Little Feat – Willin’

Little Feat guitarist/singer Lowell George wrote “Willin'” before the group was even formed. They never had mass commercial appeal but their music was so down to earth and the musicians in that band were great.

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.

Lowell had cut his hand on a model airplane and he was heavily bandaged up while playing the solo. The keyboard player Bill Payne said George was bleeding all over his guitar when playing this. Lowell George and Ry Cooder are playing slide guitar on this song. They found Ry Cooder recording his debut album at the same studio that Little Feat were recording this song.

Little Feat’s producer Russ Titelman asked Cooder to come and play on some tracks. There was a lot of tension between Cooder and George, but that competitive streak was channeled into the song.

Little Feat were never very successful on the charts but many music fans love them. Along with music fans…many musicians from Led Zeppelin to Bonnie Raitt.

This originally appeared on Little Feat’s debut album (with Ry Cooder), but the version that has become famous was recorded for the follow-up, Sailin’ Shoes, in 1972. The original version has a faster tempo.

From Songfacts

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.

Original version with Ry Cooder

Willin’

I been warped by the rain, driven by the snow
I’m drunk and dirty don’t ya know, and I’m still, willin’
And I was out on the road late at night
I’d seen my pretty Alice in every head light
Alice, Dallas Alice

I’ve been from Tucson 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
And if you give me weed, whites and wine
And you show me a sign
I’ll be willin’, to be movin’

Well I’ve been kicked by the wind, robbed by the sleet
Had my head stoved in, but I’m still on my feet and I’m still, willin’
Now I smuggled some smokes and folks from Mexico
Baked by the sun, every time I go to Mexico, and I’m still

And I been from Tucson 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
And if you give me weed, whites and wine
And you show me a sign
I’ll be willin’, to be movin’