July 26, 2010

Feat of History

My uncle often posts interesting articles on a wide range of different topics, usually interrelated but sometimes not. At any rate, he's an interesting read and I would recommend that any one who is reading this to read this.


Been in a Little Feat kick all weekend. Little Feat, the band, not the tootsies things at the ends of my legs. Been singing either “Time Love a Hero” or “All That You Dream” all weekend. Not bad songs to have stuck in your cranial cavity. Well, I did put on Waiting For Columbus, thee Little Feat album to buy if you’re only going to buy one.

So, while listening to that album I did sing along with “Dixie Chicken” and “Tripe Face Boogie.” People always talk about how the Grateful Dead could jam and segue from one song to another, but really, the best band at that was — and possibly still is — Little Feat. Get this album; Little Feat puts on a clinic. You can download it for under 12 bucks.

Recorded live in London, England and Washington, DC, this is the lineup that includes Bill Payne, Paul Barerre, Richie Hayward, Sam Clayton, Kenny Gradney and Lowell George.

Lowell George is one of those guys; if you were an aspiring musician and/or songwriter in the 1970’s, you probably liked or even emulated him. Besides forming Little Feat (with Bill Payne) in 1969, he played with Mothers of Invention. The prevalent rumor is Frank Zappa kicked George out of the band for writing the song “Willin’.” Allegedly for the drug reference in the lyrics: “And if you give me: weed, whites, and wine …”

Sounds like a quaint story now, but a rumor like that, back then, no computers, no Internets to get viral on, the hippie culture moved with stories like that. Like the myth that Frank Zappa ate shit on stage. Not too long ago someone relayed that lie to me, as if it were the truest story that was ever told. And this was a guy who hadn’t been born until 1982. Or there abouts. How the fuck would you know, 40 years after that little piece of rock’n’roll mythology began making the rounds.

Actually, I would bet Zappa loved it though; it gave him notoriety and kind of fell in with his famous poster, Phi Zappa Crappa. If a guy would have a picture taken of himself sitting on the Vertical Throne taking a dump, why wouldn’t he eat shit on stage?

Well, one reason being that shit tastes like, well, shit and Zappa was never high enough to get past that, if he were actually ever high. In his autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book, FZ talks about the shit-eating myth (denying it ever happened) and how he had never liked drugs, didn’t want his band members using drugs when the played, or even drinking heavily. Although, as I recall, Zappa admitted he did in fact, inhale — once.

Lowell George was a prodigious drug user. Put me to shame really. Well, maybe not. The only difference between us, I survived and Lowell George did not. He lived to the age of 34, dying of “heart failure” in Arlington, VA June 29, 1979. Heart failure … goes along with excessive weight, too much alcohol and too much of the street drugs, like heroin. The autopsy showed that George actually died from an accidental drug overdose, but people who want history to remember George kindly stick to the “heart failure” story.

Like friends and families of alcoholics who die of kidney failure or cirrhosis of the liver, no one wants to state the obvious: the person died from alcohol or drug use. Alcohol and drugs, like nicotine, kill.

When someone like Lowell George dies from a drug overdose, it makes a lot of news, affirming for those opposed to legalizing street drugs, the reason why said substances should continue to be illegal. Ignoring the fact that being illegal didn’t stop Lowell George from obtaining his drug of choice. Being illegal doesn’t stop anyone from buying or selling drugs and by any estimation, the so-called “War on Drugs” has been a dismal failure for the past 80 years.

The saddest part of Lowell George’s legacy though is that he left behind two children and in a broader world, we won’t get to hear any new music from this man, one of the greatest songwriters to emerge from the 1960’s. He also had a great voice and was a master at the slide guitar.

My one disappointment with Waiting For Columbus is that it didn’t feature enough of George playing that slide guitar. It has all the great hits, like “Time Loves a Hero,” “Dixie Chicken,” “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” “Willin’ ” and “All That You Dream.” It also has scorching versions of “Tripe Face Boogie” and “Mercenary Territory,” quite possibly my favorite Little Feat song.

 “Some kind of man, he can’t do anything wrong

 If I see him I’ll tell him you’re waiting

 “Cause I’m devoted for sure, but my days are a blur

 Well your nights turn into my mornings

 I did my time in your rodeo, fool that I am I’d do it all over again.”

Years ago, right after Little Feat reformed and recorded the album Let It Roll, I had a chance to interview keyboardist Bill Payne. Of his old band mate, Payne said George was the type of guy you loved one minute and were ready to kill the next. Sounds like an addict. Predictably unpredictable. You never know when the person you can talk to sensibly will appear or disappear.

George would be 65 had he lived and likely might still be touring, if not with Little Feat than as a solo act. That’s what he was doing when he died 31 years ago. But we’ll never know. Waiting For Columbus went platinum years ago so he might have gotten out of the music business, got into real estate and ended up like surf guitar legend, Dick Dale, who performed June 6, 2010 at the Fiesta del Sol in Solana Beach.

 Don’t know if Dick Dale is into real estate actually, but if you have money and live in California, owning real estate used to be a great way to make your money grow.

In the thousands of rock concerts I’ve seen over the years, none of them, to my knowledge, included Lowell George. Let’s face it: there are a lot of them I just don’t remember due to too much alcohol and drugs. To this day I swear there were 15 people on stage when the Grateful Dead played Red Rocks on August 14, 1979. My lovely sister Elaine insists that wasn’t the case.

I’ve seen Bonnie Raitt and John Hiatt perform “All That You Dream” several times each, seen the “new” Little Feat a couple of times, but I can never say I saw Lowell George perform.

Back in the 1980’s I took my mother to see Henry Mancini perform with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. It had been nearly two decades since Mancini had scored a hit song, but for my mother it didn’t matter. Time had stood still and then rolled backwards. She was singing “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” as if she were 30 years younger.

 “Peter Gunn” is probably the coolest song Mancini ever composed! But Mom loved the romantic tunes.

Just imagine, seeing Lowell George, despite his age, performing his best music. When Dick Dale performed last weekend, he didn’t appear to have missed a beat. But, with Lowell George, it’s not to be. The best we can do is click on YouTube or download Waiting For Columbus.

That’s the true legacy of drug abuse; we lose a bit of what makes us smile every day when our heroes die far too young.

Unfortunately most of the pictures did not translate over into the Journal, so if you wish to see this entry in all of it's intended glory, than go here.
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