On April 13, 1945, the world was graced with the debut of Lowell Thomas George, the man who would go on to front Little Feat and make them one of the greatest live bands of the ‘70s. While the band continued to deliver some outstanding concerts in the wake of George’s tremendously premature death in 1979 at the age of 34, there’s no doubt that the band wouldn’t have been the same without Lowell George.
To commemorate the occasion of George’s birth, we’ve compiled a list of 10 tracks from throughout his career - one from each of Little Feat’s albums and one from his lone solo album - that should provide you with some good listenin’ as well as a great soundtrack to your next party.
“Willin’” (1971): Written prior to Little Feat even coming into existence, this track ultimately found more fame through its re-recording on the band’s second album, Sailin’ Shoes, but - call us purists - we just felt like it was better to kick things with the original version. Enjoy the slide guitar on the song, by the way, as it features not only George but also Ry Cooder.
“Sailin’ Shoes” (1972): This was, of course, the title track to the band’s second album, and it led off the second side of the LP, but we really could’ve gone with any tune from the record. It’s definitely one of the most important records in the Little Feat catalog, if only because of the musical evolution between the band’s debut album and this one. “I think when you hear that record and listen to the growth of the band between the Little Feat and Sailin’ Shoes, there’s so much more maturity in the record,” keyboardist Bill Payne told Rhino.com. We got a little bit more used to recording. I think Lowell’s chops as a writer - and mine, too, with Richie - were starting to kind of blossom, and…it put us on the map. Not sales-wise, but as a group to be taken seriously.”
“Two Trains” (1973): In a perfect world, this would’ve been a hit single for Little Feat. It wasn’t, of course, but in an interview with Glide Magazine in conjunction with the band’s 50th anniversary, guitarist Paul Barrere was asked which song other than the title track from Dixie Chicken could’ve been a hit, and that was his initial pick. Then again, he also conceded that it was damned near impossible for Warner Brothers to figure out how to sell the band to audiences. “Little Feat was a record company marketing department’s nightmare because it was so diverse,” said Barrere. “They never knew what box to put us in. ‘Do we put them in the country section? No. Do we put them in the rock section? Well, we could. Should we put them over here in the jazzier rock section?’ They never knew how to really market what we kept putting out.”
“Spanish Moon” (1974): This track stands out in the Little Feat discography as the only song Van Dyke Parks produced for the band, but it also features Tower of Power. In an interview with SongFacts, saxophonist Emilio Castillo recalled his amusement with Parks. “We walked into the session and met the producer, Van Dyke Parks, who was an extremely esoteric cat,” said Castillo. “One of the first things he said to us was, ‘I want the horns on this track to sound the way it does when the cow pie hits the side of the barn.’ We just looked at him in amazement and said, ‘No problem.’”
“Long Distance Love” (1975): This track from The Last Record Album was cited as an LP highlight in just about every review, and rightfully so. In fact, when legendary British disc jockey John Peel compiled his Festive Fifty for 1976, he featured this track at No. 26, which is high praise indeed.
“Rocket in My Pocket” (1977): If you like George’s guitar solo on this song, you can thank producer Ted Templeman, because if it wasn’t for him, you would’ve been hearing one done by Bonnie Raitt. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but...well, here’s the story, as told by Templeman: “When we did ‘Rocket in My Pocket,’ it came time for the solo, [and Lowell] called and said, ‘I can’t do it today. I’m sleeping in.’ So I called Bonnie Raitt and she came down and played a fucking killer solo. So I called Lowell and said, ‘Listen to this. What do you think? Doesn’t this burn?’ He actually got out of bed and played the solo.”
“Fat Man in the Bathtub” (Live) (1978): There are many instances where a Little Feat song is good in the studio and positively scintillating in a live setting, and this track - which originally appeared on 1973’s Dixie Chicken - is a textbook example.
“Kokomo” (1979): Taken from Down on the Farm, the last proper studio album recorded by Little Feat before George’s death (even though it didn’t actually come out until after his passing), it’s the only solo composition by George on the album, which should give you some idea as to his decline. It’s still a fine ditty, but when you consider how prolific he was in previous years, the fact that this was his only individual songwriting contribution to the album speaks volumes.
“China White” (1981): This demo done in the early ‘70s was the only “new” song by George to appear on the compilation Hoy-Hoy!, which hit stores two years after his death. You can actually see him performing a bit of it in this 1977 video, but to hear the whole thing, as we know you’d probably prefer to do, you can watch the video above.
“Twenty Million Things” (1979): A few months before his death in June 1979, George released his lone solo LP, Thanks I’ll Eat It Here, an album which harkened back to the earlier days of Little Feat’s career with its eclectic musicality. It’s one of those albums that almost pisses you off because of how it makes you think about what might’ve been if the artist who recorded it hadn’t departed too soon. But you know how these things go: you might not be able to change the past, but at least you can enjoy the music.