CANNED HEAT’S LIBERTY RECORDS’ YEARS.
Canned Heat’s Liberty Records Records’ Years.
‘8th’ of March 1973 marked the end of an era for Canned Heat who had just released their ninth album, The New Age. It was their swan-song for Liberty Records. After six years and nine studio albums, Canned Heat were about leave Liberty Records. They had managed to negotiate their release from their Liberty Records contract which left Canned Heat free to sign for Atlantic Records. By then, Canned Heat had come a long way since they were formed in Los Angeles in 1965.
Canned Heat’s roots can be traced to a community of blues collectors in Topanga, California. They had been meeting at Bob Hite’s house for some time. where the blues aficionados listened to music, and traded records. Then in 1965, some of the people who attended the group decided to form a band.
The initial lineup featured vocalist Bob Hite, Alan Wilson on bottleneck guitar, Mike Perlowin on lead guitar, bassist Stu Brotman and drummer Keith Sawyer. With the lineup complete, all that was needed was a name. Eventually, they named their new band Canned Heat, after Tommy Johnson’s 1928 song Canned Heat Blues. However, within a matter of days, the lineup changed.
Mike Perlowin and Keith Sawyer both dropped out. This was a huge disappointment for the nascent band. Fortunately, guitarist Kenny Edwards, a friend of Alan Wilson agreed to replace Mike Perlowin. Drummer Ron Holmes agreed to join until permanent replacements could be found.
Fortunately, a friend of Bob Hit’s was between bands. Henry Vestine had been sacked by Frank Zappa for “excessive drug use.” However, Henry Vestine was a talented and experienced lead guitarist. So he joined Canned Heat; and it was agreed that Henry Edwards could remain on a temporary basis. Soon, though, Henry Edwards left Canned Heat to form The Stone Poneys with Linda Rostadt. With the lead guitarist role filled, all that was needed was a new drummer.
Canned Heat found their new drummer in Frank Cook. His previous employers included jazzers Charlie Haden, Chet Baker and Elmo Cook. With their second lineup complete, Canned Heat set about honing their sound.
By 1966, Canned Heat were playing in the clubs of the L.A, and were a popular draw. Their sets included reinterpretations of blues numbers. Canned Heat were keen to promote blues music, which had fallen out of fashion. That was until the British Invasion groups began to promote its merits. Just like Canned Heat, they appreciated the blues and recognised its importance in modern music. It certainly played an important part in Canned Heat’s music as they played in the clubs of L.A. Later in 1966, Canned Heat recorded what should’ve been their debut album.
In the summer of 1966, Canned Heat hooked up with bandleader and producer Johnny Otis. He produced the twelve tracks that Canned Heat recorded. This included covers of Willie Dixon’s Spoonful and John Lee Hooker’s Louise. Once the album was recorded, Stu Brotman announced he was leaving Canned Heat. Worse was to come.
What should’ve been Canned Heat’s debut album lay unreleased until 1970. By then, Canned Heat were a successful band. So Janus Records decided to release the twelve tracks as Vintage Heat. It’s the only Canned Heat album to feature the lineup of Bob Hite, Alan Wilson, Frank Cook, Henry Vestine and Stu Brotman. After Stu Brotman’s departure, the search for a new bassist began.
Despite Canned Heat not having a permanent bassist, they still managed to secure a management contract with Skip Taylor and John Hartmann. Then in March 1967, Canned Heat finally found a permanent bassist in Larry Taylor. He had previously been a member of The Moondogs and had worked with Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry. Larry Taylor made his debut on the band’s eponymous debut album, Canned Heat.
Just month after the classic lineup of Canned Heat was finalised, Canned Heat began recording their debut album for Liberty Records in April 1967. Calvin Carter the former head of A&R was drafted in to produce what became Canned Heat. He was well qualified, having previously recorded albums with Jimmy Reed and John Lee Hooker.
Recording of Canned Heat took place in L.A., with twelve songs being recorded. Eleven of them were cover versions, including Muddy Waters’ Rollin’ and Tumblin’, Willie Dixon’s Evil (Is Going On) and Robert Johnson and Elmore James’ Dust My Broom. The only track penned by Canned Heat, was Bullfrog Blues. Once the twelve songs were recorded, Canned Heat would be released in July 1967.
Before that, Canned Heat were due to appear at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival, on June 17th 1967. Canned Heat pulled out all the stops, and produced one of the best performances of their two year career. Critics struggled for superlatives to describe Canned Heat’s performance. The twin guitars of Henry Vestine and Alan Wilson stole the show; while Bob Hite’s powerhouse vocals came a close second. Critics agreed, that Canned Heat had a bright future in front of them.
Following their successful appearance at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival, Canned Heat released their eponymous debut album in July 1967. Canned Heat reached seventy-six in the US Billboard 200, and in the process, launched the band’s career. Everything seemed to be going almost too well.
Already, drugs had entered the equation. Over the next few years, drugs would become a problem with Canned Heat. It earned them a degree of notoriety, and the reputation “the bad boys of rock.” One of the first incidents was when the band were arrested and jailed in Denver, Colorado on a possession charge. With Canned Heat in jail, their manager Skip Taylor had to sell the band’s publishing rights to Liberty Records’ to raise the bail of $10,000. It was a costly mistake, and cost Frank Cook his place in Canned Heat.
Replacing Frank Cook was Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra. He made his debut on December 1st 1967 at Long Beach Auditorium. That night, Canned Heat and The Doors shared top spot on the bill. This was the debut of the classic lineup of Canned Heat.
Boogie With Canned Heat.
Just six months after Canned Heat released their eponymous debut album, they returned with their sophomore album Boogie With Canned Heat. It was the first album to feature the classic lineup. By then, each member of Canned Heat had adopted a nickname. Canned Heat now featured Bob “The Bear” Hite, Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, Henry “Sunflower” Vestine, Larry “The Mole” Taylor and Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra. They made their debut on Boogie With Canned Heat.
By then, Canned Heat were writing more of their own songs. They wrote four of the ten songs. Other songs were written by members of Canned Heat. Bob Hite penned Whiskey Headed Woman No. 2; Henry Vestine contributed Marie Laveau and Alan Wilson wrote An Owl Son. Alan Wilson also cowrote On The Road Again with Floyd Jones. It would play an important part in rise and rise of Canned Heat.
When Boogie With Canned Heat was released on 21st January 1968, it was to critical acclaim. The album epitomised Canned Heat’s unique sound. Loose limbed jams and Canned Heat’s trademark boogies rubbed shoulders on Boogie With Canned Heat. This found favour with record buyers when Boogie With Canned Heat reached number eighteen in the US Billboard 200. That wasn’t an end of the success.
Boogie With Canned Heat included what’s without doubt, Canned Heat’s most famous single, On The Road Again. It reached the top ten in the US Billboard 100. The success of On The Road Again further cemented Canned Heat’s reputation was one of America’s top bands.
Living The Blues.
After the success of Boogie With Canned Heat, there was no resting on their laurels for Canned Heat. They returned to the studio and recorded their part of third album Living The Blues. It was a double album with a twist.
The eight songs on sides one and two were recorded in the studio. They were a mixture cover versions and original songs. The covers included Charley Patton’s Pony Blues, Jimmy Rogers’ Walking by Myself and Blind Lemon Jefferson’s One Kind Flavour. Canned Heat penned nine part suite Parthenogenesis. Bob Hite wrote Sandy’s Blues and Alan Wilson wrote My Mistake. Alan also wrote another of Canned Heat’s best known songs, Going Up The Country. These songs were recorded between August and October 1968, at .D. Sound Studios. However, the two lengthy jams on sides three and four Refried Boogie I and II were recorded live at The Kaleidoscope, Hollywood, This mixture of studio and live songs became Living The Blues.
When Living The Blues was released in October 1968, the reviews of this sprawling double album were mixed. The experimental nature of Parthenogenesis seemed to catch critics on the hop. They didn’t seem to know what to make of this genre-melting collage. However, one track stood out on Living The Blues, Going Up The Country.
When Living The Blues was released, it reached number eighteen in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-five in the US R&B charts. The lead single Going Up The Country seemed to speak to a generation, and it reached number eleven US Billboard 100, and number one in twenty-five countries worldwide. Later, Going Up The Country became the unofficial anthem to Woodstock. That was still to come.
Before that, Canned Heat enjoyed a triumphant end to 1968, when they played at the Shrine Auditorium in L.A. To crown what had been a barnstorming performance from Canned Heat, they were joined by Bob Hope sitting a atop an elephant. It was a surreal sight, but proof that Canned Heat were now one of the biggest bands in America.
Canned Heat returned to I.D. Sound Recorders Hollywood, in May 1969. They recorded eleven tracks that became their fourth album Hallelujah. Canned Heat wrote two tracks, while individual members of the band wrote most of the tracks. Alan Wilson contributed four tracks, Change My Ways, Time Was, Do Not Enter and Get Off My Back. He was quickly becoming Canned Heat’s songwriter in chief, and played an important role in Hallelujah.
Canned Heat released their fourth album, the blues based, Hallelujah on July 8th 1969. Again, the reviews were mixed. They ranged from favourable to positive. However, again, there was no consensus on Hallelujah. Despite this, Hallelujah still reached thirty-seven on the US Billboard 200. This in part, was a result of Canned Heat taking Woodtstock by storm. Before that, the classic lineup of Canned Heat was no more.
Just after the release of Hallelujah, Canned Heat were due to play two nights at Fillmore West. On the first night, there was an onstage altercation between Larry Taylor and Henry Vestine. After the show, Henry Vestine left Canned Heat.
With Canned Heat a man down for the second show, Mike Bloomfield and Harvey Mandel filled the void left by Henry Vestine. They jammed onstage with Canned Heat. So impressive were their performances, that both men were offered a place in Canned Heat. However, it was Harvey Mandel that agreed to join Canned Heat.
Harvey Mandel made his official Canned Heat debut in August 1969. Canned Heat played two nights at the Fillmore West, in preparation for their performance at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.
The Woodstock Music and Art Fair took place between the 15th and 18th August 1969. Canned Heat were booked to play on the 16th August 1969. Logistically, the only way for Canned Heat to arrive was in a helicopter. They flew over what was a heaving mass of humanity. Having arrived by helicopter, Canned Heat took to the stage as the sun set. Their legendary set included some of their greatest songs, including On The Road Again and Going Up The Country, which became the unofficial anthem to Woodstock. As they left the stage, it was apparent that Canned Heat were one of the stars of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.
1969 had been both an eventful and momentous year for Canned Heat. They had lost a member of the classic lineup of Canned Heat, then were one of the stars of Woodstock. By 1970, “the bad boys of rock” had been booked to tour Europe. With some time to spare, Canned Heat decided to record their fifth album, Future Blues.
Canned Heat headed to Village Recorders, where they were due to record nine songs. This included covers of Eddie Shuler’s Sugar Bee; Charley Patton’s Shake It and Break It; Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s That’s All Right (Mama) and Wilbert Harrison’s Let’s Stick Together. Canned Heat penned So Sad (The World’s In A Tangle) and Future Blues. Alan Wilson who was still Canned Heat’s songwriter-in-chief wrote Skat, London Blues and sadly, prophetic My Time Ain’t Long. Once the album was complete, it was scheduled for release in late summer 1970.
Future Blues was well received by critics. They praised the album, calling it Canned Heat’s best albums of recent years. With critical acclaim accompanying its release, Future Blues was released on August 3rd 1970. However, Future Blues stalled at fifty-nine on the US Billboard 200. This made Future Blues Canned Heat’s least successful album since their eponymous debut album. The only small crumb of comfort for Canned Heat and Liberty Records, was that Let’s Work Together reached twenty-six in the US Billboard 100. By then, Larry Taylor and Harvey Mandel dropped a bombshell.
The two men announced that they were leaving Canned Heat not long after the release of Future Blues. Larry Taylor joined John Mayall’s band, and Harvey Mandel followed in his footsteps. This left just drummer Adolfo de la Parra, vocalist Bob Hite and guitarist Alan Wilson.
Hooker ’N’ Heat.
After the departure of Larry Taylor and Harvey Mandel, guitarist Henry Vestine rejoined Canned Heat. Replacing bassist Larry Taylor was Antonio de la Barreda. He had previously played alongside Adolfo de la Parra in Mexico. This new lineup of Canned Heat entered the studio to record an album with veteran bluesman John Lee Hooker.
Canned Heat had met John Lee Hooker at an airport in Portland, Oregon. When they got talking, the members of Canned Heat told John Lee Hooker they were longtime fans of his music. It turned out that apparently, John Lee Hooker just happened to be a fan of Canned Heat’s music. So they decided to record an album together.
This would be no ordinary album. Instead, Hooker ’N’ Heat was a sprawling double album. It was recorded at Liberty Records, in Los Angeles, with Bob Hite and Skip Taylor taking charge of production. John Lee Hooker wrote or cowrote every song on Hooker ’N’ Heat. Some of the songs, featured just John Lee Hooker. On other tracks, Canned Hat were reduced to a backing band on Hooker ’N’ Heat. Once Hooker ’N’ Heat was completed, the album was scheduled for release in January 1970.
Between the completion and release of Hooker ’N’ Heat, tragedy touched Canned Heat in September 1970. Just after the completion of the Hooker ’N’ Heat, Alan Wilson attempted to commit suicide when he drove his van off a a cliff near Bob Hite’s home in Topanga Canyon. Fortunately, Alan Wilson survived. Sadly, not for long.
After years of bravely battling depression, Alan Wilson’s life came to an end on the 3rd of September 1970. Alan Wilson was found dead on a hillside at the rear of Bob Hite’s Topanga home. The cause of death was an overdose of barbiturates. When the other members of Canned Heat were told of Alan Wilson’s death, they believed that he had committed suicide. It was a huge blow for the rest of Canned Heat. They were grieving over the loss of a not just a bandmate, but a friend.
Despite the death of Alan Wilson, Canned Heat were due to tour America, Australia and Europe. Then they had a studio time booked to record a new album. So Joel Scott Hill, who had been a member of The Strangers and Moby Grape was drafted in to replace Alan Wilson. Then in January 1971, Hooker ’N’ Heat was released
Reviews of Hooker ’N’ Heat were mixed. However, critics agreed that Canned Heat had returned to their R&B roots. Some of the songs varied in quality. Especially some that featured only the veteran bluesman. Two of the poorest songs on Hooker ’N’ Heat were Send Me Your Pillow and Drifter. However, things improved when Canned Heat joined the fray. Together, they formed a potent partnership, and suddenly, Hooker ’N’ Heat was a very different album. Despite this, Hooker ’N’ Heat stalled at seventy-three in the US Billboard 200. Normally, this would be regarded as disappointing. However, given the death of Alan Wilson, this hardly seemed to matter. Some things mattered more than music. The loss of a friend was one of them.
Live At Topanga Corral.
Later in 1971, Canned Heat belatedly released the first live album of their career. The band had wanted to release a live album for several years. However, Liberty Records who Canned Heat were contracted to, weren’t interested in releasing a live album. Despite this, Canned Heat’s manager Skip Taylor managed to get Canned Heat’s live album released.
Skip Taylor took to Liberty Records a recording of five tracks. They he said, had been recorded at the Topanga Corral during 1966 and 1967. That wasn’t strictly true. The recording was of a concert that took place in 1969, at the Kaleidoscope. When Liberty Records heard that Live At Topanga Corral had been recorded in 1966 and 1967, they allowed Canned Heat to release the album on Wand Records.
When Live At Topanga Corral was released, the album was well received by critics. It featured the lineup of Bob Hite, Alan Wlson, Henry Vestine, Larry Taylor and Adolfo de la Parra. They open the set with Bullfrog Blues, and work their way through Sweet Sixteen, I’d Rather Be The Devil, Dust My Broom, Wish You Would and When Things Go Wrong. Sadly, despite being one of the best live recording of Canned Heat, it failed to find an audience. However, it’s a fitting farewell to Alan Wilson. Their next album, Historical Figures and Ancient Heads was the start of a new era for Canned Heat.
Historical Figures and Ancient Heads.
Having released an album in January 1971, Canned Heat closed the year with the released of their eighth album, Historical Figures and Ancient Heads. It was released in December 1971, and was the first album not to feature Alan Wilson. Joel Scott Hill was given the job of replacing Alan Wilson on guitar. His were big shoes to fill.
Alan Wilson was more than a musician. He was also a songwriter. On Historical Figures and Ancient Heads, Canned Heat penned just the one song, Utah. The other seven songs were cover versions. Among them, were Jessie Mae Robinson’s Sneakin’ Around and Jimmy Rogers’ That’s All Right. They were recorded by Canned Heat, and a few friends.
This included Little Richard on the Skip Taylor and Richard Wayne Penniman penned Rockin’ With the King. Harvey Mandel returned to add lead guitar on a cover of That’s All Right. Charles Lloyd joined Canned Heat when they covered his song I Don’t Care What You Tell Me. Producing Historical Figures and Ancient Heads were Skip and Jim Taylor. Once the album was complete, it was released in December 1971.
When Historical Figures and Ancient Heads was released, the reviews were mixed. Some critics felt Canned Heat were no longer the same group. While they still were still able to boogie with the best of them, Canned Heat seemed to have lost their bluesy roots. However, Historical Figures and Ancient Heads was not without merit.
Cherokee Dance and Utah were regarded as the highlights of the album. Both songs found their way onto FM playlists. Another highlight of Historical Figures and Ancient Heads was Rockin’ With The King, where Canned Heat joined forces with Little Richard. They proved a potent partnership. Despite this, and Cherokee Dance and Utah finding their way onto FM radio, the album stalled at a lowly eighty-seven in the US Billboard 200. Historical Figures and Ancient Heads became the least successful album of Canned Heat’s career. Surely, the only way was up?
Following Historical Figures and Ancient Heads, all wasn’t well within Canned Heat. Joel Scott-Hill and Antonio de la Barreda seemed to have developed an attitude problem. This lead to drummer Adolfo de la Parra threatening to quit the band. Fortunately, he was talked out of leaving Canned Heat, and instead, the insurgents exited stage left. This meant another change of lineup for their next album The New Age.
The New Age.
Joining Canned Heat for their ninth album The New Age, were rhythm guitarist and vocalist James Shane, keyboardist Ed Beyer on keyboards and bassist Richard Hite. Bob Hite’s brother would slot into the rhythm section alongside drummer Adolfo de la Parra and rhythm guitarist James Shane. They headed to The Record Plant in Los Angeles to record The New Age.
For The New Age, nine songs were chosen. Most of them were new songs, which were penned by members of Canned Heat. The only cover version was Lieber and Stoller’s Framed. Bob Hite penned Keep It Clean, Don’t Deceive Me and Rock and Roll Music. However, the new recruit came up trumps. Ed Bayer wrote You Can Run, But You Sure Can’t Hide and Election Blue. James Shane went one better, and wrote a trio of songs. This included Lookin’ For My Rainbow, So Long Wrong and the biker anthem Harley Davidson Blues. It would become a favourite of Canned Heat fans. That was still to come. Before that, Canned Heat had an album to record.
When recording of The New Age began at The Record Plant, Clara Ward joined Canned Heat. Her vocal features on Lookin’ For My Rainbow. Sadly, this was the last recording of one the most successful gospel singers. She joined the latest lineup of Canned Heat, as they tried to get their career back on track.
Despite the best efforts of Canned Heat and producer Skip Taylor, The New Age wasn’t the start of a new era for Canned Heat. The album wasn’t well received. One critic in particular, was less than impressed. Lester Bangs savaged The New Age. His over the top review was regarded as “disrespectful,” and Lester Bangs was sacked by Rolling Stone. However, the damage was done.
Other critics took a much more balanced approach to The New Age. They pointed out highlights like Lookin’ For My Rainbow and the biker anthem Harley Davidson Blues. However, when The New Age was released on March 9th 1973, the album failed to trouble the charts. Worse was to come for Canned Heat.
They were now heavily in debt. Skip Taylor was desperately looking for a solution to the problem. That’s when it’s alleged that Skip Taylor advised Canned Heat to sign away all their future royalties to Liberty Records and United Artists’ recordings, and in return, Canned Heat would be allowed to sign to Atlantic Records. If this was the case, it would prove to be one of the worst deals in the history of music.
Having negotiated a release from their Liberty Records’ contract, Canned Heat signed to Atlantic Records in 1973. They began work on their tenth studio album One More River To Cross. However, Canned Heat’s time at Atlantic Records got off to a bad start.
Bob Hite and Henry Vestine were about to use a vending machine at Atlantic Records. Suddenly, the pair began to argue, and brawl began. Now two members of Atlantic Records’ latest signing were fighting amongst themselves. While this didn’t present Canned Heat in a good light. Things didn’t get much better. surely things would improve?
One More River To Cross was released later in 1973. Canned Heat’s Atlantic Records’ debut, was the tenth studio album of their career. This was a remarkable feat, considering Canned Heat only released their debut in 1967. A lot had happened since then.
The lineup had changed numerous times, there had been countless drugs busts and controversies aplenty. However, only one Canned Heat album failed to chart. That was their previous album The New Age. Sadly, One More River To Cross followed in its footsteps and failed commercially. It came to be regarded as possibly, became one of the most expensive albums in music history.
Especially if the allegations that Skip Taylor advised Canned Heat to sign away all their future royalties to Liberty Records and United Artists’ recordings, so they could sign to Atlantic Records were true? After the commercial failure of One More River To Cross, Atlantic Records cut their ties with Canned Heat. Their relationship with Atlantic Records was brief and potentially ruinously expensive.
If the allegation regarding future royalties are indeed true, then Canned Heat were very badly advised. The decision to trade their future royalties, for their freedom, backfired, and backfired badly. Who knows how much this cost Canned Heat in lost royalties? Even today, the cost of One More River To Cross continues to rise. To some extent, all the success Canned Heat enjoyed early in the Liberty Records years had been for nothing, and they became just the latest ill-advised band in musical history.
Canned Heat’s Liberty Records Records’ Years.