"On the Road Again" is a song recorded by the American blues-rock group Canned Heat in 1967. A driving blues-rock boogie, it was adapted from earlier blues songs and includes mid-1960s psychedelic rock elements. Unlike most of Canned Heat's songs from the period, second guitarist and harmonica player Alan Wilson provides the distinctive falsetto vocal. "On the Road Again" first appeared on their second album, Boogie with Canned Heat, in January 1968; when an edited version was released as a single in April 1968, "On the Road Again" became Canned Heat's first record chart hit and one of their best-known songs.
With his record company's encouragement, Chicago blues musician Floyd Jones recorded a song titled "On the Road Again" in 1953 (JOB 1013). It was a remake of his successful 1951 song "Dark Road" (JOB 1001). Both songs are based on Mississippi Delta bluesman Tommy Johnson's 1928 song "Big Road Blues" (Victor 21409) (Canned Heat took their name from Johnson's 1928 song "Canned Heat Blues"). Johnson's lyrics include: "Well I ain't goin' down that big road by myself... If I don't carry you gonna carry somebody else". Jones "reshaped Tommy Johnson's verses into an eerie evocation of the Delta". In "Dark Road" he added:
- Whoaa well my mother died and left me
- Ohh when I was quite young, when I was quite young...
- Said Lord have mercy ooo, on my wicked son
And in "On the Road Again" he added:
- Whoaa I had to travel, whoaa in the rain and snow in the rain and snow
- My baby hadn't quite me ooo (2×)
- Have no place to go
"On the Road Again" was among the first songs Canned Heat recorded as demos in April 1967 at the RCA Studios in Chicago with original drummer Frank Cook. At over seven minutes in length, it has the basic elements the later album version, but is two minutes longer with more harmonica and guitar soloing.
During the recording for their second album, Canned Heat recorded "On the Road Again" with new drummer Adolfo "Fito" de la Parra. The session took place September 6, 1967 at the Liberty Records studio in Los Angeles. Alan Wilson used verses from Floyd Jones' "On the Road Again" and "Dark Road" and added some lines of his own:
- Well I'm so tired of cryin' but I'm out on the road again, I'm on the road again (2×)
- I ain't got no woman just to call my special friend...
For the instrumental accompaniment, Canned Heat uses a "basic E/G/A blues chord pattern" or "one-chord boogie riff" adapted from John Lee Hooker's 1949 hit "Boogie Chillen'". Expanding on Jones' hypnotic drone, Wilson used an Eastern string instrument called a tambura to give the song a psychedelic feel. Although Bob Hite was the group's primary vocalist, "On the Road" features Wilson as the singer, "utilizing his best Skip James-inspired falsetto vocal".Wilson also provides the harmonica parts.
"On the Road Again" was included on Canned Heat's second album, Boogie with Canned Heat, released January 21, 1968 by Liberty Records. After receiving strong response from airplay on American "underground" FM radio, Liberty issued the song as a single on April 24, 1968. To make the song more Top-40 AM radio-friendly, Liberty edited it from the original length of 4:55 to a 3:33 single version. It became Canned Heat's first single to appear in the record charts.
|Australian Go-Set Top 40||9|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)||5|
|Canadian RPM Top Singles||8|
|Germany (Media Control AG)||13|
|Irish Singles Chart||14|
|Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)||5|
|Netherlands (Mega Single Top 100)||3|
|Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)||3|
|UK (Official Charts Company)||8|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||16|
On the singles, Floyd Jones and Alan Wilson are listed as the composers, while the album credits J.O.B. Records' (who issued Jones' singles) part-owner Jim Oden/James Burke Oden aka St. Louis Jimmy Oden. "On the Road Again" appears on several Canned Heat compilation albums, including Let's Work Together: The Best of Canned Heat (1989) and Uncanned! The Best of Canned Heat (1994).
Although songs inspired by John Lee Hooker's "Detroit-era boogie" had been recorded over the years by a variety of blues musicians, Canned Heat's "On the Road Again" popularized the guitar-boogie or E/G/A riff in the rock world.As a result, "it's been a standard rock and roll pattern ever since". Canned Heat used it frequently as the starting point for several of their extended jam songs, including the 40 minute live opus "Refried Boogie (Part I & II)" from their late 1968 Living the Blues album. When Hooker recorded an updated version of "Boogie Chillen'", titled "Boogie Chillen No. 2", with the group in 1970 for Hooker 'n Heat, it had come full circle.