Willin'

Album: Little Feat (1970)
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Songfacts®:

  • Little Feat guitarist/singer Lowell George wrote "Willin'" before the group was even formed. The song is about a truck driver in the American southwest who makes some extra cash smuggling cigarettes and transporting illegals across the border from Mexico. If you give him "weed, whites and wine," he's willin' to do the job.
  • This originally appeared on Little Feat's debut album, but the version that has become famous was recorded for the follow-up, Sailin' Shoes, in 1972. The original version has a faster tempo.
  • Lowell George and Ry Cooder do some dueling slide guitar on this track. George had injured his left and in a run-in with a model airplane, so he was bandaged up, and according to Little Feat keyboard player Bill Payne, bleeding all over his guitar when he played. Cooder was working on his first album in the same studio where Little Feat was recording theirs: Western Recorders in Los Angeles, so Feat's producer Russ Titelman asked him to come bay and play on some tracks. There was a lot of tension between Cooder and George, but that competitive fire channeled into the song.
  • The opening line, in which the narrator describes himself as being "warped by the rain," originated in a conversation between George and drummer Richie Hayward. Hayward had used it to describe a rocking chair.
  • It's likely that when George brought "Willin song was a reason for his departure, due to its drug references in the chorus. It is known that his leaving had something to do with his drug use, which Zappa heavily frowned upon. "I think Frank was both impressed and put off by the song because of the drug reference," Bill Payne told Bud Scoppa. "He was somewhat conservative on certain levels. He was afraid of the very thing that bit the hippie movement in the ass, which was the craziness of what would happen to people when they got fried on drugs - like Charles Manson."

    More likely, it was George's drug use that led to the parting.
  • Although the band never had a charting single, "Willin'" is arguably their best-known song. Their first two albums, which both included the track, flopped, but they found their stride with their third, Dixie Chicken, their first as a six-piece jazz-funk outfit (they were previously a country-rock quartet). They developed a reputation as a great live band, and "Willin'" was a concert favorite. As more people discovered the band, the song grew in popularity and even earned some airplay.
  • Little Feat split up in 1979 just months before Lowell George passed away. When they re-formed in 1987, guitarist Paul Barrere took the lead vocals on "Willin'." He died in 2019.
  • Linda Ronstadt recorded this on her 1975 album Heart Like A Wheel. While Ronstadt is certainly versatile, it's hard to imagine her at the wheel of a rig hauling freight (or contraband) across state lines. Around this time, Ronstadt and Lowell George had a fling - until she found out he was married!

Comments: 32

  • Dano-msp from MinnesotaI saw the Little Feat the first time in 1977 Minneapolis when Lowell was still in his white overalls rocking the stage. The last time 2008 at a ski resoprt in Lutesen MN. The band autographed my original copy of feats don't fail me now. Lowell, Richie and Paul are gone, but the sound will carry on.
  • Armin from Dallas/fort WorthThis song reminds me of the drive I took in 1988 at the age of nineteen from Tulsa, OK to Oakland, CA to take the job at which I'm still working. I remember passing Tucumcari and Tonopah and I spent nights near each town. In this song I really hear the loneliness of the road, especially in the music's minor key, the wistfullness in George's voice and remembering the endless desolate stretches through New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada.
  • Panzade from S FloridaGene Parsons did a lovely version of Willin’ on his solo album: Kindling
  • Debbie Turner from Rosman, NcIn the beginning I was convinced that the white was white cross. But it could also be referred to as cocaine. Either way, killer song
  • Brett from Lehi, Arizona 20 Miles East Of PhoenixWho is Alice in this song
  • Cid Young from Moss Beach CaThere's a lovely Linda Ronstadt version of this song too, but it doesn't make a whole lotta since when she sings about Dallas Alice. I think she was friends with Lowell George, who wrote it, so maybe just a tip of the hat for her to sing it.
  • Ambi from Moab, Utah Hey - I came here to discover what “whites” referred to in this song. I am a 30 year old girl and have been jamming this. I found out! My guess was cocaine or cigarettes. Wrong on both accounts! Cheers to good music! This song sort of has a Bob Seger feeling to it!
  • Cactus From Zacatlan from MexicoThe best version I've heard of Willin' is the one in a youtube recording I found called something like Live at the Ultrasonic, from 1973. Probably also the best versions of many of their songs! My favorite live recording by far.
  • Mark from KansasJorma; Yep Weed whites and wine. The reference to Whites would be the white crosses we used to have i.e. pharmaceutical benzedrine or amphetamine as it was. We called them Trucker Whites. A rack was $1.00 , 4 pills. They were $10.00 for a mason jar full in Tijuana.
    The White that Paul was thinking of was a White Western Star. The White truck company opened a new plant called White Western. They went out and was took over by Daimler Chrysler who owns Freightliner and became part of that. Now they make Western Star. Nice looking trucks for sure.
    In case no one knows " driving the back roads so I wouldnt get weighed" is called " runnin the scales" which is going around the state scale houses on highway so you dont get caught for being over weight . Big fines. Do it every day 3 times a day or more. Hey, cant make any money paying them fines !
  • Tamera from GeorgiaGregg Allman did this on his final studio album and I love his rendition of it. Worth listening to if you have not heard it.
  • Kawa from Tokyo, JapanHi Muisc lovers,

    I think that the idea of the song came from a song 'The Weight' written and sung by The Band in 1968. Because both the lyrics and the music of the song 'Willin'' is very similar to the song 'The Weight'. So the songwriter of 'Willin'' wrote a song like 'The Weight'. 'The Weight' is a song about someone special named 'Fanny. On the other hand, 'Willin'' is a song about someone special named 'Alice'. I think that both songs are almost the same. Traces remain !
  • Mike from Ca.I always appreciated Commander Cody and the lost Planet Airmen's version of this song. They liked to sing truck driven songs. Their 2nd album "Hot Licks, Cold Steel and Truckers favorites" had several truck driving songs. Willin' was on their 3rd or 4th album?
  • Jim from UsaAm I the only one who thinks that Wagon Wheel seems a lot like this song, musically and thematically? I think it's just a coincidence -- but when I first heard Wagon Wheel I felt I had heard it before, then i realized it was because it reminds me of Willin.
  • Jorma from UsaPaul UK, that's "weed, whites and wine". Wheat? Really? That's what you heard? Wheat is a crop, but not the kind he wants. Also...I suppose the lyric COULD mean a reference to a relatively unknown (White produced long haul trucks called Freightliners, I believe, so you didn't "drive a White") company...;-) but considering Lowell always claimed that Zappa kicked him out of the band when he showed it to him because of the drug reference, it's probably uppers.
  • Paul from UkWith reference to the line from Willin' "Wheat, whites and wine". Lowell George was the absolute master of getting extra meaning out of his lyrics. I am sure that the "whites" referred to here COULD be some kind of uppers to keep the long haul driver going. But there used to be an American truck called a "White" so it could actually name the make of the vehicle in the song. After all - like it says in the chorus " I've driven every kinda rig (truck) that's ever been made......." Or could "Wheat" have been misheard for "Weed"? So that phrase gives you three "stimulants" (ahem!) in a row! And Lowell was the King of Alliteration where he would link similar sounding words like "Dallas Alice", "Wheat/Weed, whites and wine". Just genius!!!
  • Michael from Buffalo, Nycheck out Steve Earle's version...it got me through a lot of Loooooooong hauls
  • Aimo from Loimaa, FinlandI once read an interview with Lowell that He woke up after a night in friends house, and someone mentioned,
    "Isn't it funny how the chairs were warped by the rain" and that sorta started it all.
  • Mike from Columbus, OhLove this song- my interpretation is that this song is a metaphor for life- Life is weathering storms- they warp us and drive us. At some point or another we all find our Alice, the one who we see in the headlights, when we're missing that Alice. Life is often referred to as a journey- we all have our personal Tucsons, Tucumcaris, Tahachapis, and Tonapas. We go through life via different vehicles- like driving every type of rig that's ever been made. And sometimes we take shortcuts- the backroads, to not get weighed. And most of us need something to sustain us through that journey- weed, whites, and wine. And most importantly, through life's peaks and valleys, we're all willing to pick ourselves up and put one foot in front of the other....
  • Rich from Hickory, NcI saw Feat three times, the last in Charlotte in '78. Few bands were as versatile or as good (or better!) live. Lowell was the greatest white blues singer ever. I mentioned this under "Dixie Chicken" and I'll do it again here. Go to youtube and type in "F Troop" the old tv series. There was an episode in which a traveling band comes to the Fort (forget the name) called "The Bedbugs." Lowell George and Richie Hayward are in the band. Lowell even has a few speaking lines. Check it out. HoyHoy!
  • Floyd Lamore from Collge Park Maryland, FlI was blessed to be in College Park, UMD area in the '70's and be exposed to all the up and coming talent. Little Feat was our group's boogie band and when they played the Warner Theatre in '75, we had front aisle seats, so when Paul Barrierre (sp?)came out into the audience, me and my girl got to boogie with him while they sang Willin' and then went into ColdColdCold etc...It didn't get any better than that type of contact and comraderie. Damn right Linda and the ladies would back them up. You'd be surprised at the artists who sat in concert with this talent. God Bless Lowell George. Some fall before their time and we are the less for it. But I have the memories and the music makes'em clear. Rock and Roll 4ever! Gram Lowell, Janis etc....leading the Parade. Hooorah. Peace Out....The College Park Kid
  • Budoshi from Sandnessjøen, NorwayThe song is sung well in "The Abyss - Special Edition":D
  • Jacco from Amsterdam, NetherlandsItalian bicycle manufacturer Cinelli named one of their bikes after this song.
    Another model of theirs is called Estrada (probably named after Little Feats bassplayer Roy Estrada.
  • Lars from Copenhagen,It's also about prisons. Tucso, Tucumcari, Tehacapi and Tonopah, these names are all related to so-called "correctional facilities" albeit it also could be argued, "Well, they all start with a T!"...
    But it's my favorite song, and the piano solo on "Waitin' For Columbus" is one of my favorite pieces of piano music...
  • Mike from New York, NyNone of you have a clue as to what this song is about. You have to understand intent, immersion, and toughness. And know how to party.
  • Vaughn from Boston, MaWillin' recently came up in a discussion about "definitive" versions of songs. Covers can sometimes be those versions (just ask Bob Dylan about Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower") and I think that Johnny Darrell's version of Willin' supremely captures Lowell George's intent when he wrote the song. It also, pre-dates Little Feat's version (as does The Byrd's). Darrell's take on it is pure country, a truck driving song, which would sound perfect coming out of a jukebox at your local VFW. Johnny Darrell is a relative unknown and he died in 1997 but he had a troubled heart and his versions of some great country songs will thrill those who seek him out. "SING IT LONESOME" on the Raven label is a great place to start (for Clarence White fans this is a must too).
  • Robin from Aurora, MnThe band Seatrain does a great version of this song.
  • Haaward from Bodoe, NorwayThe Byrds recorded this song and it can be heard on the CD "Untitled/Unissued". It's a beautiful version of the song, with a typically late Byrds approach.
  • Michael from Queens, NyThe Black Crows had did Willin' on their reunion tour of 2006.
    I still feel the best version is the Waiting For Columbus double lp/cd one.
    If young adults/ folks in there 20's knew about this song it would be played all the time. But that's the great thing about Little Feat they were a diamond in the rough - just flying under the radar (like one of their later album titles. Every major rock/country act loved them in the 70's. The Stones & Led Zep members really loved them and would go see them when ever they had the chance.For god sakes Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstat & EmmyLous Harris sang back up for the band!!!
  • Julian from Oakland, ArThis song was named one of CMT's 40 Greatest Country Road Songs.
  • Elizabeth from Shreveport, LaI'm a singer/songwriter, have performed this song sporadically over the yrs, but was singing "Out on the road late last night I seen my pretty Alice, and every man likes Alice, Dallas Alice." So now I guess I'll try to adjust to singing "in every headlight Alice, Dallas Alice." Albeit, my version has a nice context to the song.
  • Andy from Chattanooga, TnOne of the great truck drivin' songs: "And I've been from Tuscon to Tucumcari / Tehachapi to Tonapah / Driven every kind of rig that's ever been made /
    Driven the back roads so I wouldn't get weighed"
  • Dave from Pomeroy, OhAlso Linda Ronstadt did an awesome job on it on Heart Like a Wheel.
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