|The current lineup|
Next month, The Rolling Stones will celebrate their 50th anniversary. Half a century of Mick and Keef, half a century of hit songs and records, half a century of blues, rock ‘n’ roll, ups and downs, ins and outs. Half a century. This is a seriously long time, and there aren’t many bands that can lay claim to such an achievement. In fact, I can think of only one other that is even close, a band, formed 47 years ago, who are as firmly rooted in the blues as The Stones, perhaps even more so, and a band who, incidentally, played at the very first Bluesfest, back in 1990 when the festival was a one-day event held at the Arts Factory in Byron itself. The band in question? Canned Heat.
“50 years in and people say, ‘Oh they’re too old, they can’t do it’, and yeah, perhaps if we were a dancing troupe,” laughs original drummer, Adolfo ‘Fito’ de la Parra, who prior to joining the heat in late 1967, had backed the likes of Etta James, T-Bone Walker and Ben E. King. “But that’s not the case. The older we get, the more interesting we get I think. Just like the old black [blues] guys – the older they got, the more valuable they were.”
Whether you’re aware of the Heat or not – they certainly never attained the level of fame their quintegenarian peers did – you know their music. ‘On The Road’, ‘Going Up The Country’, ‘Lets Work Together’, songs which reeked of ‘60s counterculture, songs which lived and breathed the power and the passion exuded by those ol’ blues cats. Fronted by Bob Hite and Alan Wilson, two musicologists if ever there were any, the Heat delved back into the obscure and odd, pulling these blues tunes back into the limelight, along the way creating timeless classics of their own. If it’s boogie blues you’re after, forget The Stones, it’s Canned Heat that’ll light your fire.
“Well, we just want to keep going, and I guess I’m to blame,” de la Parra laughs again when I ask what the secret is to Canned Heat’s success and longevity. “I’m the one who’s kept the band going, all the way through even after the tragedies we suffered and all that, and it’s been mainly staying positive in the mind and loving the music. We have money now, we could retire if we wanted, but there’s something else, sort of justifying your presence in this world.”
Samuel J. Fell