Canned Heat

Canned Heat
Canned Heat Instrumentals 1967-1996

Ruf Records RUF 1119 (Europe)

By Rick Sanger
November 2006

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!”

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