Lowell George was the Hollywood born son of a famous chinchilla-raising furrier for Tinseltown aristocracy. His dad’s friends included the likes of Wallace Beery and W.C. Fields; matinee idol Errol Flynn lived next door. No wonder George grew up with a somewhat skewed perspective of things, eventually becoming a truly absurd, slightly eccentric slide guitarist extraordinaire. His often surreal songs defined the sound of his band Little Feat, convincing more than a few fans that they came directly from New Orleans, bringing home that convoluted and slippery vibe. Bonnie Raitt once referred to Lowell as the "Thelonious Monk of Rock & Roll."
In his early twenties George played in a several Hollywood based bands like the Brotherhood of Man, and a late faltering version of the Standells. Eventually he wound up with Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention, where George was soon fired. He formed Little Feat soon afterwards with the original line-up consisting of Mothers bassist Roy Estrada alongside pianist Bill Payne, with whom George had briefly played with in the Brotherhood of Man and drummer Richie Hayward from George's previous band, The Factory. According to legend, the name of the band came from a remark made by Mothers' drummer Jimmy Carl Black about Lowell's "little feet." The spelling of "feat" was an homage to The Beatles.
Thirty years ago today, June 29, 1979, Lowell Gorge died of a massive heart attack.
Two weeks earlier in June, 1979, George began touring in support of his first, and only, solo album, Thanks, I'll Eat it Here. The night before he died, George played before a packed Lissner Auditorium on the campus of George Washington University in Washington D.C. George's final encore was a solo acoustic version of "Twenty Million Things (to do)."
That Thursday night, after returning to his hotel room at the Twin Bridges Marriott in Arlington, Virginia, George complained of chest pains. Around 10am the next morning George was having problems breathing; his wife, Elizabeth, called road manager Gene Bano, though once Bano arrived George felt better. They suggested George rest while Elizabeth and Bano went to breakfast. She returned with her two children later that morning to find George unconscious on the bed.
Arlington County Rescue Squad's No. 75 arrived and tried to administer cardiac respiration but to no avail. Later it was determined George had probably been dead for about 45 minutes, if not a couple of hours.
It’s often been presumed that George died of a drug overdose; the circumstances behind his death are riddled with inconsistencies. There’s no clear account of what George did after the show. One hotel official said that some members of the band were up all night partying. But a waiter who brought food up to George's room said nothing out of the ordinary took place. Reportedly no drinks were even ordered.
Although George was a long time drug user, no evidence of drugs or drug paraphernalia were found at the scene, though they could have been removed before Police or Rescue Squad personnel arrived. A hotel employee who was supposedly the first person other than Mrs. George and Bano to enter the room said that he saw a large, mostly empty, phial of white powder. He also said that there were about four or five containers of prescription drugs out in the open but they were gone once the police arrived.
George was officially pronounced dead on arrival at Arlington Park Hospital at 1:10 p.m. Friday afternoon. A post mortem report showed that he died of heart failure.
When he died at the age of thirty-four George had already ballooned into Elvis-sized proportions, probably weighing in close to 300 lbs. George's fondness for junk food, hard liquor and an appetite for drugs, especially cocaine-and-heroin "speedballs," finally caught up with him.
Lowell George's body was cremated in Washington D.C. on August 2. His ashes were flown back to LA where they were scattered in the Pacific Ocean from his fishing boat.