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On the Road Again (Canned Heat)

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On the Road Again (Canned Heat)

Canned Heat's debut hit single, "On the Road Again" is one of the finest examples of updating ancient Delta blues into the psychedelic era of Top 40 radio. Based on a basic E-G-A blues chord pattern, Al Wilson built on the basics by adding a droning ‘tambur’ to give the arrangement a contemporary feel and flavor. Underneath and above this is Wilson utilizing is best Skip James-inspired falsetto vocal, as well as guitar and blues harp. The single was a huge hit, but it was live where the piece really took flight, extending -- according to legend -- by up to an hour during their concerts, allowing all of the band's fine musicians a chance to solo at will.

On the Road Again

Canned Heat was rare among the American blues-loving bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s. As one critic noted, the musicians were more popularizers than purists. Record-collecting blues fanatics Alan Wilson and Bob Hite (nicknamed "Bear" because of his 300-pound frame) changed the group's focus to electric boogie. After appearances at Monterey and Woodstock, at the end of the '60s the band had acquired worldwide notoriety with a lineup consisting of Bob Hite, vocals, Alan ‘Blind Owl’ Wilson guitar, harmonica and vocals, Henry Vestine or Harvey Mandel on lead guitar, Larry Taylor on bass, and Adolfo de la Parra on drums.

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Canned Heat

 

The music and attitude of Canned Heat were appreciated by a large public which made them one of the popular acts of the hippie era. They were able to deliver on stage electrifying performances either of blues standards or of their own material and occasionally to indulge into lengthier 'psychedelic' solos. Two of their songs “Going up the Country” and “On the Road Again” became international hits and indeed both were re-workings of obscure blues. At the time all their albums were released for worldwide distribution.

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Canned Heat, Woodstock 1969

 

Their second released album, ‘Boogie With Canned Heat,’included the worldwide hit “On The Road Again,” an updated version 1953 composition by Floyd Jones. 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".

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Boogie With Canned Heat, album

 

It’s essentially a cover of Jones' tune based on Tommy Johnson’s song except that Canned Heat uses guitar harmonics and an Eastern string instrument called the tambur to get a unique droning psychedelic sound. Wilson was the singer, guitarist, harmonica player, and musical mastermind, and he sings lead on “On the Road Again”. The song is famous for its harmonica solo, which has a note played in it that is very mysterious as it is not playable without an overblow. Alan Wilson retuned his harmonica's six hole up a half step.

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Bob Hite

 

Wilson’s recording career lasted just three years, as he died of a drug overdose in September 1970. The songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and all-around blues scholar was 27 years old—just like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, who followed him into rock ‘n’ roll heaven two and four weeks later, respectively. Canned Heat continued on, but according to Taylor, it was never the same without the Blind Owl.

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Alan Wilson

 

Born in Arkansas, Floyd Jones (1917 – 1989) spent much of his formative years in the Mississippi Delta. He became very active in the post-war Chicago blues music scene, especially in it’s early period (the late 1940’s). With his cousin Moody, and other musicians such as Baby Face Leroy, Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers, Sunnyland Slim, Johnny Young, and Snooky Pryor, Floyd made some now-classic early post-war Chicago blues recordings and also performed in the Chicago area (especially on the famous Maxwell Street), helping to set the stage for more popular post-war stylings from artists such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.

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Floyd Jones

 

The 1950’s saw only a few (but great) recording sessions for JOB, Chess and Vee-Jay but all of his early 1950’s recordings stand as great examples of early post-war Chicago blues. Later in his career, the electric bass replaced the guitar as his main instrument, but he continued to remain active on the scene for many years.

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Floyd Jones - On The Road Again, 1953

 

Tommy Johnson (1896 - 1956) was one of the most influential blues artists in Mississippi in the 1920s and 1930s. He grew up in the Crystal Springs area, where he often performed with his brothers LeDell and Mager. His original songs, which were widely covered by others, included “Canned Heat Blues,” “Big Road Blues,” and “Cool Drink of Water Blues.” Tommy Johnson was a pioneer in Mississippi blues whose songs and distinctive falsetto moan were adopted by many of his contemporaries and followers.

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Tommy Johnson

 

As a young teen ran away to the Delta. He returned two years later an accomplished performer, which, according to LeDell, Johnson attributed to a meeting with a mysterious figure at a crossroads. The story, which involved Johnson handing over his guitar to a large black man who tuned it for him, predates the similar and more famous tale of the (unrelated) bluesman Robert Johnson (1911-1938) selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads.

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Big Road Blues, 1928

 

Johnson’s recordings for the Victor and Paramount labels from 1928 to 1930. In addition to his solo performances, he recorded with the New Orleans-based jazz group the Nehi Boys. Although Johnson did not record after 1930, reportedly due to issues with his rights, he remained a popular performer in Crystal Springs and Jackson, and his influence is evident in the commercial recordings of many famous blues artists.

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Tommy Johnson - Big Road Blues

 

In "Big Road 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". Floyd 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

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Floyd Jones - Dark Road, 1951

 

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”

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Canned Heat

 

On The Road Again lyrics by Canned Heat


Well, I'm so tired of crying but I'm out on the road again
I'm on the road again
Well, I'm so tired of crying 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
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 payroll, 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 (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 going

But I ain't going down that long old lonesome road
All by myself
But I ain't going down that long old lonesome road
All by myself

I can't carry you, baby, gonna carry somebody else
 

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Canned Heat - On The Road Again, 1968 single

 

Floyd Jones – On Thed Road Again, lyrics


Well, I'm so tired of crying
But I'm out on the road again
I'm on the road again
Well, I'm so tired of crying
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
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 payroll
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…

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Canned Heat

 

Tommy Johnson - Big Road Blues, lyrics


Cryin', ain't goin' down this big road by myself
Now don't you hear me talkin', pretty mama?
Lord, ain't goin' down this big road by myself
If I don't carry you, gon' carry somebody else

Cryin', sun gonna shine in my back door someday
Now, don't you hear me talkin', pretty mama?
Lord, sun gon' shine in my back door someday
And the wind gon' change, gon' blow my blues away

Baby, what makes you do me like you do do do, like you do do do?
Don't you hear me now?
What makes you do me like you do do do?
Now you think you gon' do me like you done poor Cherry Red

Taken the poor boy's money now, sure, Lord, won't take mine
Now don't you hear me talkin' pretty mama?
Taken the poor boy's money; sure, Lord, won't take mine
Taken the poor boy's money now; sure, Lord, won't take mine

Cryin', ain't goin' down this big road by myself
Now, don't you hear me talkin', pretty mama?
Lord, ain't goin' down this big road by myself
If I don't carry you, gon' carry somebody else

Cryin', sun gon' shine, Lord, my back door someday
Now don't you hear me talkin', pretty mama?
Lord, sun gon' shine in my back door someday
And the wind gon' change, blow my blues away
 

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On The Road Again

 

 

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