The legendary sizzle remains and so do their views on the establishment and environment.
One of the hottest protest bands of the 1960s, Canned Heat is Going up the Country to the Roots and Blues Festival. And they’re bringing their fiery brand of boogie blues with them.
Led from the back by iconic drummer and guardian-of-the-flame, Adolfo ‘Fito’ de La Parra, the rhythm section is given further pedigree by ’60s bassist Larry ‘The Mole’ Taylor. On lead vocals and harp, it’s New Orleans legend Dale Spalding, while John ‘JP’ Paulus covers guitar duties for Woodstock-era band member Harvey ‘The Snake’ Mandel (as he recovers from recent health issues).
The band scored three worldwide hits with On the Road Again, Let’s Work Together and Going up the Country, tunes that became rock anthems and were later adopted as the unofficial theme song for Woodstock, the film.
“We’re getting great reactions, which is amazing because I never thought I’d still be playing at this age,” says de la Parra whose book Living the Blues is a no-holds-barred chronicle of the band’s wild days – and ways.
Old jazz blues and country fans, Alan Wilson and Bob Hite started Canned Heat in 1965, taking the name from Canned Heat Blues, a 1928 song referring to Sterno and its jellied alcohol that burns in its own small can and was used for cooking on camping trips.
“During prohibition, when booze was illegal, many poor southern blacks bought the cheap canned fuel, dumped the jelly in a sock and wrung the alcohol from it,” writes de la Parra in his book. The alcohol was mixed with pop and the poisonous concoction could ‘put the drinker away’ for hours,” make them go blind or kill them.
“That was a risk they often knew they were taking, making it the drink of the desperate,” writes de la Parra. “If you had to turn to canned heat for relief, you were deep in the blues.”
Being a voice for the poor and disenfranchised has always been at the heart of the band.
De la Parra says the band, which played to 400,000 young people in 1969, in the three days of ‘peace and music’ that was Woodstock, has always been pro-justice, keeping all the ideals expressed in the anti-war, anti-establishment 1960s – often landing Canned Heat into hot water.
“A lot of people betrayed those ideals and became even more conservative than their parents,” he says, pointing out a new CD, Revolution, is a compilation of the anti-establishment songs the band has recorded throughout the past 50 years.
De la Parra maintains Canned Heat was the first to join the environmental movement, before Greenpeace and other groups became popular.
“That’s what (1970 album) Future Blues was about,” says de la Parra, noting the album cover shows men on the moon, holding an upside-down American flag, signifying how the earth was already becoming polluted at the hands of powerful corporations. “When we were doing it, a lone blues band, being an environmentalist was akin to being a communist.”
The only signs the boogie blues band is slowing down is in the nightmare that travel has become, laughs de la Parra, noting it is one of the reasons the world-wide travellers like to come to Canada.
“As a rule, whenever I come to Canada, I find it more peaceful, more relaxed,” he says.
On-stage, the energy has never flagged.
“We play for free, but what we charge for is to get there,” he says. “The best part of being on the road is the hour on stage when we are in communion with people, making them feel good, It’s a wonderful experience.”
De la Parra has a theory that, unlike athletes who reach an age when they can no longer compete, musicians, like fine wine, just keep getting better. And while pop culture sells youth and good looks, roots and blues musicians become more interesting.
Grateful for the large audiences the band commands, de la Parra is also thrilled that many young Canned Heat fans are enjoying the vibe.
“I shake a lot of hands under 30 years old; many have older sisters and brothers who know us,” he says, amazed that in many audiences, some 30 to 40 per cent were not even alive when the band was born.
Catch the hot boogie blues when Canned Heat performs Saturday, Aug. 15 at 6 p.m. on the main stage, Sunday at 2:45 on the Blues Stage and 8 p.m. at the Boogie Bar’N.
Get your tickets at www.rootsandblues.ca, by calling 250-833-4096 or by dropping in at the office at 490 Fifth Ave. SW.