Review: Canned Heat “Songs From The Road” (Ruf Records)

Canned Heat are back. They have apparently sold more records than any other blues band in music history, and are the only blues band to have had three number one records. I am told that they have played more festivals worldwide than any other band of any genre, too.

Canned Heat’s latest incarnation is a force to be reckoned with, some 50 years after the band first formed in L.A. They released their classic self-titled debut LP in ’67.

They were heavily into the blues both musically and off stage as vinyl collectors, and for a white blues and boogie band, they were undoubtedly way ahead of their time.

I particularly liked a line in their press blurb for this album, which reads: “The world turns. Fashions change. Bands rise and fall. But you can’t stop the boogie.” True that. Five decades after Bob “The Bear” Hite and Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson formed the band in California, they keep on hitting that dusty road to take their musical message to their fans far and wide.

The latest in the acclaimed Ruf Records series, “Songs From The Road,” the band’s sixth for the German label since 1999, captures Canned Heat at their best and on blistering form. On CD and DVD across two discs. Rattling the rafters of Bonn’s Harmonie club in Germany with a 16-strong set of their raw blues boogie.

Drummer Adolfo “Fito” De La Parra is in the pocket all over this live offering, one of the best guys behind a kit out there on the blues scene today. Bassist Larry “The Mole” Taylor nails the back end nicely. On lead vocals and harmonica is New Orleans native Dale Spalding and John “JP” Paulus covers guitar duties for Woodstock-era band member Harvey “The Snake” Mandel, as he recovers from health issues.

The set was recorded on one night in March this year; the band fierce and bang up for it. From the opening dirty groove of their famous cut “On The Road Again,” which really is a timeless classic (and on hearing it again I have just decided I want that track played at my funeral, just as the coffin disappears!) to the closer “Euro Boogie,” the signature sound and feel of Canned Heat is in tact. The hits continue with smashing live versions of “Going Up Country” and “Let’s Work Together.”

Apart from their musical legacy with this band, Hite and Wilson should also be commended for their efforts in bringing back long forgotten legends, turning detective to track them down and get them booked on to mainstream festival bills; such as the wonderful and greatly missed Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown (he did the very best version of “Got My Mojo Working” on his fabulous 1989 Alligator album “Standing My Ground,”) and Skip James.
They collaborated with many blues greats including John Lee Hooker and our own John Mayall. While they have graced the stage of most major venues around the world, including the Royal Albert Hall in London and Madison Square Garden in New York, they also hold the record for playing the most biker rallies of any band, staying true to their roots.

No strangers to tragedy, they lost three members: Wilson, Hite and guitarist Henry Vestine. Wilson died at the age of 27 of barbiturate overdose, which was suspected suicide. He suffered from depression. On April 5, 1981, having collapsed from a heroin overdose during a show at the Palomino in Los Angeles, Bob Hite was later found dead in de la Parra’s Mar Vista home at the age of 38. On October 20, 1997, a cancer stricken Vestine died in Paris, following the final gig of a European tour. Many more members also died prematurely over the five decades of the band’s history.

Despite the tragic set backs, the band has kept on rolling by drafting in like-minded players over the years of line-up changes, who slotted in to the band’s ethos and integrity like a hand in a glove.

“I think Bob, Alan and Henry would be happy and impressed that the band, and mainly Fito and Larry, have kept the Canned Heat legacy alive,” says Skip Taylor. “And are still allowing people around the world to hear and feel Canned Heat, and the boogie music we all love.”

They make it sound easy. They make it sound fun. They rock. They roll. They take no prisoners. The audience get swept up with the passion and the party atmosphere of this one-night only Canned Heat experience.

Well, it was one night only for the lucky guys and gals in the audience on that sweaty 16th March night in Germany. But the two disc set here – superbly recorded and filmed, maintaining the quality and high standards all of the releases thus far in this Ruf “Songs From The Road” series – means we can all relive that night over and over and over……………………………Hot stuff!