Little Feat: Willin’ – An American Anthem

Sometimes the crowd cheers and you wear the laurel wreath. Sometimes you wear the motley of a fool and shrink before the jeers.

Sometimes you knock the ball right out of the park and set off for home with joy in your heart. Sometimes arriving home drunk and exhausted you look in the mirror and see your father’s face staring back saying- what in the name of god are you doing with your life?

In all the circumstances the only thing you have to do is to keep on keeping on. Keep on keeping on. Keep on keeping on whether you can read the signs of the times or not.

Keep on keeping on while you’re still on your feet. Keep on keeping on when you’re knocked clean off your feet. Keep on keeping on even if you’re lied to and left for dead with your head stoved in.

Keep on keeping on as long as you are willing to be moving on in your life. Keep on keeping on if you can find the faith and maintain hope whatever happens. Keep on keeping on as long as you’re willin’ to be moving. Willin’

Let Lowell George and Little Feat tell the story their way:

Now ain’t that a peach!

Willin’ is a great folk song and a great country song silver veined with rhythm and blues and rock and roll. It’s a great road song and a great blue collar anthem.

And, in every note of music played by every instrument and in every syllable of its lyric it takes us on a journey to an America of sweat and grime and the everyday heroism of disregarded millions who keep on keeping on through fire and flood and the relentless pressure of paying the bills and keeping a family fed.

From the moment of the, ‘lean in, here’s a story you might recognise’ acoustic guitar intro we know we are in safe hands with musicians who know how to tell a tale in song.

Little Feat had degrees and diplomas in funk, country, R&B and soul with a Ph.D in feel.

And, in Lowell George a professor of musical alchemy who could mix all the flavours together and add to the tradition.

The unhurried, night cruising, tempo evokes for me the near contemplative state of a lonely driver rolling for mile after mile after mile through a desert landscape lit only by his headlights and the distant stars.

Lowell George’s vocal is that of a man who knows all about defeat and exhaustion but who Refuses to stay down and be counted out. Despite all the miles he’s come and all the miles he has to go in his Mack truck he’s still willin’ to be movin. Willin’

In his rheumy voice you can hear a man talking to himself and anyone who cares to listen about the realities of the life he lives. A man who keeps on keeping on without enough pay, without enough company and without enough sleep. Willin’

The glistening piano and the pedal steel are like, ‘weed, whites and wine’ induced roadside hallucinations which come and go even as the windscreen wiper drums beat steadily on, steadily on.

Tonight he remembers Dallas Alice but maybe next week it will be Memphis Marie. It’s a long way from Tucson to Tucumcari and a man’s mind is apt to wander through the halls of memory as the miles and the hours unfold.

Maybe before leaving Tucson he had dropped off on a road not marked on any map a load of illegal smokes or illegal folks he’d picked up under the baking Mexican sun. Now there was a 500 mile plus drive ahead with only the radio for company.

Didn’t Duane Eddy come from Tucson? Hell, he only drove 40 miles of bad road though you have to say the twang of his guitar sounds made for the desert air. At least when you get to Tucumcari there’s no shortage of motel rooms. 1200 or more they say. So, like the neon signs say it will be, ‘Tucumcari Tonite!’

But, there are no long layovers when you’re a trucker chasing a buck. So it’s the back roads where you hope to escape the regulations about what and how much you can carry. On the blue highways you might test the suspension and have to be careful not to end up in a ditch but you likely won’t get warned and weighed.

Next run is Tehachapi to Tonapah. The skies above Tehachapi are filled with gliders riding the mountain air thermals. Those gliders must make sore the hearts of the prisoners entombed in the men’s and women’s state prisons.

Starting the engine he remembers what ol’ Humphrey Bogart said to the disbelieving Mary Astor when he turned her in for being responsible for the death of his partner in, ‘The Maltese Falcon’ – ‘Well, if you get a good break you’ll be out of Tehachapi in 20 years and you can come back to me then!’ They don’t make them like HB anymore.

As his truck rumbles down the road he wonders what the rumble of the earthquake in ’52 must have sounded like. Zeke, who has driven these roads since FDR was president says it was the sound of god clearing his throat. Over in Tonapah with the jets screaming overhead and who knows what bombs exploding in the ranges there’s a fair amount of throat clearing going on too.

Ain’t likely he’s going to find any silver nuggets these days. Today he’s glad of the bright sun and the air conditioning in his cab and the song in his heart that with every beat says he still willin’ to be moving. Willin’.

Notes:

Willin’ is such a great song that Little Feat recorded it twice. First on their eponymous debut album (much under rated) and definitively on their magnificent, ‘Sailin’ Shoes’ – a record everyone interested in American music should own.

The classic Little Feat lineup featuring Lowell George are captured in all their glory on the live album, ‘Waiting for Columbus’ and the DVD, ‘Skin It Back’.

A biography of the band by Ben Fong-Torres, ‘Willin’: The Story of Little Feat’ is well researched and a good read.

68 thoughts on “Little Feat: Willin’ – An American Anthem

  1. Thom, their “Waiting on Columbus” live CD was one of my favorites of all time. The weakest song on the CD was great, and they went up from there. But truly, Little Feat’s best work was live. After hearing their tracks live, the studio version sounds flat. ~James

    Liked by 1 person

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