Sunday, September 17, 2006
Written by Fantasma el Rey
This DVD presents hard-hitting blues band Canned Heat in a rare live performance from the renowned Montreux Jazz Festival in 1973. Out of the dozens of white blues rockers to emerge from the 1960s, Canned Heat was by far the best in the fact that they never strayed too far from their roots or the intention of the band, where others ventured into the heavier sounds of 1960s rock ‘n’ roll.
Led by front man and co-founder Bob “The Bear” Hite, the band rolls and stomps though ten cuts, dripping with funk and their core boogie. By this time in their career they had already lost Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, who died at twenty-seven, just before the band’s third European tour. The Blind Owl’s high-pitched vocals were the perfect contrast to the Bear’s heavy vocal growl. Also missing from the original line-up is Larry Taylor on bass; he would eventually rejoin the band years later. The Bear’s little brother Richard Hite, who does a fine job, as we shall hear about later, picks up bass duty.
Kicking things off with their huge hit “On The Road Again”, the Heat set the pace for the show. Solid drumming by the Mexican-born Fito De La Parra and stellar guitar playing by Henry “The Sunflower” Vestine are what keep this tune as jumping as ever. The Bear’s harmonica playing and vocals drive this thing over the top. The original version had Blind Owl on vocals but the Bear does a fine job and makes it more of a solid blues tune.
The next four tracks feature Texas blues legend Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, who leads the band well and with somewhat of an iron fist for their first time playing together. On “Please Mr. Nixon”, “About My Oo Poo Pa Doo”, and the generically title “Funk” he waves the band to a complete stop so he can take center stage and perform his solos. On “Nixon” he digs into his bag of tricks to fetch out an electric violin. While on “Funk”, which is a traditional blues that has lost its true title, “Gatemouth” makes his guitar “talk” by holding the strings down and doing some various scratching techniques, which make a sound very much like that of the adults in the “Charlie Brown” cartoons. The revival “hymn” as “Gatemouth” calls it, “Oo Poo Pa Doo” is the classic New Orleans-styled call-and-response song done with flair and gets the crowd going.
With “Night Time Is The Right Time” we get to hear second guitarist James Shane do one of his two vocals. The song is perfect for his voice because he sounds like Ray Charles. On his second song “Looking For My Rainbow” he plays slide guitar on his “shiny dobro get fiddle” and shows his importance to the band, by being able to perform in this classic blues style. For this track the band sits back a little and lets Shane lead, coming in halfway through the song to pick it back up. Fito’s drumming is perfect, a subdued yet solid jazzy tap, which along with Hite’s steady bass makes this seldom heard track a real bonus.
The Heat’s version of the Wilbert Harrison-penned “Let’s Work Together” is awesome and has the band back stomping and getting “Snorty” according to the Bear. “Rock And Roll Music” is the band’s tribute to the Rock ‘n’ Roll of the 1950s that they grew up with. Here I should note that what brought this band of blues brothers together was their love and passion for record collecting, especially blues and R&B from the ‘50s. The Bear, the Blind Owl and Vestine were reported to have had extensive collections.
To close the show the Heat go into one of their well known, ten-minute-plus jams, calling this one “Shake ‘N’ Boogie”. The Bear himself even picks up a guitar for this one. The band jumps on this tune from start to finish with each key member getting a chance to shine in a solo. Bass man Hite thumps his way along with some classic, no-frills, funky work. Vestine goes into some heavy shredding and shows that he can throw down a solid rock sound with the best of ‘em; this brother is a bad ass. Next up and finishing out the solo runs is Fito who’s simply drumming mad, from jazzy cymbal taps to heavy march rolls to all-out insanity. He’s all over the place with his drumsticks of fury. I have to stop typing just to stomp along with him. Halfway through you expect Fito to start tearing up his kit and jump into the crowd chasing women ala Animal from “The Muppets”, especially with his woolly beard. The band picks back up, winding themselves into frenzy. Right before they blow their top, they end the show, simply walking off the stage.
This DVD performance is a must for fans of Canned Heat; it’s a chance to see this straightforward, blues boogie band at their hard driving best. You can easily see why legends like Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and John Lee Hooker enjoyed working with them so much. “Gatemouth” and the boys supposedly had a studio collaboration started, but all that came to an end when Brown and Vestine decided to settle a dispute with their fists. Canned Heat still plays gigs today with Fito at the helm as “survivor in charge”, seeing as the world lost the Bear in 1981 just before a gig in Hollywood. So there you have it, hard-hitting blues from a hard-hitting, hard-living band.
Check it out and…Don’t forget to boogie.