Harrison Marsh continues his study of the world’s greatest slide guitar players. This month, Little Feat’s master of the groove, Lowell George.
Harrison Marsh examines the toneful countryblues style of Little Feat’s Lowell George.
Despite earning huge respect from fellow musicians and those in the know, Lowell George remains largely ignored by posterity. In addition to providing lead vocals and slide guitar to seven albums as a founding member of Little Feat, he also worked as a producer for artists including the Grateful Dead, as a successful session player, as part of Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention and as a solo artist. All this in a career that ended with his death in 1979 aged just 34, after a life of alcohol and drug misuse.
After Lowell George left the Mothers, Little Feat formed and released their first album in 1971.Tensions often ran high and the group disbanded in ’79 shortly before George’s death (much later they would reform with a new line-up). Yet despite rocky relationships and Lowell’s frustration with the music industry, Little Feat created a unique sound, mixing genres and influences.
The seven studio albums recorded with George show an evolution in style and direction and explore influences from rock and roll, R&B, country, funk and jazz and are testament to Lowell’s talents; no wonder Jimmy Page called Little Feat his favourite American Band. Despite never achieving huge commercial success, Waiting For Columbus is widely regarded as a brilliant live album and highlights George’s talents as a slide player as well as Little Feat’s wide-ranging sound.
George’s slide tone was instantly recognisable and a key ingredient in early Little Feat songs including Dixie Chicken and Rock And Roll Doctor. Running his guitar through twin studio compressors produced a smooth tone with almost infinite sustain. He also almost exclusively tuned to open A (E-A-E-A-C#-A) as in all of our examples.
The range of George’s slide playing reflects Little Feat’s eclecticism, being equally at home with slow melodic lines, subtle rhythm ideas and impressive, high-energy flurries of phrasing, all the while maintaining an instantly recognisable voice.
There’s a lot to be learnt from Lowell George for any slide player who wants to incorporate a variety of styles while always remaining tasteful and musically relevant.
NEXT MONTH Harrison studies his namesake, the melodic master that is George Harrison
despite rocky relationships within the band, little feat created a unique sound mixing genres and influences
Lowell George: master of slide feel and groove
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