LOWELL GEORGE 1975 Interview LOWELL GEORGE April, 13th, 1945 - June, 29th, 1979 (his ashes were dispersed into the Pacific Ocean) LOWELL GEORGE TRIBUTE ALBUM "Rock And Roll Doctor" on CMC International Records From LOWELL GEORGE interview by Andy Childs in "ZIGZAG The Rock Magazine" (March 1975, Issue #50) [London, England]: Set played by LITTLE FEAT on Wednesday, January 15, 1975 in Manchester, England: Kicking off with "A Apolitical Blues" (humourously dedicated to Howlin' Wolf), they worked their way through "Two Trains", "On Your Way Down", "Wait Till The Shit Hits The Fan", "Walkin' All Night", "Skin It Back", "Fat Man In The Bathtub", "Sailin' Shoes", "Rock 'n' Roll Doctor", "Oh Atlanta", "Cold Cold Cold", "Dixie Chicken", "Tripe Face Boogie", and for an encore, "Willin'" and "Teenage Nervous Breakdown".
[So we'll start with Lowell's first venture which was THE FACTORY] LOWELL GEORGE: I was in a group in Los Angeles called The Factory that didn't do anything. We made some demos with Frank Zappa, and one of them is appearing on a bootleg album right now...a tune called "Lightning Rod Man" that Zappa produced. He did a fantastic job. It's a cross between "They're Coming To Take Me Away" and Ian & Sylvia - somewhere in the middle there. [As The Factory were a phase in Lowell's career that he'd obviously rather forget, details of its personnel are still a little obscure. But it did serve to introduce him to Richard Hayward, who is of course Little Feat's dynamite drummer.] LOWELL GEORGE: In The Factory, we were looking for a drummer and Ritchie came to a gig we played. We had Dallas Taylor playing drums in the band at the time, and he had just come from Texas or somewhere and had had an appendix operation. I didn't know anything about it, but he was ripping his stitches while he was playing the drums. He was dropping the beats and slowing down, and I thought "wow, this guy's terrible, I've got to get another drummer". He was actually very good, but he was ill. And I didn't find out until years later that he was bleeding through his shirt. I mean he needed the money real bad and was so honorable that he wouldn't cop to the fact that he was sick. And Ritchie came up and said "that guy's no good, you need a good drummer. I'm your drummer, huh? Let me in the band". He was with a girl, Animal Huxley was her name - a relative of Aldous Huxley. Animal brought him to the concert, it was a Mothers concert - a Freak Out. So Ritchie joined that original band with the guys who were in the Fraternity Of Man ...Martin Kibbee, who is also the author of "Rock 'n' Roll Doctor", "Dixie Chicken" and "Easy To Slip" (all Little Feat classics). I've known Martin since High School...we palled around together for years. [As we said, The Factory didn't really achieve anything of note, and they eventually evolved into the Fraternity Of Man but without Lowell, who next found himself in the dubious role of lead singer with THE STANDELLS] LOWELL GEORGE: I was in The Standells for about two months. I replaced Dicky Dodd, the lead singer, and then I found out that I feared for my life. All these young girls that he had gathered as an audience came looking for me after a gig one night to do me in. They thought that I was responsible for his demise, when in fact he quit because he couldn't stand it. And I finally quit because I couldn't stand it either. It was a very unusual organisation. Actually I'm not very proud of that period, but it kept me out of school y'know. One would say that it kept me off the streets, but I have to say that it kept me out of school. [The next stage in Lowell's career concerns a brief spell in the studio with the Fraternity Of Man on whose second album, "Get It On" (Dot) he played on, along with Bill Payne, now Little Feat's keyboard wizard. Apparently, the Fraternity Of Man, besides being a very funny band, were shall we say, er, a little eccentric...weird even. Especially their guitarist Elliott Ingber (the famous Winged Eel Fingerling).] LOWELL GEORGE: The guitar player was trying to play "Rumble" and on about take 54 they still couldn't get through the first verse and the guitar player started talking to his amplifier. And then his amplifier started answering, it really did answer him. He spoke something to the amp and the amp spoke back, and it's on tape. Yeah, it was very strange. But that band had such poor management, and the story goes that at a convention the lead singer, during his Mick Jagger imitation, threw the maracas and hit the boss of the record company's wife in the head and knocked her cold. And the president of the record company said, while he flicked his cigar ash onto the floor, "lose those jerks, they're through". And that was the end of the Fraternity Of Man. I worked on their second album, Tom Wilson produced it, and Tom was at the end of his rope because he had like 19 groups to produce in 3 weeks and he couldn't do it all. And he got a telephone call - he has a little briefcase with a phone in it, and he got his first and only telephone call on the thing and he nearly got a seizure, 'cause it never happened before, and he went " what is it? Oh my phone, oh my God someone's calling me on my phone". And it blew the whole session right out of the water. They were interesting days. The group was very funny. Their career was such a Zap comic. I mean it was hard to believe that all those terrible things could happen to a group; they were so accident prone. For instance, Jim Morrison dropped his pants in Tucumcari or somewhere, and a week later the Fraternity Of Man showed up and they were opening the show for Arthur Brown. And one of the tunes they did had a section in it with some four-letter words, those being "f**k her, forget her, I don't need her anymore", and it was a chorus that repeated. The DA was there with a tape recorder, recorded it, and immediately got the judge out of bed. They issued an indictment and a warrant for the arrest of everyone concerned with the band. And they put up road-blocks. But the band were so "out to lunch" anyway, they were sort of not all there, that they took the wrong road out town by accident and there was no road-block. You know the sheriffs had got together and said, "well it's either the east road or the west road, nobody takes the north road out of town". So they immediately drove out on the north road, and drove back into Los Angeles with headlines in all the trade papers "FRATERNITY OF MAN INDICTED". That's what they came home to. I mean this was typical. They did stuff like this all they way up and down the line. Do you wanna hear another one? They were arrested for smoking a joint in the parking lot of a high school which was next door to the auditorium they were playing in Pasadena, California, and the law says you cannot be in the room or place where marijuana has been smoked, but they weren't caught with anything. However, one of the guys in the group had a chunk of hashish, very hard Nepalise or something - Temple Ball, I think that's what they call them, and it was like a rock, you know. So they emptied all their pockets out in front of the officer who arrested them and he didn't think anything of this ball and put it in the bag and sealed it up. And they fingerprinted them and threw them in the slammer. They were bailed out a few hours later, came back to get their stuff, and they were really sweating it. So the guy poured their stuff out - it was a new cop this time - he looked at it and said " what's this?". And one of the guys in the band holds it up and says "oh that's my lucky pebble". So the cop says "oh, one lucky pebble, check". The band got outside and immediately went "WHAT!!" and they smoked it up immediately, which was typical. I mean they were on the verge of getting killed...destroyed...here's another one. LOWELL GEORGE: They [The Fraternity Of Man] were in Chicago. They went to Pepper's Lounge, a blues club, to see Junior Wells. Well they went into the club and some black guy said: "why don't you come out and we'll go in the car and smoke some pot". So they went out to the car to smoke a joint and the guy pulled a gun and said: "I want all your equipment, get out of the car or I'll shoot your arse off!" Well the roadie talked him out of it, he was a really sweet, nice man, and he explained that the band had no money, and that this was the only stuff they had in the whole world, and the guy said" "shit, OK." So he puts his gun away and they go back inside and have a drink. Then the guy comes back the next night, and someone from the band comes back as well, and the guy says: "hey man let's go out and have a joint, what the f**k". So they go out to the car and the guy gets out a gun and says: "get the f**k out of the car, I'm taking this stuff. I can make a mistake once, but twice, never". And he took all their stuff. Terrible. Crazy group, I loved them. I thought they really had potential. They sold like 50,000 records without promotion at a stage in the game when it was very hard to do that, and they were lost. The group was lost - no management, no direction, no help from the business world whatsoever. They were very hard to deal with but they really had something to offer. I thought "Last Call For Alcohol" was a classic, and so was "Don't Bogart That Joint". [However unlikely it may seem, those sessions for the second Fraternity Of Man album utilized the talents of three of the original four members of Little Feat, but as Lowell was never actually a fully-fledged member of that zany outfit, we won't dwell on the Fraternity Of Man in any more detail. Instead, we'll move on to THE MOTHERS which was Lowell's next move. He was brought in to replace singer Ray Collins, and even though he was only with the group for a matter of months, he appeared on both "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" and "Hot Rats" (the latter for which he's not credited).] LOWELL GEORGE: I got into The Mothers to replace Ray - an impossible job, because no-one can replace Ray. He's a singer par excellence and has a sense of humour that I couldn't hope to get near. He did amazing things, very very funny things. Well I wound up playing more guitar than singing. I was initially hired to be the singer because I guess Frank thought I could sing, but I really ended up playing more guitar than singing. We wound up doing a lot more instrumental stuff. I appeared on a couple of albums although I didn't get credited for the albums I appeared on, I got credited on other albums, because at that period everything was sort of in a state of flux that those moments were never chronicled. No-one ever scribed who did what and when. I sang on "WPLJ" [a song not (from "Weasels") but on "Burnt Weeny Sandwich"], and I played on "Hot Rats", and I sang something else. I wasn't on "Uncle Meat" although my photograph was. Very strange things occurred at that period. I'm also on the 12-album set that Frank planned to release. I think I have half a side. I do a border guard routine. I'm a German border guard interviewing people as they cross the border. And I think I play one long relatively lame guitar solo, almost half a side. One of these days Frank will put that thing out - the Xmas album - that was when it was supposed to be for awhile. But nobody will take it. Nobody wants a 12-album set. It'll probably cost 30 bucks or something, and not many people will want to spend 30 bucks on a 12-album set of the history of The Mothers Of Invention. What he might do is make it a limited edition. [While so obviously engrossed in the subject of The Mothers and their peculiar and unique abilities, I asked Lowell if, like many ex-Mothers, he bore a grudge against Frank Zappa.] LOWELL GEORGE: I did for awhile. I remember there were bits and pieces of information that I created that wound up being used and I never got credit for. I made that known at one point in a book called "No Commercial Potential" (by David Walley). And basically Frank eradicated my gripe - he did something about it. It was like people involved in long solos, like the 5-minute Ian Underwood horn solo - that's Ian Underwood's music, it's not necessarily Frank's. Ian should have co-authorship at least. Frank changed and did that after the book came out. It really hurt him. He was hurt, and I can understand why. I was hurt for some of the same reasons by my own band, maybe because I was overly sensitive. But in Frank's case, he was difficult to talk to, difficult man to get close to, because he worked so hard. He worked all the time, every minute. A tireless man. I mean he would wake up and go to work, take a little time for a burnt weeny sandwich, and drink cup after cup of coffee to the detriment of his health. And it was hard to get close to him; it was hard to get him to loosen up and get down to earth. He never wanted to look bad. I think that's changed. I think he's quite different now. But everybody was under the impression that he was stealing from everybody else, but that's not really true. It's just that the status quo of the music business has been such that y'know he's supposed to be the revolutionary. But he never really copped to being a revolutionary except in his music. The FBI came looking for him because the Watts riots broke out two days after his album ("Freak Out") came out, and they thought he had something to do with it. And he was always very paranoid that the band was always going to get busted for pot possession, so he never got high, and he always made a point of saying: "you guys cannot get high", although something other than that was expressed in the intent of his music. "Freak Out" was really high music. Frank was a very demanding man to work for. He wrote some great charts. There was this big joke...all these session players in Los Angeles, who were very accomplished, were going to a Mothers Of Invention session, and they thought it was a big laugh, so they dressed funny. They wore Bermuda shorts, funny socks, and put tennis shoes on the wrong feet and stuff. And they got to the session and the charts were so hard they couldn't play them. They couldn't play the music that was written for them. It scared them to death, and they all came out of there saying: "this guy's no slouch". And it changed everybody's attitude at that point. Shortly thereafter I think Frank received a Grammy for the most unusual, precocious musician of the year. [Before the end of Lowell George's stay with The Mothers, the seeds that were to eventually grow into LITTLE FEAT had already been sown. Lowell had been writing songs throughout this period, and he recorded a demo of one of them, "Willin'" which featured Ry Cooder on bottleneck guitar.] LOWELL GEORGE: Russ Titelman was starting a publishing company and he asked me if I wanted to co-publish the tune ("Willin'") with him and see what he could do with it. So I recorded it and went on the road the same day with The Mothers and was gone for about five weeks I guess. Then I came back and nothing happened, but somehow a demo of the tape got out and it was the rage of the Troubadour. People like Linda Ronstadt heard it and The Sunshine Company. All these people heard the tune and cut it. Then we did "Truck Stop Girl" at some sessions, and Clarence White covered that, and I thought he did a fantastic job. And so from some of those demos we got signed to Warner Brothers and went and did the first album. [The story of how the band arrived at its provocative name is, I would think, quite well-known by now, but we'll mention it just the same. According to a press release at the time, "Little Feat was named by Mothers' drummer Jimmy Carl Black, who sidled up to Lowell one day at a Mothers' rehearsal and pointing to his size eights, sneered "little feat". Something about the spelling of the remark caught in Lowell's mind, and when the Mothers disbanded and he formed his own group, he remembered it as being catchy. Hence the derivation of the band's name". Well I suppose it's original if nothing else.] [The line-up of the first LITTLE FEAT was Lowell George (guitar, harmonica, vocals), Bill Payne (keyboards, vocals), Richard Hayward (drums) and Roy Estrada (bass). We already know of Hayward's background with the Fraternity Of Man, but Bill Payne was born in Waco, Texas, lived in California most of his life, and played in numerous obscure bands developing a piano style that was nurtured in southern Baptist churches playing gospel/blues.] LOWELL GEORGE: Bill came to Los Angeles and I took him up to Zappa's house to audition for The Mothers, but Frank was editing a trailer for "200 Motels" and didn't have enough time to talk to Bill. So we drove back to my house where he was staying, and I said: "Why don't you join a band?" He said: "OK, what the heck!" And that was five years ago. And we've been doing it ever since. [Roy Estrada was the last to join after Zappa disbanded The Mothers with a stunningly eloquent flourish in October 1969. Estrada had been with The Mothers right from the beginning and previous to that had spent ten years playing in various Los Angeles r'n'b bands.] [But paradoxically, as critical acclaim spiralled, public reaction in terms of record sales remained unimpressive. Nothing much was heard from the band until the news came that Roy Estrada had left and that they were now a six-piece.] LOWELL GEORGE: Captain Beefheart invited Roy to play with him and he immediately jumped at the chance because it was more in the concept he was accustomed to. We found Ken Gradney and Sam Clayton as a sort of package deal - they'd worked with Delaney & Bonnie. So they joined the band together. Also, Paul Barrere joined the band at this point, and the first gig the new line-up played was in Hawaii - for the Easter Festival. And at that point, that's what everybody imagined it would be like for the rest of our time together. As a first gig, I must say that it was one of the best gigs I've ever played. But a few months later they got wise to the fact that it was a little bit more uphill than that one job. [Around about the same time, rumours started to spread claiming that the band had broken up, and that Lowell George had gone off to form a group with John Sebastian and Phil Everly.] LOWELL GEORGE: Both Phil Everly and John Sebastian sang on the original version of the track "Dixie Chicken". It was re-cut later on and changed around. We re-did it completely with a new rhythm section about three months later. But they sang well. John played me a cassette of him and Phil, and Phil had this beautiful high voice and John had a contralto, and I had a tenor that fit right in the middle. It was a nice vocal blend. But in fact money was the prime motivation for that little scene and I don't think I could have handled it. Money moves me but it doesn't move me that far. I think of all those pop groups who hate each other making fortunes every night, and I can't imagine doing that. I wouldn't last a week. The only thing that moves me is the ability to further the work I'm doing, and most recently that turned out to be our recording studio. We have our own recording studio in Maryland, and that moved me a great deal. That takes money of course, but in fact the idea of accumulating wealth has never appealed to me. The blame for our past lack of success is equal one way or another. We never presented ourselves in front of an audience at the right opportunity. We'd make a record, the thing would come out, and then three months later we'd go on the road. And then the sales of the album would never equate because the initial push would be lost. There was no chart position, so the buyers out in the boondocks wouldn't buy. The record company's a business. It's like if you have a product and it's not doing well, there's not much you can do about it unless you do a million dollar push. And everybody was afraid that we were going to break up. About meeting NEON PARK from LOWELL GEORGE interview by Paul Kendall in "ZIGZAG The Rock Magazine" (August, 1976, Issue #63) [London, England]: ZZ: Where did you find Neon Park? LOWELL GEORGE: He was hitch hiking one afternoon, and a friend of mine picked him up on one of the sidestreets of Hollywood. He cruised over to my house, and I met the man, because I admired his cover of "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" - I mean...an electric weasel...whatever next! - so we began a friendship and also a business relationship, in that I would say "Give me a cover". Many times he wasn't told anything about the album, because I believe art is art, and I would rather do that than have somebody construct a concept and get heavy, because seriousness really doesn't play too great a part in what we're doing. It happens, and you never really know...there's really no concept...except perhaps "Feats Don't Fail Me", which was a party record - have a beer or two and dance or whatever happens - that's the frame of mind we were in for that record. RICHIE HAYWARD & LOWELL GEORGE quoted in CHIC Magazine [September 1978] in answer to the question "What is the future of Rock Music as we head toward the 80's?": Richie Hayward (Little Feat): "I don't think it's going to be so restricted by styles and bagism. As for the next big thing, I can't even begin to guess. Those guys never do what they're suppose to do." Lowell George (Little Feat): "It'll be the same old crap warmed over."