Canned Heat – On the Road Again

“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 which were sung by Bob Hite, 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.

Earlier songs

With his record company’s encouragement, Chicago blues musician Floyd Jones recorded a song titled “On the Road Again” in 1953. It was a remake of his successful 1951 song “Dark Road”. Both songs are based on Mississippi Delta bluesman Tommy Johnson‘s 1928 song “Big Road Blues” (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 had quit me ooo (2×)

Have no place to go

Both songs share a “hypnotic one-chord drone piece”-arrangement that one-time Floyd Jones musical partner Howlin’ Wolf used for his songs “Crying at Daybreak” and the related “Smokestack Lightning“.

Recording and composition

“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 of 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 ambiance. 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.

The basic riff is used again by Canned Heat on “Fried Hockey Boogie”, an eleven-minute boogie by Larry Taylor which showcases the band’s musicality with a series of virtuoso solo performances by members.
Credit: songfacts.com

Below is an excerpt taken from http://www.alanwilsoncannedheat.com/woodstock-alan-bio.php

The backyard of Bob’s home in Topanga Canyon had been one of Wilson’s regular haunts when the band was in Los Angeles, with a hillside covered in trees and bushes where he liked to sleep. It was there that he was found in his sleeping bag. In his pants pocket were a few of the barbiturates he habitually used to get to sleep. The Los Angeles coroner ruled his death “accidental acute barbiturate intoxication.” Some close to him felt that his death was no accident, recalling his recent depression and hospitalization. Others, like the coroner, believed that evidence of suicide was insufficient and that the circumstances point to a tragic accident.

Song Lyrics –

Well, I’m so tired of cryin’ but I’m out on the road again – I’m on the road again.

Well, I’m so tired of cryin’ but I’m out on the road again – I’m on the road again.

I ain’t got no woman Just to call my special friend.

And I’m going to leave the city, got to go away.

I’m going to leave the city, got to go away.

All this fussing and fighting, man I sure can’t stay.

You know the first time I traveled out in the rain and snow – in the rain and snow.

You know the first time I traveled out in the rain and snow – in the rain and snow.

I didn’t have no fellow, not even no place to go.

And my dear mother left me when I was quite young – when I was quite young.

And my dear mother left me when I was quite young – when I was quite young.

She said, “Lord have mercy on my wicked son.”

Take a hint from me mama please don’t you cry no more – don’t you cry no more.

Take a hint from me mama please don’t you cry no more – don’t you cry no more.

Cause it’s soon one morning down the road I’m gone.

But I ain’t going down that long and lonesome road – all by myself.

But I ain’t going down that long and lonesome road – all by myself.

I can’t carry you, baby, gonna carry somebody else.
Video credit: YouTube.com