35 Years Ago Music Wept with the Passing of a Charismatic Genius

It was a bittersweet event. We had third row seats to the show at Lisner Auditorium but we were still sad.  You see, we loved Little Feat in the D.C. area. I mean really loved that band.

The band knew it too.  The best way to explain it, the example I always tell people, is that when I first saw the band it was April of 1976 and they could have easily sold out the Capital Centre -- a 21,000 seat basketball/hockey arena which was just a couple years old.  Instead, they booked the Warner Theater for two shows a night, for seven days straight, and played for the same number of people. Why would anyone do such a thing -- play 14 shows instead of one? Well, because they sold all 14 shows out in about 20 minutes. It was love -- mutual love between a fan base and a band like I have never seen since (and, yes, I have attended a Dead show). 

That Tuesday night 10:30pm show in April of 1976 at the Warner Theater, to this day, is one of the greatest shows I have ever witnessed.  John Hall, formerly of Orleans, warmed up and Lowell played with him on one of his songs. Then it was the great Feat lineup, augmented by the Tower of Power horns and unannounced special guest backup singers Bonnie Raitt and Nicollet Larson, who each had gigs earlier in the night across town and hurried through them just to sing back up just like they did on the record.  I can still see the big shit-eating grins on Bonnie and Nicollet from my eighth row seats doing Dixie Chicken:  Da doo da doo da doo doot doot doot da doo, with the big black velvet painting-like backdrop of the Neon Park Tomato Lady swinging rhythmically in her hammock, and then dancing out comes this giant Cactus in those suits made out of Sigmund and the Sea Monster fabric, causing the ladies to lose it.

It was the first time I ever saw a band openly smoke onstage and I am not talking cigarettes.  That old theater literally came alive with a rhythmic pulse and I remember the people in the balconies were rocking so hard I thought the place was going to collapse.  I'll never forget the people in the front row of the balcony were standing on the brass railing in front of the first row, and how they kept from losing their balance I'll never know.

Anyway, I digress. The Lowell show on the night before had been a smashing success. Before the show, there was a tension you could cut with a knife. I think everyone was thinking we were never going to experience that Feat magic again. I think there was a little collective sigh of relief when his excellent backing band came out and did about a 35-minute instrumental opening of the tightest, funkiest jazz that got the audience a little more at ease, but still not totally convinced. 

I will never forget the tension as we anticipated Lowell taking the stage. I had seen one of the last Little Feat shows at Towson State University in late 1977 or early '78 so, it couldn't have been more than a little over a year since I last saw him.  Never the less, when Fred Tackett, who then was a fairly large man, came out onstage I, like many in the audience, thought it was Lowell. We quickly figured out our mistake and everybody sat back down. Then, out from the wings, almost bouncing as he skipped across the stage, was an absolutely huge, barefoot Lowell clad in his customary white painters overalls and a red Henley shirt. He quickly took centerstage and, with a drum stick, started to beat out that familiar rhythm every Feat fan knows customarily started their shows: "Fat Man in the Bathtub." 

To this day I don't know what came over me, but I rocketed out of my third row seat, both arms over my head like I was shot out of a cannon. Somehow I was now standing with nothing between the stage and me, so I must have climbed or jumped over the first two rows. All I know is Lowell was looking right at me and dying laughing at the effect he had over this wasted male teenager. It didn't take long for me to start feeling really silly and I slinked back to my seat. But Lowell and his new band, all 300-plus bills of him, had alleviated our fears and we had a wonderful night, leaving thoroughly convinced that the end of Feat did not mean the end of music as we had feared. Then, around 11 a.m. the next day, I was bragging to all my coworkers about the show the night before and we were listening to WHFS when the saddest news I had ever heard in my life up until that time came over the radio. I remember I was bawling like a baby and my boss told me to go home. It was a day I would like to forget.

On a brighter note, I have attached a video of an audio bootleg from one of Lowell's last shows, about a week earlier in New York or New Jersey or the like where an extremely wasted emcee was attempting to introduce Lowell George but was so wasted and excited, bless his soul, it did not turn out as he had hoped. This was not, I repeat not from the Lisner show which I attended and which I use for graphics, just for the sake of having a visual. I do not offer this audio merely to make fun of the emcee although it is quite funny, but rather to show what a sweet soul Lowell was, and the gentle way he handled this fool.  I know what you are thinking and no this was not me!!

RIP Lowell we love you and miss you.

   

The following two videos -- one a soundcheck, the other an impromptu interview by German press -- demonstrate what an incredible talent Lowell was.  Unedited and unrehearsed, it is what it is!

Views: 1622

Comment by Kenny C on June 29, 2014 at 8:57pm

Great post

Comment by Plain Sense on June 30, 2014 at 5:29am

Thanks Kenny.  Were you able to follow the link and listen to the emcee?  "What it is"

Comment by Kenny C on June 30, 2014 at 8:14pm

McLean rocks.. I was able to follow the link .. no clue..  I really liked your previous blog on Alejandro Escovedo (who I like) and specifically your comments on Chuck Prophet. I've seen Chuck live at least 10 times now and just enjoyed his show in Arlington.. 

Comment by Brendan Cooke on July 3, 2014 at 10:41am

Yes really great post and tribute to Lowell....Feat were my favourite rock band of the 70's and remember being gutted when I heard  Lowell had died. Thankfully I got to see him and the band in 77 I think it was...great show in Manchester UK!

Comment by Terry Roland on July 3, 2014 at 9:36pm

Beautifully remembered!  I love that description of jumping over two rows and Lowell laughing.  I saw Little Feat at the Troubadour in West L.A. around '74. It was magic.  Such a small venue for such a big band. Jackson Browne sat behind me and Al Kooper was a stone's throw away.   Seems appropriate to play this one for Lowell today.......It was written before his death, but captures the passing of a friend.     

Comment by Plain Sense on July 5, 2014 at 8:36am

Thank you Terry.  Your opinion truly means alot to me.  I cannot imagine Feat could fit on the Troubador stage, how cool.  Speaking of Al Kooper he was doing some sessions with one of my idols around then, Shuggie Otis.  Have you ever run into or better yet seen Shuggie live?

Comment by Rudyjeep on July 8, 2014 at 7:17am

35 years ago....Ticketron ticket stubs?  Great piece but man I feel old right now. 

Comment by Steve Rauworth on July 8, 2014 at 9:37am

Oh yeah! What a band, and still goin' in fine form, and though there's no other Lowell, it's a testament to the template he left that they're still making that Feat sound. Payne, Barerre, Clayton, Tackett, Gradney, all great musicians, but without one of the best drummers ever, Richie Hayward, Little Feat would not have been Little Feat, even with Lowell George. Richie, bless his soul, incorporated the seminal rhythms of New Orleans into rock and he had an instinct for the pocket and the groove like nobody else. This, more than anything, is what makes them unique. And they STILL sound good, even without him, though like with Lowell's loss, it ain't quite the same, but Gabe Ford is the perfect replacement. Thanks for this beautiful recollection. I think it's best they never made the big time, but still did OK. It leaves their legacy more unsullied by BS and the memories of those of us who know and love them more dearly treasured.   

Comment by Mick Carriere on July 8, 2014 at 10:01am

Saw the Feat back in 1971 or '72 in Columbus, Ohio at the Agora Theater. IMHO the best American rock band ever.  Thanks for posting a great tribute.

Comment by Plain Sense on July 8, 2014 at 10:18am

Mick you take the prize for the earliest Feat show I have heard anyone say they attended.  Was it mostly the first lp or did they do any off Sailing Shoes?

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.