How to Play “Willin’” — Little Feat’s Trucking Anthem in Open-G Tuning
In the early 1970s, the Los Angeles band Little Feat, led by singer-songwriter and guitarist Lowell George (1945–1979), established a small but fervent following with its inventive mix of roots rock, blues, country, gospel, jazz, and other influences, not to mention artful lyrics and twisted song structures.
One of Little Feat’s most enduring songs is “Willin’,” which chronicles the hard life of a truck driver, with a particularly memorable chorus acknowledging the palliatives (“weed, whites, and wine”) he uses to get by. The group first released the song on its 1971 self-titled debut album before recording an ultimately more successful version for 1972’s Sailin’ Shoes, but the general listening public might be more familiar with Linda Ronstadt’s cover on her hit 1974 album, Heart Like a Wheel.
The transcription here is based on Little Feat’s original recording, a duet with George on vocals and acoustic guitar, heard more prominently than on the 1972 version, and Ry Cooder on bottleneck electric guitar. It’s played in open-G tuning (lowest string to highest: D G D G B D); note that the later version is in open G6, with the first string tuned to E rather than D. The four-bar strumming pattern first heard in the intro appears throughout the verses, interlude, and outro, so once you’ve learned it, you will know the bulk of the song.
This pattern shows a neat advantage of open tunings—most of the chord shapes require only two fingers, with the other notes played on the ringing open strings, and the G chord is situated entirely on the open strings. That makes for not only ease of fingering but compelling textural effects.
Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post notation or tablature for this musical work. If you have a digital or physical copy of the March/April 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, you will find the music on page 58.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.