In 1988, my girlfriend and I flew to Newark, New Jersey, and then caught a bus to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where we laid out 800 dollars for an old but reliable Dodge Dart, which we drove all around America, clocking up over 14,000 miles.
En route from Tombstone to Joshua Tree National Monument, we made a detour to investigate Tonopah – purely because of the romance we associated with the name, as a result of its inclusion in the lyric of the great Little Feat anthem Willin’.
It turned out to be something of a disappointment – a small sprawling collection of gas stations, decrepit diners and nondescript buildings – but, despite its shortcomings, Tonopah has apparently become a pilgrimage destination for Little Feat fans. I only mention this because I am still coming down from a remarkable house concert I was fortunate enough to attend in Strathpeffer (not two miles from where I live these days), featuring Little Feat guitarists Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett, who are currently in Europe, touring as an acoustic duo. They love the Highlands and had been spending a few days with Steve, who runs the local cycle shop, Square Wheels, and into whose spacious living room we gleefully crammed to witness what must have been the most intimate and invigorating performance they’ve ever given.
Having met Lowell George and fallen for his seductive charm, for the unpredictable twists and turns of his music, for the noble band of which he was ringmaster, I was slow to appreciate the Little Feat that reassembled eight years after his death. Silly me. Paul and Fred sang and played beautifully in Strathpeffer – and the air in the room shimmered as everyone sang along to the chorus of Willin’:
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’.
Paul explained that, when writing the song, Lowell had spread maps of Arizona, New Mexico and Southern California on the floor and selected the towns for reasons of alliteration, syllable count, sonic appeal and their proximity to highways (where truckers could fill up on gas and fast food) rather than trying to pinpoint picturesque locations.
Don’t we just know it?
To celebrate Take It Easy, and encourage visitors to photograph their town, the Chamber of Commerce has erected a statue of a quasi-Jackson Browne figure, standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona. I can’t imagine a statue of Lowell George being unveiled outside Walt & Betty’s Truck Stop in Tonopah. But, there again, you never know. Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett are playing around the UK in early December – catch them if you can.
Post script from Gavin:
…and don’t forget: Little Feat’s story – along with those of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan – is told on the meticulously detailed family tree ‘Feats Doobies Dans’ avaialable now in Family Of Rock’s first ever signed ltd edition.
Thanks to our good friends at Eagle Rock and Del Day at Ark PR we have some handsome Little Feat Prizes to give away in our first ever Family of Rock competition. For our First Prize we have a pair of tickets for the Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett show at London’s Borderline on Tuesday December 8th, a copy of the excellent Lowell George featuring Little Feat “Skin It Back” DVD and High Wire Act: Live In St Louis 2003.
he Runner Up receives a copy of Skin It Back and High Wire. And, waste not want not, if you can’t use the Borderline tickets just say. It won’t lessen your chances of winning and we will make sure the tickets go to an entrant that CAN use em – keep it in the Family.
Just tell us the names of one of the states featured in the maps that Lowell George used to assist him write the Little Feat classic Willin’
Competition Closes December 4th.
Answers to : firstname.lastname@example.org