The original Lowell George-led Little Feat had a string of classic albums in the 1970s, from their self-titled debut on through 1978’s live Waiting For Columbus, their best seller.
After George died at the age of 34 in a hotel room in 1979, of an apparent heart attack, during a tour in support of his one and only solo album (Thanks, I’ll Eat It Here), Little Feat reformed in the late ‘80s, featuring all the surviving former members. They’ve been successfully touring and releasing albums in one incarnation or another ever since.
But as successful as late-model Little Feat is (was?) – their 1988 “comeback” album Let It Roll went gold and contained the band’s career-first No. 1 hit (on the Mainstream Rock Chart at least), “Hate to Lose Your Lovin’” – and even though they’ve been Little Feat longer without him than with him, the shadow of Lowell George will forever hang over them.
Lowell George was best known for his phenomenal slide guitar playing. He got a distinctive sound primarily due to his use of a socket wrench instead of the traditional glass or steel tube, which he apparently started using due to an injury to his hand involving a model airplane propeller.
But George’s talents weren’t limited to his guitar playing. He also had an amazingly soulful voice, and as a songwriter he’s penned enough classics to ensure his place in the pantheon of great rock ‘n’ roll songwriters. George also played on John Cale’s landmark 1973 album Paris 1919. And as a producer, his most famous credit (beyond Little Feat’s own albums) was the Grateful Dead’s 1978 masterwork Shakedown Street (though due to his drug use he had to be replaced.
Here at lo-fi central, however, we’re not as interested in the classics as we are the prototypes of those classics. So in regards to Lowell George and Little Feat, we’re reaching back to a few tracks recorded prior to their 1971 self-titled Warner Bros. debut, all pulled off the career-spanning box set Hotcakes & Outtakes: 30 Years of Little Feat released in 2000.
”Lightning-Rod Man” was recorded in late 1966 by The Factory, a pre-Little Feat Lowell George group that also contained Martin Kibbee (a future George songwriting partner co-writer of such Little Feat hits as “Dixie Chicken” and Rock & Roll Doctor), Richie Hayward (the drummer who’s still in Little Feat more than 40 years later), and none other than Frank Zappa, who, in addition to adding piano and distinctive backing vocals, also produced the cut. Two years later, in fact, George joined Zappa’s band (Weasels Ripped My Flesh era) for a stint. The story goes that George was booted from the Zappa camp because of George’s song “Willin’,” which contains some none-too-subtle references to drug use (“weed, whites and wine”) – though it could just have easily been due to a violation of Zappa’s well-known no-drug policy for his players.
The next three songs were recorded in 1969 by the earliest version of Little Feat, and feature bassist Roy Estrada (an original member of Zappa’s Mothers of Invention), as well as Hayward and keyboardist Bill Payne (the second-longest member of the group who’s tenure has remained current through the present day). The recordings also feature Elliot Ingber (guitar) on “Teenage Nervous Breakdown” and “Juliet.” Ingber went on to play in Capt. Beefheart’s Magic Band (after being renamed Winged Eel Fingerling).