By 1976, Lowell George was rapidly losing interest in the band which he had largely founded, back in 1969, the one and only Little Feat. And so began work on what would ultimately become Thanks, I’ll Eat It Here, which was apparently the early title for their second album Sailin’ Shoes. Recordings were made in rather piecemeal fashion over the next two and a half years in between existing commitments with the band itself. Such frustration was partly due to Bill Payne and Paul Berrere seemingly muscling their way into the song-writing department, especially on the more jazz-rock oriented Time Loves A Hero.
Lowell’s first and only solo album came out in 1979, the same year Little Feat completed Down On the Farm, before which George had left the band entirely, determined to embark on a fresh journey, away from his former group. Sadly that was not was not be. Because George passed away from a drug-induced heart attack while he was in the midst of a tour to promote his new album, thus closing the curtain on a unique and extremely gifted talent, well-respected by the likes of so many in the music business.
It turns out that a lot of the money that was supposed to go into the making of this record found its way up the noses of most of the musicians, with the bills being sent to Warner Bros. as orders for 2-inch tape, while the album cover was provided by none other than Neon Park himself, a man no stranger to Little Feat artwork, and who in this instance painted a rather humorous and cheeky play on Eduoard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe.
Now from the word go Lowell was intent on making an album that was unlike anything he had done before with Little Feat, and one which saw him focus more on his voice than his guitar playing. And on Allen Toussaint’s “What Do You Want the Girl to Do, LP opener, he establishes that dissimilar direction in spades, with a few cards left over. Putting commercial intentions aside, Lowell is in fine voice throughout, along with the rest of those who play behind him.
On “Honest Man” we have some polished white man funk, and the sort of direction Little Feat might have taken later on. He revisits “Two Trains”, originally recorded on 1973’s Dixie Chicken LP, and while not as funky as that earlier version, I guess he thought he’d like to stretch it out a bit and try it out in a different way, to the extent that I can’t tell which version is better. We have a superb interpretation of Ann Peebles’ “Can’t Stand the Rain”, a version far earthier than the song I used to hear on the radio. We get all Mariachi on “Cheek to Cheek”, but I imagine one would have to have drunk a ton of Tijuana to sing along to this, a song that is a world away from the classic “Spanish Moon”.
When George saw Ricky Lee Jones perform “Easy Money” in a LA nightclub, he was so impressed that he decided that he had to do his own take. The reflective “20 Million Things” remains not only one of George’s finest songs (albeit co-written with Jed Levy), but also one of the man’s best vocal performances to boot. An extremely touching and thoughtful piece, made more so knowing that he never did get around to doing all those extra millions of things he wanted to, and no doubt would have had he lived.
“Find A River” is another philosophical number finding George alone on his guitar, before the band come in to provide him with a little emotional support on the way.
“Himmler’s Ring”, written by Jimmy Webb, always manages to raise a smile on my face, with its witty lyrics and suitably old-time Berlin in the 1930’s arrangement. A sort of late ‘70’s equivalent to “Hitler Has Only Got One Ball”, but done in a far more subtle way. In fact the lyrics are quite a scream if you think about them.
We finish with the appropriately titled “Heartache”, an acoustic dirge to George’s troubles, a song not included on the original LP, though fortunately we have it here, to round off what is an extremely eclectic collection of tunes
As one would expect, for a record that took over two years to complete, it contains a sizable cast of players, far too many to mention in this review (that’s what liner notes are for, or Google). The fact that this was Lowell George’s swan song, if you will, makes it all the more poignant, and moving. Thanks, I’ll Eat It Here would serve as Lowell George’s final will and testament, and a moniker I’m surprised wasn’t inscribed on his tombstone (if he has one). Something I’m sure he would have loved.