In 2002, Backbeat Books released Rock and Roll Doctor, Mark Brend's comprehensive biography of Little Feat co-founder and chief musical architect, Lowell George, to great acclaim. Over two decades after his untimely death, the singer/songwriter who began his career doing sessions for Sinatra (and later joined Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention) continues to fascinate.
Before assembling Little Feat, Lowell was recruited into the Mothers of Invention in 1968. However, despite his noticeable singing and guitar talents, Lowell fretted and fussed under the strict leadership of Frank Zappa, until Frank told him,"Lowell, you need to get your own band," and summarily kicked him out of the Mothers. Zappa was absolutely right.
Although they were more criticially acclaimed than commercially successful, Little Feat was acclaimed in the '70s by the likes of Mick Jagger and Jimmy Page as their favorite band. George's offbeat sense of humor and surreal lyrics became a Little Feat trademark, making songs like 'Fat Man in the Bathtub' and 'Dixie Chicken' unforgettable. Acclaimed bestselling modern country trio The Dixie Chicks named their band after this classic tune.
The Last Record Album in 1975 contained George's beautiful "Long Distance Love;" the sparseness of the guitar playing and the cool change of tempo with drum and bass, created a song that evoked melancholy and tenderness. The opening question and answer line is full of emotion and pleading: "Ah hello, give me missing persons, tell me what is it that you need, I said oh, I need her so, you've got to stop your teasing"
Rock and Roll Doctor explores the genius that animated Little Feat - from George's early bands The Standells and The Factory, to his work with Frank Zappa, landmark albums such as Feats Don't Fail Me Now and The Last Record Album, and his session and production work with the likes of Linda Ronstadt and The Grateful Dead. George's colorful childhood included living next door to Hollywood idol Errol Flynn and appearing with his brother on Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour, doing a harmonica duet. He had begun a tour to support his first solo recording Thanks, I'll Eat It Here when he died of a heart attack in Washington, DC.
Many critics believe that George's greatest contribution to rock was the standard he set for slide guitar players; he was perhaps the first slide guitarist to apply an otherwise country or blues technique to a New Orleans rhythm & blues based rock format. Strains of his influence touch the music not only of the continuing lineup of Little Feat, but also the Radiators, Roy Rogers, Ben Harper, Bonnie Raitt and the Subdudes.
George's forte was not lightning speed or the percussive nature of the Delta blues. "With the sustain it was like a singing voice. He could almost do horn lines," says Tommy Malone, singer and guitarist from the Subdudes. "He was certainly an original, a master. He was amazing." "It's amazing almost everything coming out of Nashville these days from Travis Tritt to Mary Chapin Carpenter is suspiciously influenced," says George's songwriting partner Martin Kibbee, who co-wrote "Dixie Chicken." "I think every one of those bands has a slide guitar player and into syncopation. What he was a pioneer of has now become mainstream."
Guitarist Paul Barrere now handles the slide parts for Little Feat but doesn't make a conscious effort to mimic the legato lines once squeezed out from the guitar of Lowell George. "The fact that we are playing his songs is the big tribute," Barrere says.