June 29, 1979 – Lowell Thomas George (Little Feat) was born on April 13th 1945 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 future bandmate Paul Barrere as well as 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.
Initially funded by the sale of his grandfather’s stock, George’s first band The Factory formed in 1965. 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.
Following the disbanding of The Factory, George briefly joined The Standells. 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 (Jim Morrison) 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.” On the contrary, 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.
After leaving the Mothers of Invention, George invited fellow musicians to form a new band, which they named Little Feat. George usually (but not always) played lead guitar and focused on slide guitar. 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 re-recorded 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.”
When not working with Little Feat in the early days, George lent his talents as a session player. His electric slide guitar skills are featured on Bonnie Raitt’s Takin’ My Time album on tracks, “I Feel the Same” and “Guilty”. Lowell also joined Peter Tork in his first post-Monkee band “Release”. He played guitar on John Cale’s 1973 album Paris 1919, Harry Nilsson’s Son of Schmilsson album Take 54 and (uncredited but verified by Leo Nocentelli, 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 Feat famous. While, however great the Pressure Drop LP is, Palmer’s career languished. By the spring of 1976, Little Feat were touring North America opening for The Who, as they 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 eleven 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.
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.
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. 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 He was 34.
• Jackson Browne memorialized him in his 1980 song “Of Missing Persons”. The song was actually dedicated to George’s daughter, Inara George who is part of the musical duo The Bird and the Bee. Browne famously described George as “the Orson Welles of rock”.
• The song “Ride Like the Wind” on the 1980 self-titled album by Christopher Cross was dedicated to Lowell George.
• In 1983 the British poet Sean O’Brien included a poem “For Lowell George” in his collection, The Indoor Park.
• In 1988 American rock band Van Halen covered “A Apolitical Blues” as the closing track for their album OU812.
• In 1997 the CD Rock-n-Roll Doctor – A Tribute To Lowell George was released featuring various artists performing versions of George’s songs, including Jackson Browne, J. D. Souther, Bonnie Raitt, Eddie Money, Randy Newman, Keisuke Kuwata, and Inara George.
• Chris and Rich Robinson covered “Roll Um Easy” on their 2007 album Brothers of a Feather: Live at the Roxy.
• American jam band Phish played all the songs from Little Feat’s double album Waiting for Columbus during their annual and traditional Halloween “Musical Costume” on October 31, 2010 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
• Arlen Roth recorded “Dixie Chicken” in tribute to Lowell George on his Slide Guitar Summit album, with Lee Roy Parnell in 2013