The Last Days of Lowell George

The Little Feat frontman died too young on June 29, 1979; listen to his final shows

Magazine ad for Thanks I’ll Eat It Here, 1979

It was on this day, 40 years ago, it was a lethal combination of cocaine and pizza that was said to cause the heart attack that killed Lowell George

He was only 34 years old, his career full of promise as the Little Feat frontman was embarking upon a solo career with an excellent debut LP in Thanks I’ll Eat It Herekicking off a tour on June 15th and would play dates for much of the month until he was found dead after going into cardiac arrest in his Arlington, Virginia, hotel room at the Twin Bridges Marriott

According to an interview in the book The Little Feat SagaLittle Feat bassist Fred Tackett, who also played on Thanks I’ll Eat It Here, indeed claims George’s massive caloric intake was also a major catalyst for his passing as well.

“We were driving down the New Jersey Turnpike in this bus and we stopped at this pizza joint off the highway,” Tackett explains. “Everybody in the band shared a cheese pizza but Lowell bought a large pizza with everything on it, carried it to the back of the bus, and he ate the entire pizza by himself. He died two or three days later. So, when people ask me, ‘What really killed Lowell?’ I say, ‘It was a pizza on the New Jersey Turnpike.'”

Lowell George Thanks I’ll Eat It Here, Atlantic 1979

Its bittersweet to consider how a Lowell solo career would have panned out in the 1980s following the success of Thanks and that indelible Boz Scaggs/Gerry Rafferty vibe it imbues.

The album is a creamy blend of jazz, country, folk, mariachi band music and Little Feat funk, backed up by an s e studio band featuring Bonnie Raitt on guitar, Nicky Hopkins on keys and the mighty Jim Keltner on drums. The soulful sweetness of songs like “What Do You Want The Girl To Do,” “I Can’t Stand The Rain,” and the lovely ballad “20 Million Things To Do” focused on the brilliance of Lowell the songwriter more than anything else he’d done since “Willin’.” It was a sophistication that promised a more viable side of Lowell George that could have very well seen the former Frank Zappa protege serve as a foil to the success of such Reagan-era American rockers as Bruce Hornsby, Tom Petty and John Mellencamp.

Lucky for us his incredibly talented daughter Inara, as one half of The Bird & The Bee with award-winning producer Greg Kurstin, keeps the kinetics of the George Family genius alive and well in 2019 as they prepare the release of their next LP, a collection of radically reimagined songs by Van Halen. A band, mind you, who once shared a producer (Ted Templeton) and engineer (Peggy McCreary) between them in the 70s.

Amazingly, a good amount of the handful of shows he played before his death are available on YouTube, sourced from Little Feat’s elite SEAL team of bootleggers, a following arguably on par with the Dead and the Allmans. And as we acknowledge this sad anniversary, let’s dig into some of these final shows from George’s last two weeks that will surely showcase why Bonnie Raitt called her old friend the “Thelonious Monk of Rock & Roll.”

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

10 thoughts on “The Last Days of Lowell George

  • October 25, 2020 at 2:52 am

    Que lastima this clearly talented vocalist and musician passed way too young.
    Lowell’s appealing voice sounds very much like a youthful Van Morrison .
    Had he lived longer, I remain convinced that George’s contribution to music would have b launched him to global superstar status.

    • May 28, 2022 at 8:34 pm

      What are you talking about,
      I Saw Little Feat Open for Led Zeppelin, they Sold Out Shows for 3 years all over the world,
      I think they achieved Global Stardom!!!

      • September 20, 2022 at 9:19 pm

        I had the pleasure to see Lowell and Feat half a dozen times from 1974 to ‘78. Was never disappointed, and the music will be with me until I’m gone. Salute.

      • September 20, 2022 at 9:27 pm

        No doubt about that, saw the latest lineup in July doing the Waiting For Columbus album…two thousand 40-70 years olds stood for two hours and relived the sound and please of FEAT.

  • November 3, 2020 at 2:51 pm

    Hi, I was at the Lisner show. It was bitter sweet. He was excited about his new young band and the crowd kept screamin Feat. You could tell it was bothering him. If you knew Feat and DC you would understand. The same hall they recorded Waiting For Columbus In. Sad stuff. The man had it all – bad ass slide and a voice of honey. Thanks so much for posting this – I have chills listening to it.

  • February 18, 2021 at 1:10 pm

    Lowell George easily the most under appreciated and influential of rock’s golden age creative force. China White (pick a version) just seems to have set his early death in stone.
    Every time I revisit his dozens of jewels his relative anonymity chafes anew. Thanks for sharing these melancholy reminders.

  • August 28, 2021 at 4:45 pm

    I was at the Bottom Line show. Probably one of the best shows I ever saw there. He was and awesome slide guitar player. I remember he wore the white overalls and was very fat. Too much food and too much coke is dangerous for the heavyset just ask John Belushi or John Candy. Still a shame he was such an excellent musician with and without Little Feat.

  • September 24, 2021 at 11:10 pm

    I have been a fan of Little Feat since I was 13 1/2 years old and Lowell was actually very multitalented, as he was not just a guitarist, singer and songwriter, but he was also a record producer and he could also play harmonica, sitar, saxophone, oboe, shakuhachi, banjo, dobro, mandolin, dulcimer, flute, clarinet and percussion.
    I first saw Lowell’s name in the liner notes to James Taylor’s album “Gorilla”, where he was credited with playing electric guitar and singing backup vocals on “Angry Blues”.
    We can only speculate on what he might’ve done had he lived – would he have returned to Little Feat in 1988 when they reformed or would they have disbanded for good?
    I have seen photographs of him in the last years of his life and there is one particular photo of him taken the day before he died, where the sight of him is just so sad, because he looked very tired, bloated and overweight and the next thing you know, he died of a heart attack, brought on by a cocaine overdose. Sadly, he paid the price as a result of his recklessly overindulgent lifestyle, brought on by binge eating, heavy drinking, taking drugs and smoking – I know that he smoked, because I have seen him a photo of him onstage with a cigarette in his mouth.
    His death was a complete waste of talent and even Frank Zappa described him in 1984 as a guy who should never have taken drugs.

  • July 12, 2022 at 10:34 am

    Thanks for this memorial. George was a massive talent. His absence from the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame definitely undercuts its validity. But, Kenny Gradney was the bassist of Little Feat, following the original Roy Estrada (another ill-fated veteran of the Mothers). Fred has been a guitarist and vocalist (and trumpet player) with the band and has been a regular member for decades. (I will be seeing the fellows in Seattle in a month.) Anyway, this story is and will likely remain a primary search result for folks wanting to learn about Lowell, and that’s the credit for the record. (Kenny did not play on “Eat it Here.” Fred did. And there were several bassists (Dennis Belfield, Chuck Rainey, Paul Stallworth and J.D. Souther according to Wickedpedia). And giving credit where it’s doo – “What do you Want” is an Allen Toussaint tune, “Can’t Stand” is by Ann Peebles, who originated it, and two gents. “20 Million” is an original, and is one more example of LG’s prowess. Thanks again.

  • September 2, 2022 at 8:48 pm

    FYI – I have photos of Lowell taken at his last show at Boston’s Paradise Theater
    $50 unframed
    cell/text 508-333-4224


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