Joel wrote this banjo-fueled country tune, which introduces his Piano Man album, as a prayer of protection for a friend who was preparing to embark on a trip to Europe. In 2016, he told Sirius XM how the composition came together.
"I wanted to write a piece of music that had a lot of bluegrass movement in it," he said. "I play a certain style of piano sometimes I call 'banjo fingers,' where I'm playing 30-second notes like a banjo player would pick. A lot of notes. It's got a lot of rhythm in it, but it basically is playing a chord progression. And 'Travelin' Prayer' was that kind of song.'"
Eric Weissberg, who played on the iconic "Dueling Banjos" instrumental from the 1972 movie Deliverance, played the banjo and pedal-steel guitar on this track.
Joel is backed by the Sons of the Pioneers, a Western singing group known for performing with Roy Rogers.
Earl Scruggs covered this on his 1973 Rockin' Cross the Country album. Dolly Parton also recorded a version for her 1999 album, The Grass Is Blue, and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
The album's third single, this peaked at #34 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
Piano Man is Joel's second solo album, following Cold Spring Harbor. It's better known for its enduring title track, which was inspired by Joel's experiences as a piano player/lounge singer in Los Angeles.