It is the anthem of truckers. The bible for drug smugglers. If you transport illegal immigrants to the United States, this is your song. Blatantly unapologetic. Beautifully narrative. Pointedly descriptive.
“Willin'” by Little Feat is the story of a truck driver who makes extra money struggling drugs and people from Mexico. He travels all through the south. His reward is “Dallas Alice,” whose face he sees in every headlight of every oncoming truck, every oncoming car passing in the left hand lane.
“I been warped by the rain
Driven by the snow
I’m drunk and dirty, don’t ya know
And I’m still, oh, I’m still
I’m out on the road late at night
I see my pretty Alice in every headlight
Alice, Dallas Alice”
And he’s been everywhere. He’s been to the United States and to Mexico. He’s been to California and Arizona. All through the Southwest…anywhere there is a load to be carried, anywhere there is a dollar to be made.
Lowell George, founder and lead songwriter and singer for the band Little Feat wrote “Willin'” while he was still a member of Frank Zappa’s The Mothers of Invention. The story is unclear. Either Zappa thought the song was too good, or he was unhappy with the drug references. Either way, he suggested that George break out on his own and start his own band. And he did. And he had “Willin'”
“Willin'” is so sublime, so easy to listen to. The story is sad, and a little harsh, but the gentle music invites us in, let’s us be a part of the story. We imagine ourselves behind the wheel.
“Now I smuggled some smokes
And folks from Mexico
Baked by the sun
Almost every time I go to Mexico
And I’m willin'”
An acoustic guitar begins the song with a nice descending bass line intro, and is soon joined by the rhythm section. The lyrics sound more like spoken word. No harmonies. No expression. A few piano notes are heard, and then the chorus.
“I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari
Tehachapi to Tonapah
Driven every kind of rig that’s ever been made
Now I’ve driven the back roads
So I wouldn’t get weighed
And if you give me weed, whites, and wine
Then you show me a sign
I’ll be willin’ to be movin'”
The singing begins, backed by beautiful harmonies and full instrumentation of the band. There is no subtext here, and not much in the way of analogies or metaphors. Just the story of a trucker, the woman in his life he is always driving towards, and what he is willing to do to get there. This is a perfect song.
Sadly, I could not find a video of Little Feat performing this song, so Linda Ronstadt’s beautiful cover will have to do.
Written by Lowell George
Performed by Little Feat
Released January 1971