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Canned Heat is Going Up the Country

As may be expected, a band that was formed in 1965 and still is touring has a complicated history, with lots of personnel changes, drama and, unfortunately, deaths. Wikipedia does it’s usual great job of putting it all together.

I was reminded of Canned Heat by Richie Entenberger, with whom I recorded a podcast about John Fahey. He said that Fahey – a brilliant and eccentric guitarist – was close to band members Bob Hite and Alan Wilson. The three were among a small number of collectors of blues records during the early- and mid-1960s in Los Angeles. The band emerged from that group.

That fits well with the profiles of the band, which rediscovered and electrified early blues from then forgotten African American players. The name Canned Heat, according to Wikipedia, was taken from the song “Canned Heat Blues” – the story of an alcoholic so desperate that he drank sterno – that was recorded by an artist named Tommy Johnson in 1928.

Not only did they pay homage to what came before, it sounds like Canned Heat anticipated jam bands. This is from AllMusic:

Canned Heat’s breakthrough moment occurred with the release of their second album, establishing them with hippie ballroom audiences as the “kings of the boogie.” As a way of paying homage to the musician they got the idea from in the first place, they later collaborated on an album with John Lee Hooker that was one of the elder bluesman’s most successful outings with a young white (or black, for that matter) combo backing him up.

It struck me how many familiar names came up in the Wikipedia profile. Though some of these folks made only cameo appearances, it’s interesting how interconnected popular music is. Here are some of the names that pop up, in one way or another, in the Wikipedia profile: Junior Watson, John Mayall,Frank Zappa, Linda Ronstadt, Charlie Haden,Chet Baker, Dobie Gray, Johnny Otis, John Lee Hooker, David Lindley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Buffalo Springfield, Sly and The Family Stone, Mike Bloomfield, Dr. John, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, The Chambers Brothers, Taj Mahal, Eric Clapton, Sunnyland Slim, Memphis Slim and Albert Collins.

Above is “Let’s Work Together.” Below is “Going Up the Country,” Canned Heat’s biggest hit. The video is poor, but the audio quality good.

Wikipedia and AllMusic were used to prepare this post.

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Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.

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What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.

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The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.