March 29, 2010

Monday music

Living the Blues is the name of a book written by Blues/Rock drummer Adolpho “Fito” de la Parra. The subtitle tells much of the story; 

Canned Heat's Story of Music, Drugs, Death, Sex and Survival.

This is Fito’s rendition of the story of hippie era blues and rock & roll band, Canned Heat

de la Parra is the lone survivor of the band’s original crew. The early chapters of his book tell the story of a group launched by two blues enthusiasts, Alan Wilson and Bob Hite. The band’s name from a 1928 Tommy Johnson tune, titled "Canned Heat Blues."

Canned Heat’s first wide exposure came at the 1967 Monterrey International Pop Festival.

Canned heat” was a slang term for Sterno, a product used sometimes by hard up alcoholics when no real booze could be found. The name suited the suicidal nature of a group that began life as a hard drinking, hard drugging, hippie jug band. Band members came and went over the years, with a variety of artists showing up alternately at different shows or recording sessions; disappearing for a bit then reappearing at a later show.

The following cut is from the band’s Woodstock performance.

The lead guitarist in the video is Henry Vestine, who was kicked off of Frank Zappa’s band, the Mothers of Invention, because of his over-the-top drug use. Think about that. Just how much of a druggie must one be to be kicked out of the Mothers of Invention?

Founding member Bob “the bear” Hite brought Vestine into the band. Hite himself died in 1981 at the age of 38, reportedly from a heart attack. This is the bearded Hite, also from a video also shot at Woodstock.

The band's founder, lead singer, mouth harp player, and author of many of Canned Heat's best tunes was Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson, who died of a drug overdose at the age of 27. Speculation at the time indicated suicide. The band survived the deaths of both founding members, but was never again the powerhouse seen at Monterrey and Woodstock.

Time passed, hundreds of performances have been enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of fans, and Canned Heat still maintains a high level of popularity. In total, 47 different artists performed with the band at various venues for over 45 years. Some were one-time wonders, others came, went, and returned again. Dozens of famous, infamous or semi-famous artists have some attachment or another to the band.

During the summer of 2009, founding member Fito de la Parra toured with a couple of the early band members, guitarist Harvey Mandel and bassist Larry Taylor, on the Heroes of Woodstock Tour, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Also playing in this video are Barry Levenson (guitar), Greg Kage (drums), and Dale Spalding (mouth harp).

A bunch of today’s popular recording artists can trace roots to Canned Heat. They developed an almost cult-like following, but today the band mostly tours Europe and Australia. I'm not one of the cult members, but they were a good band and if they ever again make a North American tour with a stop anywhere nearby, I suspect I’ll find the means to get there.



Old NFO said...

They WERE a good band back in the day, I really didn't remember that many deaths, but then again, I went into the military and spent a lot of time out of the States, so didn't follow the bands as religiously as I did before...