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!