Key To The Highway

Album: Piano Blues, Vol. 2 (1940)
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Songfacts®:

  • Originally an acoustic number, "Key To The Highway" is blues at its rawest with a woman driving a man out of his home, out of the state, and quite likely out of his mind. It was first recorded in 1940 by the pianist Charlie Segar backed by "Stop and Fix It Mama." Originally credited to Segar alone, it was co-written with Big Bill Broonzy, and is arguably Broonzy's best known composition; it is certainly the most widely recorded. Like many early blues numbers, it appears to have been built on other songs.

    Big Bill Broonzy died in 1958, but he would certainly have appreciated what is surely the definitive recording, the 9 minute plus version from the Layla... album which features both Eric Clapton and Duane Allman on guitar. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England
  • In November 1964, the Rolling Stones recorded a series of songs at the legendary Chess Records studio. One of the songs they did was "Key to the Highway," which they released as a single in Japan in 2007.

    The Rolling Stones album Dirty Work features a hidden track with Ian Stewart playing 30 seconds of this song. Stewart, who was often called "The Sixth Stone," played piano with the group and also took on road manager duties. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • The Blues Foundation inducted "Key to the Highway" into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2010. They selected Big Bill Broonzy's version, which was actually the third recording, recorded in 1941. The first recording was by Broonzy's collaborator, Charlie Segar, and the second by Jazz Gillium. Both did their recordings in 1940.
  • Eric Clapton has recorded this song multiple times. There's a live version on Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert (1973), and he also did collaborations of the song with B.B. King (Riding with the King, 2000) and Johnnie Johnson (Johnnie B. Bad, 1991).

    The first version he did was in 1970 on Derek and the Dominos' Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The song started as an impromptu studio jam that Clapton and fellow Domino Duane Allman started after hearing Sam the Sham playing it in a different studio next door. The Dominos' record producer, Tom Dowd, quickly told the engineers to record. Because the band had already been playing when they started recording, the song opens with a fade-in on the album.

    The Dominos' recording runs 9:40, taking up about half of Side 2 of the double album.
  • Eric Clapton told Guitarist Magazine (in February 2003) about his first experience with the song: "When I was about 14, I saw Big Bill Broonzy on TV and that was an incredible thing. Because maybe if I'd just heard it, it might not have had the same effect. But to see footage of Broonzy playing 'Hey Hey,' this was a real blues artist and I felt like I was looking into heaven. That was it for me and then, when I went to explore his music, the song that always came back to me was an incredible version of 'Key To The Highway.' That was the one that I thought somehow would, like Crossroads, capture the whole journey of being a musician and a traveling journeyman." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    DeeTheWriter - Saint Petersburg, Russia Federation
  • Little Walter recorded the song in 1958. His version climbed to #6 on the R&B chart and was one of Walter's last big hits. His backing band was comprised of some of the biggest names in the blues, including Willie Dixon on bass, Muddy Waters on slide guitar, and Luther Tucker on guitar.

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