Americana Music Association - Lowell George, founder of Little Feat.
An event that's been described as " ... always more about the celebration of music than it is about stars and egos," naturally the awards ceremony is nowhere to be seen on any television channel, but everything I've read about it over the years indicates it's something we're all the worse off for having missed. Held at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, it's a veritable cornucopia of jams and all-around collegiality among musical greats of all stripes.
Americana, in the context of music, is one of those terms that defies description, but to the extent that it's possible to define it, it connotes contemporary music deriving its sound from myriad roots influences. The AMA gives the President's Award to someone considered to have been a pioneer in this genre, if you want to call it that. Previous winners in this specialty category have been Jerry Garcia, Townes Van Zandt, Mickey Newbury, John Hartford, the Carter Family, Gram Parsons and Doug Sahm. For the first time next year, Americana music will have its own category at the Grammy Awards.
Lowell George's fate may have been sealed when he appeared, at the age of 6, on that most American of early TV shows, Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour, playing the harmonica with his brother. I used to watch that with my grandmother; for all I know, I saw him. But that was just the beginning for the little prodigy - George played many instruments, including flute, slide guitar, saxophone and sitar. (For a real hoot, see him giving guitar lessons to who knows who in this priceless YouTube video.)
In his capacity as Little Feat's leader, George is most often associated with the world-weary but glorious ballad, Willin.' The legend about this song goes that Frank Zappa kicked George out of the Mothers Of Invention (he can be heard singing and playing on Weasels Ripped My Flesh) over it, so opposed to drugs and alcohol was he. Zappa wasn't alone - the song, once it became a Little Feat staple, was pretty much banned from radio airplay due to those references.
The song was recorded three times in the 70s - a version with just him and Ry Cooder on steel guitar for Little Feat's self-titled debut album; a full-out version with a glittering Bill Payne piano solo and the band's lovely multiple harmonies on their next album, Sailin' Shoes, and then in 1978, as part of their live album Waiting For Columbus.
Over the years, no one really knew where to place Little Feat genre-wise - was it blues rock? country boogie? comedy funk? I guess that what made them Americana in the best sense of the word, and Lowell George deserving of his President's Award: they took what they liked of all their influences, stirred them with a wooden spoon, and served the resulting gumbo to their adoring audience - who could have cared less how to define it.