And now there are four vocalists and four credited song writers (joined on this album by co-writers Robert Hunter on four of the songs, and Stephen Bruton on a fifth). And as Bernhard points out, Gabe steps out on his own … not emulating Richie but honoring him, to be sure. Nope, I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree

    • Ed Says:

      Well said. “They say time loves a hero”.

  2. J Walker Smith Says:

    Wow, look closely at that bill and read who opened for Little Feat at George’s last concert. Catfish Hodge! Brings back memories. I’m an Allman Brothers freak myself. “Blue Sky” is my absolute, all-time favorite song. Know every lick by heart. The last tune, so the urban legend goes, that Duane ever worked on in the recording studio before his fatal motorcycle crash. Anyhow. I must confess I have a weak spot for that movie “Almost Famous” (like a major weak spot — no comment). I’m willin’.

  3. Gary Says:

    Thanks for dropping by my place – I saw Feat with Lowell twice and I’ve seen the new band too – I love them all – everything they do is great – Lowell can still move me to tears with his voice, his words, his slide – I was talking to Paul Barrere in November (interview at my place) and had a great chat about Lowell and stuff. My middle son is called Rory Lowell – Rory Gallagher and Lowell George, of course

  4. thenextwavefutures Says:

    On another list Gordon Taylor posted the lyrics of the song written by Jackson Browne for Lowell George’s daughter:

    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
    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
    On July the Fourth
    From the sunny south and the frozen north
    This will always be your day of birth
    May you always see what your life is worth

    • Mike Poster Says:

      Man that really gets me in the heart & soul!
      Little Feat with Lowell was every major British R&R acts favorite band. I love 70s Feat and feel I’m in a secret society who knows about how amazing they were. I have downloaded most of there live shows I can from Archive.org and have 3 Lowell shows including the one right before he passed. I have the original (old heavy cased/thick cds) of theirs excluding Sailing shoes & Down on the farm which I have but they are the newer cds – (lighter with Cheaper plastic). What would have become of LF if Lowell lived. Would he have faltered and slid under the radar like alot of the 70s acts & then be rediscovered in the late 80s/early 90s (like alot of rock/blues acts – the same industry that turned their backs on bluesy rock & arena rock – came crawling on their hands and knees when they realized punk then later New Wave wasn’t gonna be the next big thing-theres only one MJ-Madonna-or Whitney).

  5. Gary Says:

    A fantastic song – off to listen to it now!

  6. Shays Says:

    Jackson’s song IS a great song. There is a dvd circulating of the Lowell George Tribute Concert performed in LA shortly after Lowell passed (August 4, 1979, Inglewood Forum). It features Little Feat, Jackson, Bonnie Raitt, Emylou Harris, Linda Rondstadt, Nicollete Larson (another GREAT singer taken before her time), and a host of other (almost) recognizable musicians … including Craig Fuller, who was a member of Little Feat from 1989-1993. Jackson performed Of Missing Persons during the show, but it did not make it to this truncated version. The quality is not very good (hand held super-8 camera), but it’s a moving concert nonetheless.

    The daughter for whom Jackson wrote “Of Missing Persons” is Inara George. You might have heard her if you own the Rock-n-Roll Doctor compilation (the tribute to Lowell George album) … she sings the Feat lullaby “Trouble” that Lowell wrote for her, and that her mother sang to her when she was a little girl. Today, you can see Inara … she has a new album out that she did with Van Dyke Parks, and she tours and performs in a group (mostly a duo, but sometimes some other folks in a variety of configurations) called The Bird and the Bee Project. Check her out … if you haven’t heard, she does sort of psychedelic pop with a Brazilian twist. Good stuff

    • pwapvt Says:

      Where is that dvd? There is a clip of Bonnie Raitt & Linda Rondstadt doing “I’m blowing away” on youtube that is purported to be from that show. Their version is stunning. I’d love to see the rest of the show if you can find it.

  7. Teefax Says:

    @ Shays: Have been looking for this DVD for ages! Would be VERY grateful for any hint where to find it (does it have a special title – other than “tribute to Lowell…”?)

    • Scott Hays Says:

      See the message, above. I have a copy and tried (for a while) to figure out how to make copies from it, but the technology is beyond my feeble skills and time I have to spend. But I’ll bet someone at the Little Feat Message Boards can help you out.

  8. Mike Says:

    I was 19 when he died and I remember when I first heard the song, Willin.” Wow. I was hooked and then saddend learning of Lowell’s death. For me now, music is dead. Who replaces a talent like, Lowell, Elvis, Marvin Gaye, John Lee Hooker, nobody. And sadly nobody has? Thank God we can still play his music throughout our lifetime and hopefully into eternity.

    • Teefax Says:

      @Mike: I am happy to say you are wrong 😉 I am exactly your age. I can tell you that, over the last 2-3 years, I have started to discover (rock) music again. There is loads of good music out there, even for us old guys. Have you ever tried Wilco, Spoon, The Shins, even Arctic Monkeys? Admitted its not Lowell and Little Feat. They will forever remain special. But hey, life goes on. Just try, and you will find tons of good stuff.


  9. still missing this great and talented man…… I tried to see most little feat shows within 200 miles back in the seventys and always worth the effort , and got the chance to talk to lowell on the bus and or back stage on many occasions and he always seemed a little sad but would still be friendly also saw the last couple shows in nyc at the bottom line and gave him change for the cigarette machine between shows one night not knowing he would be gone a few nights later soooo sad and I spent the day at the forum while the tribute show was blocked out and practiced . I think there is a pro version of the video from that show but never have seen it avaiable …feat are and always been a top shelf unit and never fail to satisfy to this day ……

  10. MDShinn Says:

    Best I can offer to myself and any Lowell George/Little Feat fan is come see a Blue Steel show. My band has been rockin’ since 1992 and we always perform Little Feat tunes. My wife is the lead singer but I sing many songs as well. We are both Little Feat fans and do are best to deliver the vibe, the smoothness, the boogie-beat of Little Feat with every version we play.

    You can check us out at:
    http://www.facebook.com/bluesteelrocks
    http://www.reverbnation.com/bluesteelrocks


  11. […] Remembering Lowell George В« Around the edges Jan 11, 2009 … 16 Responses to “Remembering Lowell George” …. during the show, but it did not make it to this truncated version. … Best I can offer to myself and any Lowell George/Little Feat … […]

  12. MikeJ Says:

    It is a digitized VHS production tape. It is incomplete. It appears a friend of a member of the band named Laurie got a copy. Parts of it are on YouTube but wont stay much longer so go look now. (There is a pregnant Emmylou Harris on it and future LF member Craig Fuller among the herd) The prodution company could never get all the artists record companies to release it. It is still officially in legal limbo. Scott, you have a copy? Dang, I dont and I am family.

    As for the original post. That ticket and clipping is mine and use to have my copyright on it. I have seen at least 10 people claim it is theirs. My ogiginal has a time stamp encoded.

    The remainder of LF have become finely tuned musicians that have far more ability then they did when Lowell was alive. Paul Barrere has become one of the finest slide players in music but never gets credit being in Lowell’s shadow. Bill Payne is considered a top 5 keyboard player and his resume prives it. My adopted broher Richie, RIP, was second to no one.

    Maybe it is because I am a musician I see these things but not many great bands can touch these guys live. A true mark of abilities.

    Peace

    • Scott Hays Says:

      MikeJ … a couple of notes to you. There is (or was) a really fantastic auction at eBay of a replica of Richie’s drumstick bag with an autograph stitched on from his actual signature … it includes the sticks he used in Vancouver when he last played with the band (donated by his incredible and saintly wife) … the auction benefits a charity in Jamaica with which Richie was connected.

      You are absolutely correct with regard to the musicianship in the band, though you neglected to add former studio champ Fred Tackett in your list of top five (or better). They are so well-respected that the line-up of folks joining them in Jamaica for their 10th annual excursion is stunning: Leftover Salmon, North Mississippi All-Stars, Sam Bush, Larry Campbell (and his wife, Teresa Williams), Rodney Crowell, and Craig Fuller are the announced artists that will be there.

      I, too, am a musician (not very good) … but have admired and respected everything they have done since about 1972 (including going out and buying albums of different artists because one … or more … sat in on a song or two).


  13. Thank god for the Rockplast dvd and rip richie has anyone seen the utube video of lf with Tower of Power doing Spainish Moon,truly great,that’s the dvd I want for X-mas.


  14. Saw the Dixie Chicken Tour and many shows afterward with and without Lowell.There are no words really….Life’s ephemeral, and an artist’s life epitomizes this truth.

    What it is ultimately about, essentially is having your own “voice” as writer, player, and/or singer. Lowell hit it out of the park in every single one of those areas, I’d think its rather safe and clear to say at this point. Hell it was obvious the first time you heard him.

    He re-defined electric slide guitar after a short era of everyone trying to sound like Duane, who in turn had revolutionized it after everyone was trying to sound like Elmore[ exception to Ry and Johnny Winter and Mick Taylor]

    His voice, once again, one in a million, or ten million….I remember him stopping the band at Lisner in DC during the Dixie Chicken tour/show and just singing without the band and people just couldnt believe it! I mean who sings like that?!

    As for his inimitable song writing :His alternately wry,cynical,funny,satirical, witty and fucking profound perception and expressionn of the human condition with all its pathos and humor is right there in every single one of his compositions.

    As with Jimi or Trane, Billie Holiday or Gram Parsons for that matter, Wolf, Duane, the list is literaily endless;we celebrate their LIFE and their gift to us EVERY TIME WE PLAY THEIR MUSIC.

    I know everytime I hit the stage whether I’m sittin in or workin, I remember just how temporal it all really is. And I NEVER take it for granted.

    Isnt that one of the many gifts artists of that manitude offer us in the long run?!

    So while you are tempted to be or are actually, as I am writing this, choked up, STOP IT and dance brothers and sisters, dance!
    Thats what Lowell would want…Thats why we’re here and folks like Lowell and the rest of the awesome cast provided the music, so

    DANCE, everyone DANCE!

  15. Matt Hodges Says:

    I am in agreement with those who defend the current incarnation of LIttle Feat who are doing their thing today. I was 4 when Lowell George died so I can’t really speak to how great he was, but obviously what he embodied is carried on in spirit and the bulk of the set is his music and the band recognizes that. I agree with the poster who talked about Paul and Fred’s technical competence as players (along with others in the band) and I think they are great. Make relative comparisons to what’s out there today, not what was there 30 years ago. I think Lowell George would agree.

  16. MARK ZWILSKY Says:

    I was lucky enough to see lowell the night before he died … I was 19 years old and like everyone else was shocked ! great show …. listen to ((thanks i’ll eat it here )) still to this day what a special album … how could he go so damn young … danny gatton ,lowell, duanne, jannis, jimi ? WTF ?
    MARK Z. !

  17. Thorny Says:

    Why is Lowell George not in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame?

  18. Scott Hays Says:

    There is an autographed Lowell George telecaster in the R&R Hall of Fame, as well as a bright red warm-up jacket that he wore during the ill-fated Thanks, I’ll Eat It Here tour. Lowell is not. The band is not. Most everyone in the HoF who was a peer, performed with them (as headliners or opening act), for them, or asked one (or more) members of Feat to sit in with them says they belong. Every year fans of the band try to find someone at the Hall to listen, but they can’t even get a nomination. Sometimes you just have to wonder …

  19. Jim Loving Says:

    Some great remembrances here, just found this looking for something else. I was and am a big LF and LG fan. I was at Lisner when they recorded Waiting for Columbus. I saw LF last, New Year’s eve, 2011, when they played at the Filmore SS, MD a mile from my house. One can speculate all you want, but since LG had left LF it is an interesting question about what would have happened to the band, perhaps that question has been answered by them over the years. R&R HOF? Why not, they have my vote, but I am not sure of the process to get in, they were too ‘obscure’ to likely ever be nominated. I follow them now on FB, they have a page and I find it the best way to keep up with them.

    • Scott Hays Says:

      Jim … LF does an annual excursion to the Grand Lido, Negril all-inclusive resort. This year will be Feat Excursion XII, March 5-9, and is co-hosted by Larry Campbell’s Midnight Ramble Band (this is Levon Helm’s house band, in case you don’t know). Guests include Jorma Kaukonen, David Bromberg, Vince Herman (Leftover Salmon), and Craig Fuller (if a LF fan, he needs no introduction). Four full shows, on the beach, plus hanging on the grounds with all these guys and gals who are completely accessible and human. Here’s the link: http://www.islandgigs.com/outdoor-concerts/event/ramble-on-the-island/.

      The fact that both Linda Rondstadt and the Meters got a nomination for the R&RHoF this year suggests that not all is lost. It doesn’t hurt when a band like Phish recreates the entire Waiting for Columbus show in its repertoire, either.

  20. MARK ZWILSKY Says:

    go to ((SUGARMEGS)) website its free ! punch in Lowell George … they have these killer WHFS radio station interviews were Lowell plays and interviews with Linda Ronstadt… also many of the last concerts recorded on the thanks i’ll eat it here tour… technology of recording wasn’t what it is now 30 years ago but it surprised me how most of the recorded venues played out. guess it comes with the territory how many we have lost to drugs an alcohol…. and so it goes many years later were all wondering WTF happened ?

  21. Gisbert Horn Says:

    I am from Germany, almost 60 by now and I have no idea if LF ever had a German gig after LG passed. And I’m not sure if I would want to see them nowadays. Probably they’re still rolling. But all I know is that their ‘Rockpalast’ show back in 1977 was one of the best live music experiences I’ve ever had. They were at their peak, overwhelmingly tight and loving what they were able to create. By the way not everybody around on that summer night in Essen was as delighted as I was because already back then many RnR fans only cherished mediocre stuff. What can you do?
    RIP,Lowell !


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