BOOGIE WITH CANNED HEAT
(Eagle Vision Entertainment)
Perhaps it’s tempting, at this much remove from their late-’60s heyday, to write Canned Heat off as simply a good-times, blues-boogie band of middle-class white kids co-opting black American musical forms and getting rich in the process. Fortunately, watching the two-hour documentary, The Canned Heat Story, does a great deal to put that conception to bed.
The story is narrated chiefly by the Heat’s longstanding drummer, Fito De La Parra, who comes across as a hugely genial, engaging and mischievous spirit, committed to setting the record straight with honesty, integrity and humour. Its hard not to develop a genuine affection for Fito as he spins out one anecdote after the other, direct to camera, with a directness and wisdom that seem to lend credence to everything he says. The story he tells is perhaps a predictable one, following an almost clichéd rock ‘n’ roll trajectory: the band forms in 1965, born of a genuine love and encyclopaedic knowledge of the blues on the part of its three founders, Henry Vestine, Bob Hite and Allan Wilson; a reputation for explosive live shows catapults the band into counter-cultural superstardom, culminating in an iconic performance at Woodstock; there are drug busts, record company rip-offs, hit singles; and then, of course, there’s the almost inevitable third act of death, disillusionment and dissolution.
What emerges most clearly is the genuine tragedy surrounding the lives of those three founder members. The band’s principle songwriter, Allan ‘Blind Owl’ Wilson – a an early advocate of radical environmentalism – succumbed to clinical depression and died of an overdose of barbiturates, a gesture seen by many as a deliberate bid to leave an uncaring and self-destructive planet behind. Vocalist, Bob ‘The Bear’ Hite, became tired and frustrated as the band’s popularity waned with the dominance of disco, finally overdosing on heroin in 1981 and, thus, missing by just a few years the band’s later resurrection as a much-loved institution. Of the three, though, it’s Henry ‘The Sunflower’ Vestine that cuts the most dramatic and enigmatic figure: a blisteringly talented electric guitarist with an almost pathological fascination for the underbelly of American life, drawn to the most damaging drugs, the most dangerous people and a catalogue of erratic behaviour that pretty much eclipsed his talent and left him something of a forgotten figure. Although he lived into the ‘90s, it’s impossible not to conclude that Vestine did as much as he could to derail his own career, revelling in the glorious extremes of his own personal imperatives.
But it’s not all sadness. Ultimately, we’re left with a feeling that Canned Heat were, above all, about joy and early concert footage drawn from a number of sources reminds us just how powerful their call to join in the boogie could be. There’s a spine-tingling early-evening performance from Woodstock; a still-fascinating studio mime-through of their classic outlaw-Beatnik anthem, ‘On the Road Again,’ and – best of all – an utterly mesmerising psych-blues stomp from the Rotterdam Pop Festival that reveals just how heavy they could be, as well as highlighting the much-overlooked improvised nature of their live work. Here, Bob Hite in particular comes across as a forceful presence, bringing structure to a sprawling jam by plucking perfectly formed vocal blues-tropes out of his memory and constructing an instant, spontaneous underground blues poetry.
With all that established, the additional disc – containing a performance from the 1973 Montreux Festival – is something of a disappointment, featuring what De La Parra calls the New Age line-up that convened after Wilson’s death. Sure, it’s fascinating to watch a speed-freak Vestine, hunched and skeletal, digging into his guitar, and vocalist-guitarist James Shane does a nice Ray Charles impression, but it’s clearly not the same band of blazing hippy-warriors that set the night on fire in their West Coast youth. Moreover, much of the set gets railroaded into pandering crowd-pleasing by a guest appearance from the blues original Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown who commandeers the band for four tunes, wheeling out undeniably entertaining but somewhat self-conscious party tricks on guitar, vocals, violin and harmonica.
Do yourself a favour: if you want to really understand what made Canned Heat a truly great legend of the counter-culture, listen to what your uncle Fito has to say, sit back and dig those early performances. Even now, they’ve still got the power to blow you away.
Wow, I don’t even know where to start! [Boogie With Canned Heat] was, without a doubt, the most emotionally intense musical documentary I’ve ever seen on any band, and I’ve seen dozens of them. Most documentaries on music bands end with me usually feeling “I learned something new” or “That was pretty cool.”
This documentary on Canned Heat left me emotionally drained! I laughed at times, got pissed at times, dropped my jaw a lot and was quietly fascinated by the stories, the video clips, the history of the bands’ lineup, but all throughout, with each member who passed away brought some tears, starting with Alan, then Michael Mann, then Bob, then Henry, each one was just harder to grasp as the evolution of the band continued. This DVD got out of me just about every emotion one can possibly have while watching a documentary!
There was just so much I didn’t know about Henry & the band in general outside of Monterey Pop & Woodstock. I get the true sense that no one was the same when Alan passed away. For the first time I got to really experience a bit of Alan’s loss as if it were yesterday the way you, Skip and Larry told the story. Up to now, I have only read articles and quotes about Alan.
You guys gave the bands’ history a voice that no past article, book or website I’ve ever read could match in terms of emotion and just left me speechless!
Musically, I was amazed to finally see some of the Woodstock 10th Anniversary footage with Michael Mann, that was an awesome performance! I also very much enjoyed the Chet Helms Stomp performance with the Chambers Brothers. This was also my first time ever seeing any kind of footage of the Hooker & Heat sessions, too, that right there made me very pleased to have made this purchase!
It was also a pleasure to finally see & hear from Skip & Mole, too. I feel Skip was definitely born to manage Canned Heat! The stories about the Australia customs incident were hilarious but I found myself quite angered at Bear’s conduct at the ski lodge gig. Not like him, based on everything I know of him. Guess we all have off nights!
I think Bob lost his soul when Alan died, even though Canned Heat carried on, I just noticed that smile that was very evident in the 1968 “On The Road Again” video & at the Woodstock performance was just not there in any future lineup. Bob looked good and sang great, but he just LOOKED different, in his eyes and with his vibe thereafter…….
One bit of trivia that I did not know was that you guys asked Bloomfield to join at one point! THAT would have been awesome if Bloomfield had joined Canned Heat! Holy smoke! I can just imagine what that sound would have been like with Mike in the lineup! It’s too bad he was left burned out at the end of the Butterfield thing, he would have been awesome! Maybe at some point, Alan, Henry & Mike would have been the “triple guitar attack” that would have drowned the Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd! Who knows……
From the heart and as a longtime fan/friend, Fito, giving this Canned Heat DVD 5 stars STILL wouldn’t say enough good about it. Watching this DVD is quite the experience and by far the best Canned Heat anything that I have in my collection. Job WELL done on this project! Cheers…..
“Wildman” Dave Diamond – www.cjfishlegacy.com
Blind Owl & The Bear have left the building – but the legend lives on!
One of the ultimate Boogie R&B Rock bands to ever come out of the Summer of Love, or any other time in the history of music, was Canned Heat. Despite a lot of line-up changes, some infighting, suicides and overdoses, the band still survives with its one original member, drummer Fito de la Parra. This Live at Montreux – 1973 concert features Fito and the “New Age” version of the band with James Shane on guitar/vox, former Zappa guitarist Henry “Sunflower” Vestine, Ed Beyer on keys, Richard Hite on bass/vox and his big brother and original co-founding member Bob “The Bear” Hite on lead vox/guitar/harmonica. The other co-founder, Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, had already committed suicide by ‘73.
The band, probably best known for “Goin’ Up The Country” and “On The Road Again” (not the Willie Nelson song) to most general music fans, had a good following with their versions of old R&B tunes as well as some of their own original music that let them travel across the world, and perform in some countries that most bands never get to see. On this show, not only do they perform a lively set, but blues-legend Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown jumps in on guitar and vox as he literally takes over the stage for 4 or 5 songs, with Canned Heat backing him in a jam session. This was the band’s first time ever performing with Gatemouth, so neither the band nor Gatemouth really knew what to expect. Still, they managed to pull off a great set that made them sound like they’d been jamming together for a few months.
Some of the sounds that Gatemouth gets out of his guitar are very cool, including making it talk before Peter Frampton had his vox box and before Steve Vai and Joe Satriani made the tricks of the trade common practice. Plus, each band member shines as they get a chance to solo here and there. It’s amazing how well some guys can play when they are in that creative divide between being sober and wasted.
The concert is just a little over an hour. The sound and visual quality is good and is presented in widescreen with Dolby 2.0, 5.1 or PCM stereo.
The really cool addition to this Montreux disc is the 140 minute documentary that was made in 2004 called Boogie With Canned Heat – The Canned Heat Story. Although not rated, the concert is probably PG where the documentary is more like PG-13 as there is a little bit of cursing, talk of drug use and a few images from Woodstock that reveal some nudity. The concert originally came out last year by itself, but this year the second-disc makes it that much cooler.
The documentary primarily interviews the band’s former manager, Skip Taylor, bassist Larry “The Mole” Taylor and Fito, who is one of the most charismatic characters you’ll ever see in a documentary. This Australian made film goes through the band’s entire history with no-holds barred. Not only does it show a lot of cool photos but there are some great pieces of concert footage of the band on their own as well as with John Lee Hooker, Taj Mahal and others. They could jam with anyone for the first time and pull it off like pros, despite how under the influence they may have been.
These guys were possibly the basis for John Belushi and Dan Akroyd’s “Blues Brothers.” They were also one of the loudest acts at the time and one of the biggest partying bands as well. They got kicked off of planes, caused bands to change their flights because they didn’t want to be on the same plane with them, and pulled stupid stunts that caused The Bear to be in a wheel chair for months. The Bear would later die of a speedball while performing at the Palomino in L.A. (How odd that Belushi would die 11 months later from the same drug.)
I’d recommend this double-disc set to anyone who was a fan of the music of the era, R&B, boogie or just some good jammin’ rock’n’roll. The documentary is done very well, overall. They reenact some scenes, have cleaned up the images and have done the band justice. I’m not real thrilled with how they shoot the interviews with changing the color of the side-angle for artistic reasons and placing the subjects right against a desk or table so there really isn’t a background and makes it appear as if they are in a crowded room. Still, the quality of the footage looks good and the sound and lighting are done well so it’s only a small gripe that most people will probably never have noticed if I hadn’t mentioned it.
The documentary is shot in Full Screen and the audio is in Mono. The set is also Xbox and PS2 compatible.
Hopefully you all have taken enough of a journey in your heavy metal exploration to realize that the blues is one of the form’s core principles, much as the blues is directly responsible for the fifties rock ‘n roll revolution, which of course is metal’s true forefather. Renowned as one of the great American heavy blues bands, CANNED HEAT is sometimes forgotten in the grand analysis of hard music. At least BLUE CHEER is starting to get recognized more and more, but you can’t bring up one and leave the other omitted. After all, even before LED ZEPPELIN a healthy rivalry existed between CANNED HEAT and BLUE CHEER for honors as the loudest band in the world, which CANNED HEAT won for a brief moment in rock history. When you see classic photos of guitar gods striking poses in front of towering Marshall stacks, give thanks—or blame if you like—to these two bands, although of late it appears to be hip to return to Orange cabinets.
Like Leslie West and MOUNTAIN, the legend of CANNED HEAT extends far beyond their memorable performance at the original Woodstock, much less their festival anthem “Goin’ Up the Country” that can be heard in shrewd advertisements looking to lure baby boomers into stock and retirement portfolios. Already to this point notorious for being locked up for drug possession (which surviving member “Fito” de la Parra recounts as being a police plant), CANNED HEAT crashed onto the sixties rock scene as a working class bunch of mugs who played loud, dirty blues and boogie with shades of acid rock, and as their celebrity grew, so did their amplitude as well as their lengthy solo sections during famous jam sessions known as “The Boogie.” Heretofore CANNED HEAT should be given full due for their place in metal history, as they should also be considered forerunners to ZZ TOP.
Live at Montreaux 1973 captures CANNED HEAT at a point in time where many bands might’ve fallen to pieces from the turbulence they were forced to deal with. With members swirling through the turnstiles and the unfortunate suicide of musical genius and key songwriter Alan Wilson, the CANNED HEAT depicted on this DVD features a slightly slimmer (but much scruffier) Bob “The Bear” Hite, who seems to be bearing some of the brunt of the speedballs that would later do him in. On the other hand, The Bear looks positively overjoyed at this gig as CANNED HEAT is in full sync on standards like “On the Road Again,” “Let’s Work Together” and “Rock and Roll Music” in a time period following their Hooker and Heat collaboration with blues legend John Lee Hooker. There’s a certain swagger to CANNED HEAT at this point from having been recognized by not only Hooker, but the blues community at large and whereas older CANNED HEAT footage shows the band as excitable ruffians onstage, there’s a more relaxed candor here.
In this performance, unsung blues persona Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown checks in for a three song guest spot and he literally takes over the set with his stage gesticulations and his impressive prowess on the guitar, the harmonica and even the violin, which he astonishingly makes sound like a guitar’s sonic reverb at times. For good measure, Brown displays his string slapping technique that would be made famous by Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the bass. To see what Brown does on the guitar almost makes you forget this is CANNED HEAT’s show.
Included is a two-and-a-half hour documentary “Boogie With Canned Heat – The Canned Heat Story,” mostly narrated by Fito. Seriously, if you think you’ve seen turmoil in a rock documentary, nestle in and pay close attention; this story is long but difficult to turn away from. In summation, if CANNED HEAT’s legacy is primarily vested in the blues, let us not forget that heavy metal owes them alms as well…
Ray Van Horn, Jr. Amp Magazine 5/07
Written by T. Michael Testi
Published February 27, 2007
If you are a fan of blues, especially the boogie blues that Canned Heat produces then you are in for a real treat with Canned Heat: Live at Montreux. This DVD is a recording of a concert that took place in 1973 and features the then line up of Bob “The Bear” Hite (Vocals, Harmonica, Bass), Ed Beyer (Piano), Henry Vestine (Guitar), Fito De La Parra (Drums), Richard Hite (bass) and James Shane (Guitar, Vocals).
The show begins with “On The Road Again” which highlights The Bear’s great harmonica and bluesy vocals. The driving rhythms of Richard Hite and Fito De La Parra playing off the guitar work of Vestine and Shane give the band its power. And to make it boogie we have the piano work of Ed Beyer. This is really what Canned Heat is all about.
The next four songs feature Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. This is a true bonus to the DVD to be able to watch Gatemouth at his best. Brown was a Louisiana/Texas blues musician who was a highly acclaimed musician on a wide variety of instruments including guitar, fiddle, mandolin and drums. In this performance it is just fascinating watching his play on the guitar and fiddle. Especially when he makes his guitar talk as he is mouthing the words. It is just amazing to see.
The sixth song, “Night Time Is The Right Time” highlights James Shane’s vocals and guitar work. The remaining songs are vintage Canned Heat. It is pure enjoyment to watch.
The reason why Canned Heat has survived to this day is that they consistently reinvent themselves within the realm of blues boogie by the personnel of the moment and they let their personnel shine in the spotlight. It would have been easy for the Heat to fold after the death of co-founder Alan Wilson. Even easier to fold after the death of the icon Bob Hite, but Canned Heat still tours and puts out original material (“Friends in the Can”; 2003) after forty years in the business.
The other bonus of this package is the second DVD entitled Boogie With Canned Heat: The Canned Heat Story. This is a 140 minute documentary on the history of Canned Heat. It is told through the eyes of the drummer Fito De La Parra; the only remaining member of the group. De La Parra joined the band for the second album and has played on every album since then.
The second DVD includes interviews with other living members of the band and personnel as well a lot of rare footage of the early band with Alan Wilson. There is also amateur footage shot at concerts which give insight into what a boogie band of the late sixties and early seventies were really like. It goes on to show how the band deteriorated with the onslaught of the disco movement with drugs and alcohol as well as how it was starting to turn itself around at the time of Hite’s death/overdose.
There is footage with John Lee Hooker from the time of “Hooker and Heat”; which subsequently gave Hooker his first album to make the charts. And also talks about the influence that Bob Hite had on the characters known as “The Blues Brothers”.
The quality of both DVDs is very good as is the sound. Obviously, some of the footage on the documentary is not of high quality, but its importance is more of historical value. This is a must for anyone who loves the blues and even more important for those fans of Canned Heat.
Don’t tell anyone, but Canned Heat is practically synonymous with the word “boogie.” Over a turbulent run of excessive personnel changes, drug problems, personality disorders, and general malaise, Canned Heat have stuck to their guns, keeping a solid grip on a blues-based repertoire. The boogying band from Los Angeles made a splash at Woodstock and drew the attention of the masters like John Lee Hooker, whom they collaborated with in the early 1970s. They also scored two pivotal hits with “On the Road Again” and “Going Up The Country.” But it was on the stage where Canned Heat truly burned, and this is no more evident than on the Live At Montreux 1973 DVD.
The band expertly slice through a 73-minute set of 10 blues-soaked numbers on the Montreux stage. Singer Bob “The Bear” Hite, a big man with a big presence, takes charge right out of the gate with a stirring and lengthy “On The Road Again.” Bear, despite his girth, intones his composed vocals and hefty harp handling without keeling over. The Heat are then joined by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, who takes the lead for the next four numbers. When you have drummer Fio De La Parra, who’s still in the band today, skillfully lining the pocket and guitarists Henry Vestine and James Shane bending and squashing notes, alongside keyboardist Ed Beyer and bassist Richard Hite (aka Bear’s little brother) to tie the whole mess together — it’s easy to see how the Heat could back anyone.
After Brown finishes up, Shane takes over on vocals for a steadfast version of “Night Time Is the Right Time.” Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Work Together,” a natural in the land of Canned Heat, follows before “Rock And Roll Music,”with its rockabilly kick, pays tribute to yet another influence. But when Hite straps on a Les Paul for the finale for “Shake ‘N Boogie,” it’s all about the blues. The song mutates into a spiraling showcase of the Heat’s immeasurable musicianship and ability to jam. If you’re left wanting more Canned Heat after this, there’s a deluxe version of Live At Montreux 1973. The second DVD features a 140-minute documentary called, appropriately enough, Boogie With Canned Heat: The Canned Heat Story. This tale, while intersting in parts, is soemwhat long-winded, especially when it comes to details behind the band’s numerous mishaps, exploits, and failures. Still, the performance clips are downright paranormal in their intensity. The two-DVD set is a nice bang for your buck if you have a fascination with Canned Heat’s colorful history. You’ll learn how they turned “boogie” into an independent musical form with plenty of leg room.
~ Shawn Perry