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Back to this month's issue
AM I BLUE?
Canned Heat's drummer, Fito de la Parra
talks about life with one of the great blues bands.


Canned Heat, named for the drink that the truly desperate make from cans of Sterno, has truly lived the Blues. Its members have drank hard, taken all the drugs the 60's had to offer, and enjoyed the attentions of female fans and groupies across several continents. Many of its members have died over the course of the band's history...none of them of natural causes. Fito de la Para, who signed on as drummer in the eleventh hour before fame struck, has been there through it all, and no matter how hard the road became, he never gave up on his vision of Canned Heat as a living entity. This year he has helped produce CANNED HEAT 1967-1976, THE BOOGIE HOUSE TAPES, a two CD collection of the best the band has to offer. Fito has also penned a definitive history of the band called LIVING THE BLUES (reviews of both at right) which chronicles the band from the Woodstock years to the present in all of its drugged out irrepressible glory.

Fito De La Parra
De La Parra in the 90's

CA: Canned Heat has been together, in one form or another for the past 30 years. Have they played the whole time or have there been hibernation periods?

FP: Officially, we've been together all the time working. Only a few weeks here and there we have off.

CA: When did you start functioning as the historian of the band?

FP: When I got recruited and convinced to write my book by co-writers T.W. and Marlane McGarry.

CA: Why is it so important to you to preserve the history and the music of the band?

FP: It has been very unique and great band and it represents a renaissance in music of the 20th century. Our history is so riddled with trudging and events, more than your average band, and it shouldn't be forgotten.

CA: I love the Boogie House Tapes, you guys have such a solid sound. Are you happy with the collection?

FP: Well you see, the collection was put together by Dr. Boogie who is our #1 fan. Through him it represents what a Canned Heat fan would want as far as archives. It's interesting to see the different perspective of what is valuable between the band's standpoint and the fans standpoint. It's great for people who want more Canned Heat music. Plus it has great historical value. This is the last you are going to hear from that era of Canned Heat.

CA: Was it hard to put together on a technical level? What went into the re-mastering process?

FP: It's always hard to re-master old tapes. Sometimes they fall apart in our fingers as we are working with them and you end up with pieces of magnetic tape and great music on your fingertips. You completely loose what is on there. I think this project was very successful in capturing an authentic sound. We had to go from analog to digital.

CA: Canned Heat has played at some of the greatest venues in the world, Carnegie Hall, Royal Albert Hall. Which shows stick out in your memory?

FP: Of course Woodstock and some of the other great big festivals of the era, but then we had gigs in smaller clubs that have been as remarkable and even more fun. We always liked to be in communion with he people which you don't get so much at large festivals and in big theaters. For example, our gigs at the Topanga Corral and a lot of funky joints in Europe. People would be right up on the stage dancing and pass us joints and drinks.

CA: The track with the studio jokes is funny. I haven't been fortunate enough to see any of your live shows but it seems like you guys know how to have a lot of fun. Would you say the band is more work or fun

FP: The fun part is the show and the time we spend at the place we play at. The rest is all hard work...travelling, hotels, etc....a life of inconvenience and discomfort. Like I say in my book, "The music is free. We charge to get there."

CA: You guys have been touring all over Europe. How have the crowds been reacting to your music?

FP: We've always had a very strong fan base over there. It looks like it will be like that until the end of our days. I yearn for that kind of following in the US. Here, the blues scene is too over saturated and politicised.

CA: Who are your favorite bands to play with?

FP:  You mean next to Canned Heat? Eric Burdon and the New Animals, Dr. Feelgood, Room Full of Blues, and all the other Woodstock dinosaurs that we occasionally join in with for nostalgia purposes.

CA:  You obviously have a strong bias towards blues and roots rock, what do you think of modern rock and where it's going? Who are some of your favorite new musicians?

FP: I have great hope for modern music in the new millennium because it looks now that there is not so much emphasis on the disco and techno crap that we've been suffering with for the last 20 years. There is a new awareness in some new musicians that reminds me of what we had during those great musical years of the late 1960's and early 70's. I like Beck and Dave Mathews, Rob Thomas with Santana. I also feel there is a great future in Latin influenced music.

CA: What next for Canned Heat?

FP: We've just finished two European tours and we went to Singapore and Diego Garcia, an island right off the coast of Madagascar. It was amazing. We are going to tour Europe two more times this summer and we have some nice interesting gigs in the US. Check them out at www.cannedheatmusic.com. We are also planning to record a new CD for Ruf records that will have some very special guests including Eric Burdon, Tom Waitts, and probably George Thuroughgood.

CA: After reading your book it's clear that the era of royalty problems are not over for musicians. What advice would you give to up and coming bands about protecting their music and themselves?  

FP: The best advice is to do everything regarding recording or royalties in writing. And even verbal agreements between band members should be put in writing. EVERYTHING.

CA: It's hard to believe the life on the road you describe in LIVING THE BLUES. It is hard and uncompromising on your body and your soul. Given the choice would you have done anything differently if you had it to do again?

FP: There are many things I would have done differently and still try. The most important thing regarding the road is to try to prevent anything from going wrong far ahead of time. However sometimes we do our best to prevent, and agents and managers don't listen to us and things go wrong anyway.

CA: Canned Heat seems more like a living organism than a blues band, with members changing and growing and moving, keeping things in a constant movement. Do you think this has added to the music or lessened it?

FP: Neither. Each human being that comes into the band brings their creative forces and contributions as well as their baggage and hang-ups like any other relationship.

CA: If you could chose from heaven and hell, the living and the dead, what would your favorite Canned Heat line up be?

FP: The line up from 1967 to 71 - the classic Canned Heat lineup. It's the original and we were really a band. We gave Cream and Hendrix a run for their money.

Canned Heat
L-R: Larry Taylor, Henry Vestine, Bob Hite, Alan Wilson, Adolfo de la Parra

LIVING THE BLUES
Canned Heat's Story of Music
Drugs, Death, Sex and Survival
Fito de la Parra
Record Grafix

Living The Blues

   If I had read this when I was 17, I think I would have been a groupie rather than a sociology major. I would have ignored the pain the story tells and run with the drugs and the sex and the all night parties. Reading the story of Canned Heat at 36 makes me glad that I lived my life as I have, because I, unlike the incredible cast of characters in this biography, was not meant for the road.
   LIVING THE BLUES is told by the second Heat drummer, Fito de la Para, and since he is the narrator and historian of the story, we begin with his story. Raised a middle class kid in Mexico, Fito finds the lure of music at an early age. When he hooks up with Canned Heat he comes to believe that he was born to play with the band. While he thrills us with stories of the rowdy life on the road, we have a sense that it is the music and not the perks that drive de la Parra to struggle on against impossible odds. And impossible they are. This should be a must read manual for any up and coming musician. Rules like, don't let your manager negotiate your Woodstock contract while blazing on acid, are a must for any up and comers. Some of the stories are so funny they are sad, and the tales of groupies and all night sex in the AIDS conscious 00's take on an almost high school history air.
   De la Parra tells the story in such a matter of fact way, that the piles of cocaine and the butter wielding groupies seem part of the landscape. And in the end Canned Heat becomes a group of friends that you worry about. When all your worries come to pass it is sad. Through it all we see de la Parra grow as a person in some ways, while still remaining a blues musician in other, more meaningful, ways. The deaths of friends and band members, including the lead singer (rule number two, don't try to wake the singer up from a heroin overdose with huge lines of coke), never really sway de la Parra from a dedication to his vision of the band. It only leads him to try more ways to make the band live, and in some zen, never say die way, he has.
   The band itself is amazing, completely dedicated to playing the blues, no matter the cost, which leads them to live the blues, as the title says. Members like Alan, the shy introvert who is horrified by his own fame and his need to be loved, and Bear, who invites scores of strangers over to his house to listen to him spin 78's and tell the history of the Blues and loves to knock down doors anywhere, anytime, are two of the most endearing. To hear tell, the music is well worth it. At its height Canned Heat boasted opening bands like Santana, Led Zepplin, and Cream. According to de la Parra, the main reason that Canned Heat never reached the heights that the Greatful Dead did is because of poor management, bad attitudes and disco. Told in the slow methodical style of an elder round the campfire (minus the moral leanings, of course) this all makes sense, and you are left wondering if there is any true artistry without insanity.
   Overall this is a fascinating look at the music industry and the artists forced to deal with it in order to survive. While many bad choices are made by the band and its management, when they are held up against the hard wall of the choices given by the music industry, they all seem like very human decisions. What young men in the sixties with a top 10 band, playing to huge crowds of adoring fans wouldn't get out of control? And isn't it human nature to trust? Maybe not today, but it seemed to make sense in more idealistic times. In the end the story of Canned Heat is the story of idealistic art meeting realistic industry. I was amused, saddened and horrified while reading this book, and am really glad that I had the chance to share all of it with one of the great underdogs of the Blues, Canned Heat.

Jane Hinde

 

CANNED HEAT
1967-1976
The Boogie House Tapes
Ruf Records

My Favorite Martian

   Like any good Blues band, a band that lives its music as well as playing it, Canned Heat has good days and bad days. THE BOOGIE HOUSE TAPES are an attempt to string together all the good days into a 2 CD set. Culled from master tapes held by Fito de la Parra, the Heat's drummer, Dr. Boogie, their number one fan, and Bob Hite (the now deceased lead singer) the music has been digitized for your listening pleasure. Given the poor quality of recording equipment in the pre-digital age, many of the live performances are a bit gritty but the Blues isn't about clarity and given that this is what there is available for the Canned Heat fan, it's a pretty fantastic collection.
   The hits are here, including "On the Road Again", the Alan Wilson song, not that dopey Willie Nelson pop-country rag, recorded on the "Playboy After Dark" TV show, as well as "Going Up the Country", the Woodstock anthem, recorded at Berkeley with Bob "the bear" Hite singing ( I would rather have heard Alan Wilson, but maybe there wasn't a good enough recording around), along with a bunch of other original Canned Heat songs written over the years and performed around the world.
   If you love old style, no holds barred Blues, this is a CD for you. The improvisational style of the band coupled with their vast knowledge of music and musicians leaves you with the sure knowledge that you are in the presence of a great talent. If you haven't heard of Canned Heat, it's probably because they have to be one of the unluckiest bands in the history of Blues music, and that's saying something. Surviving insurmountable odds to continue making music has been the stock in trade of many a Blues band, but in the case of Canned Heat, not everyone survived. This CD is a much a memorial to what was once a thriving musical body as it is a joyful look toward the future of a band that is still striving to survive. In the backwater world of independent music, Canned Heat is headlining at the club to the left. Come on in, sit down and have a drink, the music is there for the asking.

Jane Hinde

 

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