Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Of all the white blues bands to emerge in the mid-60's, Canned Heat was certainly one of the most respected.  The players truly seemed to get the blues, not just play it like other copyists.  Indeed, along with Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield and their associates, and Them over in England, and some of the San Fran players (Janis, etc.), the Chicago blues was taken up by some pretty talented hands.

The early glory days of the Heat are well-represented in live settings, as the band were one of the highlights at both Monterey and Woodstock.  But purists say they never recovered from the loss of co-leader Al Wilson in 1970. Certainly Bob "The Bear" Hite was a charismatic front man, and a blazing harp player, but the group never did come up with more hits to match On The Road Again and Going Up The Country.  Luckily, they did keep up the live show, and remained a reliable concert band through the 1970's.  As a kid, I saw them play UNB here in Fredericton, but I'm afraid I was too young to appreciate it or even remember the full billing?  Was it part of the Hooker n' Heat tour?  Somebody feel free to fill me in.

Any, this Montreux set comes from 1973, and shows just how good they remained.  However, part of the magic is their guest star.  One of the ways Canned Heat made up for the loss of Wilson was to tour with the greats, including John Lee Hooker, Little Richard, and on this night, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.  We get a full mini-set with Gatemouth, where he brings out all his tricks, including guitar, fiddle, mouth harp and lots of antics.  The Heat are fine to step back for several songs, and it livens up this hour-plus disc.  Gatemouth's then-topical Please Mr. Nixon clearly pointed out the gap between the generations and races that was dominate at the time.

Back with the core band, Hite has no problem getting lots of boogie and audience response going.  The good news is this particular Montreux release is very well recorded and preserved (some in the series don't have the best audio), so we get a great mix and up-front closeness, with Hite's vocals, Henry Vestine's lead lines and Ed Beyer's organ runs particularly vibrant.  The version here of Let's Work Together is what live blues is all about.

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