Willie Nelson performs on stage
AP Photo/M. Tweed

'On the Road Again': The Story Behind Willie Nelson's Oscar-Nominated Song


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Willie Nelson is one of the most iconic names in country music. He was one-fourth of the legendary Highwaymen with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson, and is continuing to release new music well into his 80s. Our pigtailed, sky-high American treasure is even a skilled songwriter who's written most of his own songs in addition to songs for countless other artists. His name is pretty much synonymous with country music with songs that stand the test of time ranging from "Always On My Mind" to "Whiskey River." Of his many classics, "On the Road Again" has become one of his greatest hits and signature songs.

Outside of making music, Nelson also dabbled in Hollywood. His first starring role was in the film Honeysuckle Rose in 1980, a role that hit pretty close to home for Nelson. The lead character, Buck Bonham (played by Nelson), is an aspiring musician who grapples with caring for his family while balancing fame and life on tour. Nelson's tour bus in real life was even named Honeysuckle Rose.

Honeysuckle Rose

Shortly after signing his contract for the film, Nelson was on a plane with one of the film's executive producers. They told him that they needed him to write a theme song for the movie, so he quite literally pulled out one of the barf bags from the seatback in front of him and quickly wrote out some lyrics. Nelson told Uncut that he wasn't really sure what to write.

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"They were looking for songs for the movie and they started asking me if I had any idea," Nelson recalls. "I said, 'I don't know, what do you want the song to say?' I think Sydney said, 'Can it be something about being on the road?' It just started to click in my head. I said, 'You mean like, 'On the road again, I can't wait to get on the road again'?' They said, 'That's great. What's the melody?' I said, 'I don't know yet.'"

To say the song was an instant success would be an understatement. Honeysuckle Rose's full album was all good but "On The Road Again" was something special. Nelson not only won a Grammy award for Best Country Song but earned an Academy Award nomination and a spot in the Grammy Hall of Fame. The song is widely included on lists of the best songs of all time. This was one of Nelson's greatest crossover hits of the time, ranking on both the country and adult contemporary Billboard charts. The official audio of the song is below to enjoy. (Not to be confused with Canned Heat's bluesy boogie of the same name from the 60s...you can watch the full video of their Woodstock performance here.")

Most notably, the song remains one of his most recognizable to this day. It's still being covered by other musicians and is widely used in popular culture and films like Forrest Gump as well as becoming a staple on road trip playlists. Nelson and Alanis Morissette released a duet of the song in 2021 and in 2016, "Forever Country" was a released which featured "On The Road Again" as a medley with Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" and John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Nelson even performed a duet of the song with his old outlaw country pal, Merle Haggard.

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"On the Road Again" Lyrics

On the road again
I just can't wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin' music with my friends
And I can't wait to get on the road again

On the road again
Goin' places that I've never been
Seein' things that I may never see again
And I can't wait to get on the road again

On the road again
Like a band of Gypsies we go down the highway
We're the best of friends
Insisting that the world keep turnin' our way
And our way is on the road again

I just can't wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin' music with my friends
And I can't wait to get on the road again, break free
And I can't wait to get on the road again

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READ MORE: How 'Blue Eyes Crying in The Rain' Saved Willie Nelson's Career

This story previously ran on July 10, 2020. It was updated on April 25, 2022.

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