(Note: At the time, this cover was banned from major sales outlets due to it’s controversial theme)
This is, for a number of reasons, a very hard album to write about, which is why it’s taken me so long to get around to it. First and foremost of these reasons is, of course, the death of Al Wilson, the man who made Canned Heat, as far as I’m concerned. His harp and guitar stylings represented a brilliant answer to the question of how a white band, playing the blues, yet respecting the black men who made the originals, could have any integrity at all. The answer, for a genius like Wilson, was simple—don’t imitate, don’t fall into the ego-tripping soloist trap, but synthesize elements from past blues into a kind of future blues. Canned Heat did this so well that I tend to think of them as a rock band rather than a blues band. You probably have your own idea of them.
But if you’re a Canned Heat fan, you’ll find this effort to be right up there with their finest. Helped along on two cuts by Dr. John, the boys show that in spite of all kinds of personnel changes in the period just before this album was made, they were still capable of functioning as a tight band. My favorite cuts are Wilson’s “Skat,” which has some delightfully loony scat singing, and “Let’s Work Together,” the Wilbert Harrison number that’s currently riding the charts.
Whether Canned Heat will survive Wilson’s tragic death is uncertain. What is certain, though, is that they’ve made some fine music in their time, and there’s a lot of it on Future Blues. (RS 72)
Ed Ward – © Copyright 2000 Rolling Stone.com
Future Blues: Alan Wilson’s Swan Song
This was the last record that Alan Wilson appeared on. It featured a slightly different Canned Heat, as Henry Vestine was absent for the sessions. Harvey Mandel, whose other credits included work with Charlie Musselwhite, Freddie Roulette, and John Mayall, filled in on lead guitar.
The tone was noticably heavier, and had a very clear and powerful recorded sound. Mandel’s lead guitar actually didn’t give the band any extra power, as both he and Vestine were equally powerful and electric in their styles, but the leads did have more rock punch. Making, “Work Together” for example, a very funky and loud rocker.
In fact, without Wilson, this record could have become a bit too samey. Yet keep in mind, without Hite’s powerful and/or humorous stylings, this band could have ended up playing music as obscure as any John Fahey record… that mix is always what made Canned Heat the unique outfit it was.
The set opens with one of the most integrated numbers they ever did, “Sugar Bee”, a strange, stomping number that has Alan Wilson all over it, yet, with a vocal that only Hite could have sung. It’s a song no one could listen to and not recognize as being Canned Heat.
A fast, “Goin” Up The Country” type number follows called, “Shake It And Break It”, which leads to an unusual cover of “That’s All Right Mama”, featuring a very slow, almost moody arrangement. It’s unusual as it’s generally done uptempo as Elvis did it, yet closer to how the composer, Arthur Cruddup would have performed it.
Two Wilson tunes follow, a prophetic “My Time Ain’t Long”, and the off the wall big band swing boogie, “Skat”. Both show the dicotomy of the man; the odd, and often mysterious soul lost in a delta blues world, and a genius who often mixed disparate elements into a strange, yet coherent style. The latter was a very active swing number, with some of the best harp work he ever did, with some of the wierdest scat singing ever recorded.
The side ends with the number that got the most airplay (and still is heard now and then), the gloriously electric and funky rocker, “Let’s Work Together”. It was many steps removed from Wilbur Harrison, yet well within the spirit of the man.
Side two opens with Wilson’s “London Blues”, featuring Dr. John on piano. It opens like an old 50’s Hooker blues, and as the band kicks in, becomes one very tough slow blues. A masterpiece.
A very hard and funky “So Sad” follows, with Hite leading the band through another tough, medium tempo rocking blues, leading to the entire band collaborating on “Future Blues”, one of the best fast blues rockers ever written.
The band did continue to record after Wilson died, and certainly was as active as ever on the concert scene. A few years back, Bob Hite passed away, but the band still does perform, albeit in a very different way.
One problem with having had “hits”, is that you can “go out of style” and seem washed up or something. That was never true with this band, and this last recording with Alan Wilson before he died earned the remark from critic Robert Cristgau, “I’m sorry that there won’t be any more records like this one”.
They had some real chart hits, which few blues bands since have achieved, and you can still hear “On the Road Again”, “Goin’ Up The Country”, and “Get Together” on the radio still now and then. They were both a bridge from the early Delta era blues, and a band that trancended the label “blues band” in the 60’s.
I’ve seen the band on film, saw them a few times at Winterland in the post-Wilson era, and one thing I can say, no one ever did the boogie better than Canned Heat, except for the Hook, and even he liked these guys. What more could any band want?
Copyright 1996 by Al Handa (firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Source: DELTA SNAKE BLUES NEWS May 1996 – Vol 3, No.3)
Canned Heat, true to the blues and a top-energy combo for the new blues breed, rips it up one more time behind wooly-bully Bob Hite. Guitarist Harvey Mandel, who subs for Henry Vestine, and Larry Taylor, now with John Mayall, have since moved on, but with Alan Wilson and Hite, the group has plenty of heavy mileage left in “Sugar Bee”, Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Work Together” and “World’s in a Tangle”. Best set in a while.
Originally reviewed for week ending 8/29/70
© 1999 Billboard and BPI Communications Inc.
(Source: BILLBOARD Website)