Tuesday, April 23, 2019


BTC readers probably already know whether or not they like CANNED HEAT, the 60’s West Coast “heavy” blues band that’s still around today (with one 60’s member) after 50 years. At their best, the late 60’s version of the band, with Bob The Bear Hite, Alan Wilson, Larry Taylor, Fito De La Parra, and either Henry Vestine or Harvey Mandel on guitar, was an unstoppable force, churning out their grungy brand of high octane blues’n’boogie. Because the guys were blues purists at heart, and the original members were all specialist collectors of blues 78’s, even when they were trafficking in 40 minute fuzzed-out jams, there was always a blues base, and everything was always blues-drenched, no matter how far out they went….and many of their tunes were “extensions” of old 1930’s material.

Their studio albums tend to be solid, but many would argue that live performance was where the band really excelled, so this 2-cd set of unreleased material from the 1967-1976 period (released in 2000 on the German blues label RUF) really satisfies, prime cuts from the band’s greatest period. Bob “The Bear” Hite is featured on all the material here, with his inimitable soulful growl, and replacement members, as the group evolved into the 70’s, Joel Scott Hill (also in the 70’s Flying Burrito Brothers) and bassist Richard Hite (who later ran the great Memphis Archives label) fit right in to the blues’n’boogie machine as it choogles along. Canned Heat is really a brand as much as a specific band, and as long as whoever is in the present line-up of the band “gets” the concept, they should do fine. This is not a group that emphasizes exactitude, it’s about catching the spirit and running with it, and each performance of any particular tune tends to go in its own direction. There’s also a good chemistry with the audiences, and for me, Canned Heat certainly qualify as a “people’s band” in the broadest and best sense of that term. Everything that’s good about Canned Heat is found here on these rough live tapes in its pure form.

There are two further volumes in this series, each a 2-cd set, but the second and third volumes contain recordings from later periods. I don’t own those, although I may pick them up if the price is right (the third volume, the least known, usually sells for $25 and up nowadays—the first two can still be found cheap). This first volume is the most essential one, being all earlier recordings featuring The Bear. When they crank up the volume and dig in deep for a jam on some Jimmy Rogers or Sam Myers tune learned from some well-worn 45 or 78 in one of the boys’ collections, you can almost taste the lukewarm malt liquor and smell the harsh burning seeds and stems from the cheap ragweed being consumed by the audience, loaded to the gills. Truly, Canned Heat deliver the goods (assuming you want these goods).

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