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The Meaning of Little Feat’s “Willin'”

First written by Lowell George when he was still a member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, Little Feat’s “Willin'” is considered to be one of the band’s quintessential songs, and part of their origin story to boot.

The version we all know and love appeared on Little Feat’s 1972 album Sailin’ Shoes, however the band also recorded a more upbeat, country-twang version for their self-titled debut album in 1971.

The story goes that when George brought the lyrics to Zappa for consideration, he was fired “cause I wrote a song about dope.”

At least that’s how Lowell George worded it on stage with Little Feat in 1975, but it has later been considered more of a mutual departure, with “Willin'” being the catalyst for the birth of Little Feat.

Truth be told, Little Feat’s “Willin'” surely is about dope, among other things, and we’re glad that Lowell George left the Mothers of Invention, as legandary as Frank Zappa may be.

Little Feat made some of the most funky, unique rock music of the 70s, with the degenerate truck driver’s anthem “Willin'” right up there among the best of them.

“Willin” Lyrics Meaning

The lyrics to “Willin'” tell a tale of being screwed up on the road, with a life of hard times behind you and a woman named Alice waiting for you in Dallas.

You’re chugging along the road, driving back roads to avoid weigh stations, sipping wine, taking pills, and smoking weed all the way to your next destination.

“Willin'” contains one of the most memorable hooks in all of rock music, sung with such pride and glory that makes you want to befriend this lonely truck driver (and avoid him on the road at all costs):

And I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari
Tehachapi to Tonopah
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’

Chorus to Little Feat’s “Willin'”.

The most famous lyric is, of course the line about “weed, whites, and wine.” It’s clear that this driver needs his weed and his wine to get by, but what about his whites? With this line, George is referring to amphetamines.

When I first published this article, I thought he may have meant cigarettes, but some commenters corrected me. Let’s be real, though, this dude was totally ripping cigarettes too.

“Willin'” Origins

Lowell George spoke with ZigZag magazine in 1975 about how he came up with the lyrics to “Willin'”:

I remember that I wrote it at [Little Feat drummer] Richie [Hayward’s] house, where a guy was talking about the ‘three wicked W’s,’ which were weed, whites, and wine, and I went, ‘Oh, that’s it.’ Then Richie’s sister-in-law walked into the room and said, ‘Oh, look at that chair: it’s been warped by the rain,’ and I thought, ‘I’d better start making some notes here.’ So I scribbled various things down and bashed it into shape, and it all seemed to come together with a tune I’d written the previous day … some music without words that I’d started. The song just happened … and I feel that those songs … are subsequently the ones which have been the most successful … in terms of a song having substance and quality.

Lowell George on the origins of “Willin’,” 1975.

Both amphetamines and cigarettes are popular among truck drivers for their stimulant properties, which helps them stay awake through the night. Something tells me the truck driver from “Willin'” is not one to shy away from overindulgence.

As for the locations he’s singing about, he’s referring to a drive from Tuscon, Arizona to Tucumcari, New Mexico. From Tehachapi, California to Tonopah, Nevada.

These exact locations are not quite so important, other than the fact that they rhyme their names form an alliteration (thanks James). The idea here is that this truck driver has been around the block a few times, and he knows what he needs to get by.

While Little Feat are not seen as huge stars by the standards of the 1970s, they nestled themselves into a niche adjacent to the jam scene where they found themselves a comfortable home.

Lowell George even produced the Grateful Dead’s 1978 album Shakedown Street.

He sadly passed away due to a cocaine overdose in 1979, but Little Feat are today considered one of the most influential bands of the 1970s, with their music being covered by Phish, The Black Crowes, Garth Brooks, and many more.

Listen to the iconic “Willin'” by Little Feat below.

13 comments on The Meaning of Little Feat’s “Willin'”

  • July 12, 2023 at 12:13 pm

    Well what can be said. Lowell broke the mold. Have battled my share of demons and as a commercial driver have partook to get through. Best trucker song ever. Got me through a lot of tough runs and other tough stuff. Reminds me of some long runs through Wyoming and Nebraska.

    Reply
  • June 15, 2023 at 6:18 pm

    Dude! Tucson, Tucumcari, Tehachapi and Tonopah do not RHYME. It’s ALLITERATION that you’re referring to—-when most of the words begin with the same letter. For example in Stephen Stills’ Judy Blue Eyes: “Lacy lilting lady, losing love, lamenting”….

    Reply
    • Post author
      June 15, 2023 at 11:30 pm

      You’re right, thanks James! I’ve updated the article to reflect this correction. Cheers!

      Reply
  • February 3, 2023 at 5:58 pm

    God, how I would love to write something so powerful and timeless as Willin’.

    Reply
  • January 17, 2023 at 6:52 pm

    Above fellow’s right. They were called white crosses. Many a trucker ate em. There were some heavy duty pills of all types from 1950-1980.

    Reply
    • March 7, 2023 at 12:45 am

      This is accurate. White crosses were cheap and were a really crappy high, but they’d keep you running for a couple of days. Very common in the early 70’s when this song was around.

      Great song.

      Reply
    • March 9, 2023 at 11:42 pm

      Cross tops

      Reply
    • July 14, 2023 at 10:45 pm

      Was just reading this article and yes they were called whites crosses. I wasn’t a truck driver but I have got my share from drivers. They were great for staying awake they were loaded with caffeine

      Reply
      • February 6, 2024 at 2:02 am

        Cross tops. The crappy ones were caffeine. Good ones were amphetamine. Could get a jar (100) for $90.

        Reply
  • December 2, 2022 at 6:04 pm

    Back then, whites were Benzedrine tablets. The are an amphetamine, which was legal until 1965. In the 1970’s they were readily available on the black market and used as an upper. The suggestion that whites refers to cigarettes is a little off.

    Reply
  • July 6, 2022 at 6:59 pm

    This song, with Linda Ronstadt, was a FAVORITE. Her wonderful clear voice.
    I miss it.

    Reply
    • August 18, 2022 at 11:20 pm

      God, yes! I think her version was the first one I ever heard of Willin and it just speaks to me somehow!

      Reply
    • December 21, 2023 at 1:51 pm

      The best. Linda didn’t write any songs but when she sung them they became her own. The u tube version with the Linda ronstadt experience is the best. She was so hot. Incredibly beautiful with a voice to match. How fortunate it was growing up with songs

      Reply