Little Feat's Lowell George Left Behind a Giant Imprint

updated 07/16/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/16/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

On his last album, Lowell George sang a lament about how "I got 20 million things to do." For a man who had been so profligate with his talent for so long, he seemed to mean it this time. He was touring solo after Little Feat, the rock group he helped found, disbanded and had vowed "not to write anymore junk." As usual George (PEOPLE, April 10, 1978) was being hard on himself. Little Feat was often lauded as America's Best Unknown Band, and George was personally one of the most influential writers for all those overknowns like Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon and Mick Jagger (who hailed Little Feat as his favorite group).

In addition to going it alone, George was finally determined to straighten out his life. He had consumed liquor and cocaine in quantities befitting his near 250 pounds. He seemed equally casual about popping Hostess Twinkies or Quaaludes, and a painful back operation 20 months ago had left him a morphine habit he found hard to break. As he reached Washington, D.C. after a battering two-week, 11-concert schedule, George seemed to sense a need to slow down. "I'm having to be really careful of my health," he told reporter Joanne Ostrow. "I still drink straight alcohol, but not a quart at a sitting. And I won't try to stay awake five nights in a row." That evening, however, he apparently partied until 8 a.m. Two hours later he awoke with chest pains and shortness of breath, and by the time his wife, Liz, could get help, George was dead at 34.

Lowell described himself as a "fat kid from Hollywood Hills," a furrier's son who escaped his childhood unhappiness by learning classical flute. He made his public debut playing harmonica on Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour. Then he switched to slide guitar and rock and joined Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention. Zappa encouraged George to form his own band—by firing him—and in 1970 Little Feat was born, an allusion to George's own diminutive size 91½s.

In nine years the group cut seven records, split up once, and developed a relatively small but sophisticated following with songs like Dixie Chicken, Willin', Sailin' Shoes and Rocket in My Pocket. After one last (still unreleased) LP this year, they broke up. "Nothing is permanent," George noted in a Direct News radio interview last month. "Like Socrates said, in time all things go wrong, and in time all things go right. It's back and forth." One of the things that was going right for him at the end was his second marriage and his home life with his four children in L.A.'s Topanga Canyon.

As Lowell George wrote in 20 Million Things, "It comes from confusion/All the things I've left undone..."

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