I bought this album on cassette in 1989. The cassette version has eight songs each side so doesn’t include the last four songs on the CD. I knew very little about Canned Heat at the time apart from the three singles “Let’s Work Together”, “Going Up The Country” and “On The Road Again”.
I was reminded of this album by “Introgroove’s” excellent blog today who has marked the fifty year “anniversary” of Al Wilson’s death..
My favourite song on this compilation is “Fried Hockey Boogie” which is over eleven minutes long. I remember a brilliant day that I spent with John around the time that I got this compilation as we drove up the A12, stopping off in Lavenham and Sudbury and back to his house in Witham. I can clearly recall us enjoying (or “digging”) this particular song.
Another reason that I really like this song is that it is one of the only songs that I can recall where the whole song is sung directly to the listener. The groove starts and is punctuated by a drum roll at which Bob Hite (one of the two lead singers of the band) says “That’s called ‘getting ready for the boogie'”. He then says “Ever since the days of our last album, a lot of folks have come along and asked us ‘why didn’t we get it on on our next record?’ So we kinda thought that over and decided that would be a pretty good idea. So we decided to demonstrate to you how each of the boys in the band does his little thing.” The rest of the song is spent with the band maintaining the excellent groove (or “boogie”) whilst Bob Hite introduces each of the band in turn. What follows is two guitar solos, a bass guitar solo and a drum solo. It lasts eleven minutes. Roo refuses to have this playing. In fact, the similarity of a lot of Canned Heat songs is shown by the fact that when “On The Road Again” comes on the car stereo, she complains about “that ghastly long Canned Heat song” that she hates. It is only when I reassure her that I would never force her to listen to an eleven minute song consisting of four solos and in fact we are about to listen to one of her favourite songs, that she calms down.
“Fried Hockey Boogie” is much much better than I’ve made it sound. The first solo comes from Al Wilson. As Introgroove has posted, he was given a nickname “Blind Owl” by John Fahey because he was short sighted and wore glasses. He had a fantastic singing voice, providing the lead vocals for “On The Road Again” and “Going Up The Country” amongst others. His guitar solo on “Fried Hockey Boogie” is not flashy but it builds beautifully into a climax which excites Bob Hite so much that he exclaims “Blind Owl – that was delightful.” Al Wilson died on September 3rd 1970 from an overdose of barbiturates. He had previously attempted suicide but no note was found after his death.
The next solo comes from Larry Taylor, whose nickname was “The Mole”. He was given this nickname by Skip Taylor (one of the two Canned Heat managers) who thought that the gap in his front teeth made him look like a mole. Here is how the only interesting bass solo in the history of rock music is introduced by Bob Hite. “Now, in order to have a good boogie you gotta have a bottom. And on the bottom we got Mr. Larry Taylor, alias the Mole. Now, Larry, he comes from New York and Memphis and L.A., and he claims to be from a lot of other places.” In 1970, Larry Taylor left Canned Heat and joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers for four years. He died of cancer in August 2019.
The most exciting part of this track comes next. “Now, one day, about 23 years ago in Tacoma Park, Maryland there was a birth on Christmas Day. That’s the day the Sunflower came into being, and I’m sure glad.” The Sunflower was Henry Vestine who appeared in Rolling Stones’ “Top 100 guitarists” list in 2003. That’s not a surprise to me as the solo on this song is really good. It lasts for about five minutes and he receives constant encouragement from Bob Hite with phrases like “Are you really experienced?” or “Love can be found anywhere – even in a guitar.” It’s a very Sixties guitar solo and reminds me of John Cipollina’s guitar solo on “Who Do You Love” by Quicksilver Messenger Service. It’s not clear why he was nicknamed “The Sunflower”. He was a childhood friend of John Fahey and the mutual friendship was key to Henry Vestine and Al Wilson teaming up together in Canned Heat. Henry Vestine died from heart failure in 1997.
Drum solos. Never an especially good idea in my mind unless it’s a brief one like Ringo Starr’s on “The End”. Nevertheless Adolfo de la Parra (nickname “Fito”) keeps the boogie going and once I’m in the groove of this great song, I find this highly enjoyable. Canned Heat are still in existence and “Fito” is the only original member of the band still playing (or, indeed, alive).
The lead singer was Bob Hite. He was nicknamed “The Bear” because of his size. He died of a heroin overdose in 1981.
“Going Up The Country” was used at the start of the “Woodstock” film. It’s a beautiful haunting song, mainly due to Al Wilson’s lovely vocals. The trademark Canned Heat boogie is prevalent along with some delightful flute playing from guest Jim Horn. Canned Heat had a great respect for blues traditions and a good knowledge of the antecedents of the music they were playing. They took “Bull Doze Blues” by Henry Thomas and adapted it to make this outstanding hippy anthem.
Canned Heat took their name from a song by Tommy Johnson called “Canned Heat Blues”. In 1928, Tommy Johnson also wrote a song called “Big Road Blues”. Floyd Jones subsequently used this song as a basis for his song “On The Road Again” in 1953. The Canned Heat version is great and the underlying “boogie” riff is the same as “Fried Hockey Boogie”.
I always liked “Let’s Work Together” – that is, until Bryan Ferry recorded it. It was written by Wilbert Harrison who had a hit with “Kansas City” in 1959. The Beatles later copied Little Richard’s medley of “Kansas City” and “Hey Hey Hey Hey” on “Beatles For Sale”. Wilbert Harrison had a hit with “Let’s Work Together” in 1962 and he developed the song for re-release in 1969, calling it “Let’s Stick Together”.
Canned Heat’s boogie music makes for great driving music as John and I proved in 1989.