Canned Heat – Boogie With Canned Heat – Liberty Studios / Pure Pleasure – vinyl

Canned Heat – Boogie With Canned Heat – Liberty Studios (1968)/ Pure Pleasure (2014) PPAN LST 7541180 audiophile stereo vinyl, 44:01 ****1/2:

(Bob Hite – vocals; Alan Wilson – slide guitar, harmonica, vocals; Henry Vestine – lead guitar; Larry Taylor – bass; Adolfo de La Parra – drums; Dr. John – piano, horn arrangements; Sunnyland Slim – piano (on Turpentine Moan)

As the never ending wave of Sixties nostalgia unfurls, there are some musical acts that have been lost in the shuffle. One of these bands is Canned Heat. Started by blues enthusiasts, Bob “The Bear” Hite” and Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson in 1965, this Los Angeles band were true purveyors of American roots. They took their name from the 1928 Tommy Johnson song, “Canned Heat Blues” (about an alcoholic who drank sterno, or “canned heat”). Their brand of boogie/blues rock paid homage to the acoustic and Chicago blues heritage, while integrating the psychedelic genre. They became fixtures on the rock and roll scene, and turned in compelling performances at Monterey Pop Festival (1967) and Woodstock (1969). Their classic lineup included Henry “Sunflower” Vestine (a.k.a. Harvey Mandel) on guitar Larry “The Mole” Taylor (bass) and Adolfo “Fito” de La Parra (drums).

Despite the motley genesis of the group, they charted with two hit singles, “Goin’ Up the Country” and “On the Road Again”. Canned Heat had an unusual career trajectory. Their first (actually they had an unreleased album in 1966) self-titled album was released in 1967 and consisted of blues standards. The critics were impressed with their dual-pronged guitar and Hite’s inimitable vocals. Boogie With Canned Heat (1968) introduced the band to the world.  Additionally, they recorded an album with John Lee Hooker in 1971 (Hooker ‘N Heat). Over the years, the lineup varied.  The untimely deaths of Wilson (1970) and Hite (1981) impacted the momentum of this group. They still perform (with Mandel, Taylor and de la Parra in the 2014 edition) carrying on a well-deserved legacy.

Pure Pleasure Records has re-mastered Boogie With Canned Heat to 180-gram audiophile vinyl. This album consists of original compositions and covers, inspired by blues masters. But their loose jam, boogie approach is ear-catching. Side One begins with a steady, thumping rhythm (thanks to Taylor and de la Parra) that propels the gutsy vocals of Hite and the tough harmonica play of Wilson. Mandel’s scratchy electric guitar punctuates this cut. “My Crime” takes on a Chicago blues persona (like “Seventh Son”) with Wilson on harp and slide guitar. Then something unique takes place. Wilson takes the vocal lead (in a weird falsetto) and Canned Heat creates their signature opus, “On The Road Again”. The head-bobbing, spacey boogie music (based on a 1953 song by Floyd Jones, which was inspired by the 1928 Tommy Johnson classic, “Big Road Blues”) has a repeat first-line verse structure, ethereal guitar riffs (Mandel) and harp lead. It is fresh, and still sounds great, forty-six years later.

Early rhythm and blues is represented in cuts like “World In a Jug” (showcasing the tandem guitar work of Wilson and Mandel) and “Turpentine Moan” (which includes jaunty piano by Sunnyland Slim). Hite updates Tommy McClennen’s “Whiskey Headed Woman” that contains distorted guitars and a notable tempo shift.

Side Two is signature Canned Heat. A rare 1960’s anti-drug anthem, “Amphetamine Annie” is cautionary with some anti-establishment humorous attitude. The chant, “Speed Kills” became a catch phrase, but this number cooks with hot licks and an impressive guitar solo. “An Owl Song” features some of Wilson’s best harp work. His phrasing is interesting. Dr. John contributes rollicking piano and horn arrangements. The good Doctor returns on the New Orleans instrumental, “Marie Laveau”. This time the horns envelop a lowdown blues song with jazzy, Crescent City dirge charts. The finale (“Fried Hockey Boogie”) is an extended “audio biography” of the band. Written by bassist Taylor, this eleven-minute opus gives each member of the band the spotlight, and of course as a cohesive ensemble. Hite delivers a hysterical narration, including a “Don’t Forget To Boogie” call out at the finish.

Canned Heat was a prototype for boogie rock bands. They transformed blues essence into psychedelic rock. Pure Pleasure Records has done justice to the organic, dense sound of Canned Heat . All of the sonic details (the fuzzy, distorted guitars, Wilson’s harmonica and strange voice, and Hite’s grittiness) are captured in the uncomplicated mixing.

TrackList:

Side 1: Evil Woman; My Crime; On The Road Again; World In A Jug; Turpentine Moan: Piano-Sunny Land Slim; Whiskey Headed Woman No. 2
Side 2: Amphetamine Annie; An Owl Song; Marie Laveau; Fried Hockey Boogie

–Robbie Gerson

 

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