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Lowell Thomas George or Lowell George (April 13, 1945 - June 29, 1979) was an Americanmarker singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer, who primarily achieved fame as lead vocalist and frontman in the rock band Little Feat where he was known for his slide guitar skills.

Biography

Early years

Lowell George was born in Hollywoodmarker, the son of Willard H. George, a famous furrier who raised chinchillas and supplied furs to the movie studios (he was also known as the "furrier to the stars").

George's first instrument was the harmonica. At the age of 6 he appeared on a television talent show (Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour) performing a duet with his older brother, Hampton. At Hollywood High School Lowell took up the flute in the school marching band and orchestra. He started to play guitar at age 11, continued with the harmonica, and later learned to play the saxophone and sitar.Originally, he played guitar with fellow schoolmate (and future bandmate) Paul Barrere and both experimented with using a slide, but George became most interested in the sounds he could produce with the device and continued to explore his growing dexterity with it, taking his skills to a higher level.

Performing

Early years

George's first band, The Factory, formed in 1965. Members included future Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward (he replaced Dallas Taylor in Sept 1966), and Martin Kibbee (a.k.a. Fred Martin) who would later co-write several Little Feat standards with George, including "Dixie Chicken" and "Rock & Roll Doctor". Frank Zappa produced two tracks for The Factory. The band made an appearance on the 1960s sitcom F Troop as "The Bed Bugs".

Following the disbanding of The Factory, George briefly joined established hit band The Standells, although by this time, in 1968, they were past their prime, and soon to split. There followed a few months in late 1968 to early 1969 where George was a member of Zappa's band, the Mothers of Invention and can be heard on both the album Weasels Ripped My Flesh, and playing guitar and singing on several tracks on the first disc of Zappa's "You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Volume 5," including a powerful version of "Here Lies Love," with Lowell as lead vocalist. According to George's recollection, he was kicked out of Zappa's group after proposing the song "Willin," ostensibly because the song is about a truck driver that contains references to drug and alcohol use. Zappa was an inflexible opponent of illicit drug use within his presence. "Willin'" and "Dixie Chicken" are among George's most well known and frequently recorded songs. Around the same time, George also joined Peter Tork in his first post-Monkee band "Release" but the band stalled and never got off the ground.

Finding his groove

After leaving the Mothers of Invention, George invited fellow musicians to form a new band, which they named Little Feat, since Lowell had very small, fat feet. The spelling change of "feet" to "feat" was an homage to The Beatles.

George is best known and remembered for his outstanding ability on the slide guitar, and his unique, soulful voice, which was powerful with a blues-funk twist. Lowell usually (but not always) played lead guitar with Barrere and focused as a slide guitarist. Although he experimented earlier with playing with a slide, an injury to his hand involving a model airplane propeller during the recording of Little Feat's first album prompted him to rethink his use of a traditional glass slide. It was unfortunate for him that Ry Cooder had to be called in to play the slide on the original Little Feat recording, although once recovered, Lowell continued to pursue his own style, and re-recorded some of his material. Rather than the traditional glass or steel slide, George used a Sears and Roebuck Craftsman 11/16ths "deep well" socket (for use with a socket wrench). Although not the first – Ry Cooder had been playing slide live and on albums since 1965 – George was certainly amongst the pioneers of the use of slide guitar in rock music. Also contributing to his distinctive slide style, was "his use of compression that defined his sound and gave him the means to play his extended melodic lines."

Outside of his band, he played guitar on John Cale's landmark 1973 album Paris 1919 and Harry Nilsson's Son of Schmilsson album (Take 54)

Little Feat

George in 1977 Photo: Jean-Luc Ourlin
Little Feat enjoyed popularity throughout the 1970s, releasing a series of highly regarded 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, hailed by critics and fans alike, became their best-selling album. Guitarist Mick Taylor, formerly of the Rolling Stones, guested with the band on that recording. The Tower of Power horns also made the songs of George and Little Feat shine.

George was also a respected producer, with his most famous work being the production of the Grateful Dead's 1978 album Shakedown Street. After a fist fight with Mickey Hart, George refused to finish the album and the Dead completed it themselves. He also produced Little Feat's records, Valerie Carter's 1977 release Just A Stone's Throw Away, and his 1979 solo album Thanks, I'll Eat it Here.

Death

On June 15, 1979, George began a tour in support of his solo album. After playing at Lisner Auditorium, on the campus of George Washington Universitymarker, Washington D.C.marker, he returned to his room at the Twin Bridges Marriott Hotel in Arlington, Virginiamarker. George fell ill in his room and died on June 29, 1979. Ironically, George's final encore of the evening was a solo acoustic version of "Twenty Million Things (to do)". Although George was a long time drug user, police who attended to the scene found no evidence of drug paraphernalia, or of drugs having been removed from the scene. An autopsy showed that he died of a massive heart attack. Lowell George's body was cremated in Washington D.C. on August 2. His ashes were flown back to Los Angeles, where they were scattered in the Pacific Ocean from his fishing boat.

He is survived by his daughter, Inara George, a successful solo artist and member of the duo The Bird and the Bee.He is also survived by a son, Luke George.

Posthumous tributes and cover songs

A benefit concert for Lowell George's family was held shortly after his death at The Forum in Los Angeles on August 4, 1979, featuring Little Feat, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Nicolette Larson, among others.

The song "Ride Like The Wind" on the 1979 self-titled album by Christopher Cross was dedicated to Lowell George.

Jackson Browne memorialized George in his 1980 song "Of Missing Persons" , written about George and addressed to his daughter, Inara George who is in The Bird and the Bee.

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 Lowell George's songs, including Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther, Bonnie Raitt, Eddie Money, Randy Newman, Japanesemarker recording star Keisuke Kuwata, and Lowell George's daughter Inara George.

In 2006, Chris & Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes covered "Roll Um Easy" during one of their shows at The Roxy Theatremarker in Los Angeles as part of the "Brothers of a Feather" tour and subsequent album release. Prior to the song's performance, Chris Robinson notes that George had a profound musical influence on both him and his brother. The Black Crowes also regularly cover "Willin" in concert. In July, the Dave Matthews Band recorded a live version of Crash Into Me at Folsom Field, where Dave gave tribute to George's "Dixie Chicken" by including George's chorus at the end of the song.

French recording artist Yann Schubert included tribute song "Lowell George" (words and music by Jean Philippe Kohn) in his '80s eponymous album ( AZ/2 320 )

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