(Ruf Records / Germany)
This record is an explosive compilation of instrumental classics spanning the first 30 years of Canned Heat’s musical legacy. Drummer and Producer Fito de la Parra takes the listener on a Blues voyage into the human subconscious, starting with the group’s early years and the mystical 20-minute “Parthenogenesis”. The late Bob “The Bear” Hite, Henry Vestine, and Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson are in prime form for remastered versions of “Marie Laveau” by Henry Vestine, “Terraplane Blues” by Robert Johnson, and “Don’t Care What You Tell Me” featuring Charles Lloyd. Junior Watson and Robert Lucas contribute equally amazing tracks, despite totally juxtapositional styles. Watson performs the “JJ Jump” as a straight-ahead rhythmic jump-blues tune played on a Fender Strat with his fingers, backed by Larry Taylor on doghouse bass and James T on harmonica. “Gorgo Boogie” is played alone by Lucas in open G with flamenco hand-picks and Fito on drums. This record showcases the musicianship of the groups numerous lineups, and displays the prowess and diversity of styles the musicians explore within the framework of the Blues.
© Brett Lemke – Maximum Ink issue 128, October 2006 / www.maximumink.com
Well, let me just start out with this true confession. Canned Heat has always been one of my favorite bands of all time. For forty years they have kept “boogie music” alive on the face of planet earth. Yea, that’s my quote. So having a CD of Canned Heat Instrumentals from 1967-1996 is just a wonderful thing. So here we go.
Canned Heat has had so many band member changes over the years that it is just unreal. Many you know, and some you do not, but that unmistakable Canned Heat sound is always there. The first cut is from the early years and is called “Parthenogenesis”. It’s 19 minutes long and features the founding members including the writers Bob “The Bear” Hite, Henry Vestine on guitar, and Fito de la Parra on drums. Larry Taylor plays bass. Fito still plays drums for the band as of today, as far as I know, and is all over this CD. “Parthenogenesis” is broken down into about 9 songs, which all run together. They range from a jaw harp, to guitar, and blues harp, John Mayall plays on one section, Alan Wilson plays standard harp and chromatic before it is over. Back in the 60’s long songs were the whole idea, and this was one of the first long ones. It has survived well. It’s one of my favorite cuts.
Another favorite cut from the “old days” is “Skat” by Alan “The Blind Owl” Wilson. This guy is a harp master. I think his best cut ever was with John Lee Hooker and Canned Heat and the song was called “Drifter”. I’m sorry to say that it’s not on here, but it’s worth the price of admission for the CD that it is on, which is “Hooker and Heat”. I was hoping for a few cuts from that vintage CD would be on here, but maybe they couldn’t get rights to them or something. Anyway………. back to the story……..let’s move on to some newer boogie from the 90’s.
In 1996 they wrote “Gorgo Boogie” featuring Robert Lucas on guitar, and it is pretty danged good too – Canned Heat music for sure! “Blues After Hours” recorded in 1994 with Junior Watson on guitar is a great slow blues piece from that era. It has never been released anywhere, so is a real gem here. Other fine cuts are “Terraplane Blues”, “Hucklebuck” and I like “Down in The Gutter but Free.” Hey, they never did mince words.
So if you are an old Canned Heat fan, this is the CD for you. If you’re not familiar with them, and want to get an idea of what West Coast bands sounded like while playing the blues in the 60’s, here it is. Henry Vestine has always been one of my favorites. Harvey Mandel played with them for a while too. There may be better guitar players than these guys, but the level of funk and balls is right there on the sidewalk for you. So get down with some vintage Canned Heat. The past will never die. Yea, we’re doomed to repeat it, and that’s fine. Oh yea, and “Don’t Forget To Boogie!”
© 2006, Barry Faust / www.BluesSource.com*
I’ve always found it rather strange that genres of music so conducive to soloing, like blues based rock and roll and the blues themselves, haven’t encouraged more instrumental compositions. Maybe it’s because of everyone’s limited expectations regarding the music, especially those within the industry who control what is released to the public. They think it should always be accompanied by vocals.
Sure there are extended jams sometimes. Bands will noodle away at a theme in the middle of a song and pass solos back and forth, but that is not the same thing as deliberately writing a song without vocals. It’s not as if there wasn’t precedent for popular songs being instrumentals, what with jazz and the big band era both relying primarily on instrumentals for the majority of their music. But somehow or another rock and blues were confined into a territory and defined by a format that wasn’t conducive to writing instrumental pieces. Whatever the reason, complete albums of instrumental pieces by rock/blues bands are as rare as hen’s teeth. Although Ruf record’s Canned Heat release Instrumentals 1967 – 1996 is a compilation of tracks that were recorded over a nearly thirty year period and doesn’t really qualify as a band going into the studio with the intent of making an instrumental recording, it is still a collection of fifteen songs that were deliberately written as instrumentals – tracks where the vocals are a secondary consideration.
The disc has been split up into the different eras of the group, reflecting the changing make-up of the band membership. The first six songs are from the band’s original pre 1970 line-up, with the nine remaining being split over three other formations. Tracks seven, eight and nine were recorded in 1971/72, the second incarnation. Of the final six, five are recorded with Junior Walker and one with Robert Lucas playing guitar and all were done between 1994 and 96. Musically the most ambitious and varied work comes in the earliest era when multi instrumentalist, falsetto voiced Alan Wilson was still alive. (Wilson died of suicide/drug overdose in 1970 brought on by depression caused by his loss of sight.) While a couple of the tracks are what you’d expect, bar band style jam sessions that are indistinguishable from any similar band, there are a couple of real gems within this section.
The discs opening cut “Parthenogenesis” is an almost twenty minute opus. It is divided into nine short movements featuring different variations of a theme and utilizing instruments you might not expect from a blues band. For instance, Alan Wilson plays two sections on the Jaw harp and uses his chromatic harp for a different harmonica sound on another. While there are some weak moments in the composition, like a drum solo just sounding tacked on instead of integrated with its companions, the overall effect is an interesting contrast to your standard rock and roll guitar driven solo.
Alan Wilson again takes forefront on the song “Scat,” which as the name implies is a cheerful and upbeat Scat song performed to a lilting jazz beat. Again what is most pleasant about this piece is the way it stands out from the usual turgid excesses of the period. Unfortunately the good is almost equally balanced by songs like those described above, which while not bad per se, lack the originality of those two pieces. Maybe distortion boxes were new in those days and people were still not over the novelty, because fuzz seems to be a fairly common element of this and the songs from the early 1970s as well. It might just be me but distortion and fuzz don’t just sound that exciting anymore and, in fact, after a while just becomes noise. But there were still some more interesting tracks yet to come, including one track from that period. “Caterpillar Crawl” is distinguished by its interesting rhythmic structure and general good time nonsense feel. In fact, one of the really good things about this disc, and Canned Heat as a band (which eventually rescues even the most boring of songs), is the fact that they never seem to be taking themselves seriously. That doesn’t mean they are giving the music short shrift, but understand what they are doing is not rocket science. It’s such a refreshing contrast to the pomposity of some of today’s over inflated egos that have far to high an opinion of themselves and their importance in the grand scheme of things.
They are so obviously having a good time, even if the piece isn’t very original, it is still just fun to listen to them. If they can have that much fun in the recording studio these guys must have been a hoot to see live, especially when Bear Hite was still alive.
He was the big hulking behemoth behind the microphone until he was felled by a massive heart attack in the early 1980s. Listening to him babble on “Down in the Gutter but Free,” using his voice as another instrument, is to hear someone that obviously has a great time doing what he does.
XLet’s jump forward in time to the mid nineties. With only Fito de la Parra from the original band of 1967 left anchoring the sound, it seems appropriate he has been the man setting the pace and tempo as the drummer since the beginning. The live track “Mambo Tango” carries the stamp of a drummer who knows how to hold the centre and has been doing so for years. It’s a fun Latin tinged blues number, as is obvious from the title. Again, it proves these guys, no matter what the membership, are far superior to your straight ahead, run of the mill blues based rock band any day of the week.
They aren’t simply content to stick within the standard formula that has guaranteed the success of bands like The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Led Zeppelin or made a hero out of Eric Clapton. They may never have enjoyed the commercial rewards of those other guys but they sure played a lot more interesting and diverse sounding music.
It is very easy for musicians to play blues music in a certain style and fall into a rut instrumentally. While Canned Heat occasionally will sound like any number of other blues bands on the disc Instrumentals 1967 – 1996 they also show that throughout the decades of their existence they have the ability to play outside the box with style and flair.
© 2006 Blog Critics – Blues Bash
Back in the sixties, Canned Heat’s motto, often voiced by singer Bob Hite, was “Don’t forget to boogie!” On their newest release, the band brings on the boogie but much more – as listeners will find out. The album was compiled by Heat’s longtime drummer, Fito de la Parra, who has kept the band’s legacy burning by still performing under the band’s moniker, and by writing a book “Living With the Blues,” chronicling the band’s history. He also produced a film about the band this year. In its 30-year history, Canned Heat has had many personnel changes. Unfortunately some were made because of the (still disputed) 1970 drug overdose-suicide of high-pitched singer and blues harpist Alan Wilson, and the cocaine overdose of frontman Hite in 1981. Out of the revolving door of lead guitarists, Henry Vestine, (who died in 1997) Joel Scott (Wilson’s replacement), Robert Lucas and Junior Watson are featured on the album.
All of the tracks have been previously released except for the final song, the live “Blues After Hours” recorded in 1994. The first six cuts are from the original “classic” lineup of Bob “The Bear” Hite (vocals), Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson (vocals, harp and guitar), Henry “The Sunflower” Vestine (lead guitar), Larry “The Mole” Taylor (bass and guitar) and de la Parra on drums. The opening track, “Parthenogenesis” is a nearly 20-minute experimental suite. Enjoy the ride as the band takes us on a psychedelic journey featuring treated jaw harp, a harmonica boogie, a multi-tracked drum solo, Hite singing the blues with John Mayall on piano, fuzz box guitar by Vestine and an unlikely pairing of sitar and chromatic harp by Wilson. The album has a wide variety of styles and rhythms, and throughout it, the band shows its range as musicians not pigeonholed as pure boogie men. Vestine uses his fuzz guitar again on the slow blues “Marie Laveau,” originally found on 1968’s Living the Blues, and then de la Parra’s Latin influence fuels “Mi Huautla,” along with Wilson’s bluesy harp. There are some vocals on the album, such as Hite shouting Martin Luther King Jr. inspirations to the band (“You, too, can be free!”) on “Down in the Gutter But Free,” while Vestine wails on guitar. And on “Skat”, Alan Wilson scat sings with a big band brass that wouldn’t seem out of place in a 1930s Max Fleischer cartoon soundtrack. Canned Heat could always give a rough edge to the blues, but on Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues,” Wilson’s slide guitar is as smooth as glass. On the later material, Watson’s guitar playing gives a nod to rockabilly on “Hucklebuck” and “Junior’s Shuffle”.
Overall, this album satisfies. It showcases Canned Heat’s ability to let loose without the constraint of vocals.
Thanks to de la Parra for getting this disc out and for reminding us what an original blues band Canned Heat was. And also to remind us: “Don’t forget to boogie!”
By Rick Sanger, November 2006
© 2006, Boston Blues Society / www.bostonblues.com*
© 2006/7 Vintage Guitar – February 2007 issue / www.vintageguitar.com*