On this day, September 3rd, in 1970, guitarist and songwriter Alan Wilson of blues rock band Canned Heat was discovered dead at his fellow band mate’s, Bob Hite’s, garden in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles. He was twenty-seven years old. Canned Heat was a little-appreciated blues band of the 60’s and 70’s, despite the fact that they had performed at Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and then the infamous Woodstock Festival in 1969. They even appeared in Woodstock the film, and “Going Up the Country,” a Canned Heat song sung by Wilson, is often referred to as the festival’s unofficial theme song. One of the band’s few hit songs, “On the Road Again” was written by Wilson as well. In commemoration of Wilson’s passing, FDRMX has revisited their 1969 album Living the Blues, their first double LP. Below is a track-by-track review.
1. “Pony Blues” follows the blues tradition of covering old standards, and this is one is Charlie Patton’s old tunes, cohesively covered by Canned Heat, laying the groundwork for the rest of the album.
2. “My Mistake” opens with a solitary guitar riff courtesy of Henry “Sunflower” Vestine. Wilson light and airy vocals float over the steady groove of Adolfo “Fido” de la Parra’s drums and Larry “The Mole” Taylor’s bass.
3. “Sandy’s Blues” is a slow sad tune full of fat saxophone and plunky bar room piano backing up the mournful vocals of Bob Hite (Bob “The Bear” Hite, that is).
4. “Going Up The Country” is a rendition of Henry Thomas’ “Going Down South” which Canned Heat transformed into this breezier version. Covering standards well really amounts to commercial success, especially when you’re a blues band.
5. “Walking By Myself” features their colleague and fellow bluesman John Mayall of the U.K. on this cover of Jimmy Rogers, however Mayall is not on guitar, but rather the piano. It’s a peppy little stroll-along tune that makes you want to swing whatever’s in your hand to the beat.
6. “Boogie Music” has yet another guest on the keys, only this time he’s a well known ivory-tickler. Dr. John (Mac Rebbenack) joins Canned Heat on this groovy tune, an ode to good ol’ boogie music.
7. “One Kind Favor” gets Hite belting vocals from behind the band’s chugging rhythm. Also known as “See That My Grave is Kept Clean” this song has a solid driving groove behind it.
8. “Parthenogenesis” has more of a psychedelic blues rock vibe to it, featuring jaw harp and last for a rousing twenty minutes. Really the track breaks down into a medley of about nine songs that all run together, pulling you through a journey of blues. Wilson plays standard and chromatic harp on this track as well.
9. “Refried Boogie Part 1”opens with electric guitar, and is also a lengthy twenty minute instrumental – a fine example of the occasional self-indulgence a blues jam will lead you to make.
10. “Refried Boogie Part 2” tops off the album with twenty-one minutes (count ‘em!) of psychedelic blues guitar solos, accentuated by the band’s exceptional instrumentation, creating a modern blues sound that sadly did not receive much recognition in its heyday.
The album overall demonstrates Canned Heat’s ability to gel with each other musically as well as modernize old blues styles and standards, bringing them to the forefront of the blues scene, both in the 60’s and 70’s and today. Check out other track-by-track blues albums reviews on the Encyclopedia of Music today.