photo (c) 1979 Topanga Messenger

Lowell in Oz

Excerpts from an interview broadcast on the Australian Broadcasting Commission FM

(circa 1978)



Do you still stick to your description of Zappa as the Lawrence Welk of Rock and Roll?

Lowell: That's only in terms of the business arrangements that are involved around the band. Musically he's far and away - exceeds all limits in terms of... I would say he's the Lawrence of Zany Rock and Roll in terms of the way the band's organized.


What exactly happened when you submitted "Willin'" to him as a song for the band to play?

Lowell: I never did. I was always smart enough to not submit it. But he did hear it once, and a few days later I was offered to start my own band. Which was a nice way of firing me, I think.

Did you write "Willin'" from experience, or was that just a feeling about...

Lowell: I worked in a gas station for a long time when I was in college. And got a lot of inspiration from the characters I saw come through there. And the song, the definitive truck stop song was, I thought, "Truck Stop Girl". Although it was a little too complicated, chordally. It was a little bit busy for it to become a definitive truck stop song. I mean if you have more than four chords you can kiss it off.

Most truckies couldn't get into it

Lowell: Most truckies couldn't get into any of it. In terms of anything more than four chords and it boggles their minds.

Is it true that you recorded the first album two track?

Lowell: No, no it was done sixteen track, but it was demos - most of the album was demos. "Willin" was a demo I did when I was in the Mothers. Matter of fact I did it the morning before we left for Passaic, New Jersey, or someplace like that.

Do you think you paid your dues more than most bands had to back in those early days?

Lowell: It was all fun, so I don't know about dues. I mean eighteen weeks of spaghetti dinners. Calling up some chicks to come over and do the dishes because they were stacked nine inches high on all fronts. And then we'd get a lot of flack about that. I mean I still run into those ladies that did the dishes, and I can't live it down. It was all fun. It was a difficult period, but it was all and all a kind of well spring from which a lot of material was written.

You built up a reputation as the best known unknown band. Do you see that as a good thing or a bad thing?

Lowell: That's the kiss of death. Would you like me to elucidate?


Lowell: Well if you get to be known as a musician's band, that's what you become. In other words the media focuses itself on the fact that the group is highly respected amongst other bands and has not been successful. When in fact it's not true. I mean in the states right now we're probably more successful than we've ever been, and it's been that way for the last year or two. And in England, when we arrived in England I was very surprised by the reception we got.

And that was just a spontaneous reception?

Lowell: Yeah, there were fanatics in amongst the so-called musicians that have bought the records. Those four records that we've sold.


Little Feat disbanded after you recorded Sailin' Shoes...

Lowell: Dixie Chicken

Well you reformed after Sailin' Shoes

Lowell: And then we disbanded after Dixie Chicken completely.

When was it that you did your session work with Robert Palmer?

Lowell: That was about two and a half or three years ago.

That was after Sailin' Shoes or after Dixie Chicken?

Lowell: After Dixie Chicken

You're much happier with the new band after it came together?

Lowell: Oh yeah. Roy was offered to play with Beefheart and he seemed to think at that point that the music was more aligned to his style of playing. Because he thought it was all improvised. And he found out later that it was all very well structured and written. A lot of it was written out. Beefheart used to have the band notate these cassette tapes that he would like write four songs at a sitting at a piano, and then he would have the band notate it. That disturbed Roy a bit. I think he's back in his prime element now playing with Frank, because I think Frank's roots and Roy's roots are very similar musically.

How structured is what you play?

Lowell: Well it's structured and it isn't. Everybody plays a little differently every night. So from the beginning to the end of a tour if a tape was made we would go almost full circle from changing completely to coming back to some norm. And this tour has gone for three months, so we've almost come full circle twice.


Can you tell me about the sessions you did with Chico Hamilton?

Lowell: It was very fast. It was all recorded in three days and they were all jams. We got payed less for that work than any other. I mean Stax Records is notorius for not paying, and they didn't. Then they resold the product to an advertising agency and they made a Porsche commercial out of it. And nobody got a penny for it. We even wrote the tunes and nobody got any publishing money. What a disaster.


What are some of the sessions that you've worked on that you think have turned out best?

Lowell: Gee. Oh the James Taylor "Angry Blues", and...

J.D. Souther?

Lowell: Yeah that was a nice session. That was really off the cuff. I walked into the studio and I was supposed to use it that night. And they weren't going to vacate until three o'clock, because they didn't have a guitar player. So I said "Hey, you want a guitar player? I'll play for nothing if you vacate the studio early." And as it turned out we worked until four, and I then went to work after that. Because it turned out to be real nice. It was, oh what was... what was the song?

Midnight Prowler

Lowell: As a matter of fact that was it.

And then you worked with Carly Simon

Lowell: I just overdubbed. I was in the studio mixing down at that point, and the rest of the band was out seeking employment to supplement their already expanding income. And it was the same situation, I was coming in, I very rarely play sessions anymore, and Ted called me up and asked me to come in early because he was using the same studio I was, Sunset Sound. And I showed up a couple of hours early and did the over dubs.

Bonnie Raitt

Lowell: Bonnie Raitt's got to be the best. I would show up any time to play her records or on stage, because she's so much fun. She's great, a great singer and also a swell person.

The production sound on each of the albums is fairly different, isn't it? Is that something that just... you've worked on. You haven't been happy with the previous records so you just...

Lowell: I get bored easily so I'm always looking for different approaches.

Dixie Chicken seemed to have a very thick sound

Lowell: A lot of that has to do with different studios. Dixie Chicken had a very thick sound because there was a lot of overdubbing done. As a matter of fact the song Dixie Chicken had nothing except the original conga part on it from the original session. And drums were overdubbed, and nobody does that. I mean you do, but you regret it later. I had a very good engineer at that point, Richie Moore, who got a very good drum sound on that particular tune. And so I just plodded right through as best I could. And it was fun. That whole album took a great toll emotionally and physically. I collapsed for two weeks after it was over.

Someone said it was "conceived as an action painting". What do you think of that sort of view?

Lowell: Well not Dixie Chicken. Albums after that were very... My idea of the band is not that we should stay within restricted limits. You know like shows should be a little different every night, that we should never get too terribly bored with anything. So that every night's a little bit... I mean we have a piece of music and we all put our feelings into it. Some nights it's a complete disaster, and other nights it comes out really, really great. The great nights make up for those disasters that happen occassionally. I mean everybody has good days, and other days don't turn out so well.


Thanks to Roy Fraser, Victoria, Australia, for the audio tape from which these excerpts were transcribed.


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