“On The Road Again” has an impressive lineage. It’s to be expected, given singer Alan Wilson’s deep knowledge and involvement with the blues world.
The song started out in 1928, with “Big Road Blues” by Tommy Johnson. Johnson also inspired the name “Canned Heat”, with his song “Canned Heat Blues”, which is about drinking Sterno (a type of methylated spirit) out of desperation to get drunk. It’s very old school southern blues.
Then, in 1953, “On The Road Again” was written by Floyd Jones. It’s more modern, and more lonesome.
In 1967, Canned Heat recorded their first version, which was about 7 minutes long, before a second version, the most famous.
It’s a good psychedelic boogie, with a riff based around one chord, and a number of distinguishing features. Alan Wilson uses the Indian instrument called the Tambura, which is like a sitar. It was relatively common among psychedelic bands of the time. It is used to create a metallic droning noise in the background.
The other feature is the excellent use of the harmonica. It is used sparingly but effectively in the verses, and comes into its own in solos.
Then there Wilson’s vocals. He delivers them in a distinctive falsetto, which helps them to stand out from the turbulent river of instruments below.
The song was released on Boogie With Canned Heat in 1968, and released as a single shortly after, reaching number 8 in the U.K. and number 16 in the U.S.
It’s a perfect “journeying” song!