Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Two Degrees in Bebop, a PhD in Swing

You may remember me saying something about loving music.

This is one of my first loves:

That's classic Little Feat. Not the most famous band in the world, but undeniably influential. This was from its earliest incarnation. They broke up in 1978, then reformed in 1988. And as much as I enjoyed seeing this band in the late'80's and early '90's, and if they were in town this weekend, I'd love to go see them again, it just issn't the same as the earlier era. They can stock the band with all sorts of asskicking musicians, and play tighter than a steel drum, but they're chasing a spark that's been long gone.

That spark died on Long Island in 1979.

For me, Lowell George and John Belushi were very much the same person: A little bit crazy, a little bit dangerous, a whole lot of fearless, even more talented, ultimately loveable, and dead well before their time.

And just like Belushi, ask anyone who spent any time around him for a Lowell George story, and you'll be sure to get one. Like how he cut his left hand on a model airplane propeller just before the band was set to record an album, so he jammed a 11/16" Sears Craftsman sparkplug socket on his finger, and started playing slide guitar, making it up as he went along. At the time, no one in rock played a slide guitar (I consider Ry Cooder to be more of a blues-folk guitarist), and he pretty much invented a new sound.

Like how he walked into a studio practice session one day when percussionist Sam Clayton and bassist Kenny Gradney were grooving on a funky little riff, turned on a tape recorder, and created the song Spanish Moon from it on the spot.
Little FeatSpanish Moon

Like how he would go up to folks on tour with him--roadies, techies, musicians, bandmembers--with a cigarette, and ask them for a light. While he would smoke the cigarette, he'd engage the person in a conversation so engrossing that they wouldn't even notice until later that he'd walked off with their lighter. In his den at his house would be these huge display cases filled with lighters, each annotated with date, place, and person from whom it was lifted.

That being said, I was still surprised when a friend of mine sent me a link to this:

I remember seeing this episode of F Troop when I was a kid. You can watch more of the episode here. Lowell Freakin' George and Richie Hayward on F-Troop. I'm guessing that someone on the set of the show was a friend/schoolmate of one of the bandmembers, and reccomended them when they were looking for some 'hippie kids' to play the old-west verison of The Beatles. What strikes me the most about this clip (outside, of course, of the incredibly bad editing, staging, obnoxiously fake laugh track, and horrid interpretation by the studio musicians of what 'Rock-n-Roll' actually sounded like) is how freaking young and skinny the guy was.

I'm glad my friend sent this clip to me. For one thing, it linked me to a whole bunch of early (and later) footage of the band. I didn't know there was so much early Little Feat video on the web. You can find a terrific version of Rock'n'Roll Doctor by clicking on the title of this post--for some reason, the poster doesn't want it to be embedded. And for another, it's awakened the desire to listen to the band again. I'm digging through my old CD's to find Waiting for Columbus.

I miss Lowell. And I know that there's every chance that had he lived longer, he wouldn't have continued producing the same sort of high-quality work that he had put out in the previous decade. It's entirely possible for the spark to die while the person still lives. But it's so nice to see the young, vibrant Lowell in these videos, and yearn for What Will Never Be. At least, not on this earth.

Two Degrees in Bebop
A PhD. in Swing
He's a Master of Rhythm
He's a Rock'n'Roll King.



Blogger Heidi the Hick said...

You have a bigger bank of musical knowledge than me, so that kind of makes you a hero!

2:55 PM  
Blogger terry said...

wow, i remember that song. i don't think i realized/remembered that it was little feat.

this just took me back to my adolescence for a few moments. in a good way.

2:34 AM  
Blogger anandamide said...

"Dixie Chicken" remains a classic, everyone should go find a copy.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Timmy said...


9:08 AM  
Blogger ExDrummer said...

Casting directors needed young musicians for all kinds of TV shows and movies then. It didn't pay much, but at least it paid and sometimes you got to meet some major performers, as I did on the Elvis film "Viva Las Vegas".

"Waiting for Columbus" is great, but I would urge you to go back to the first two albums (Lowell, Richie, Bill Payne and Roy Estrada) for some exceptional tracks like "Hamburger Midnight" and "Strawberry Flats" from the debut album and "Cold, Cold, Cold" from Sailin' Shoes.

I've featured a few Little Feat videos on my You Tube channel, WestLAGuy.

6:33 PM  

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