How did we love Canned Heat? Let’s count the ways. We loved ’em because they scooped out a whole new wrinkle in the monotone mazurka; it wasn’t their fault that a whole generation of ten zillion bands took and ran it into the ground sans finesse after Canned Heat had run it into the ground so damned good themselves. We loved ’em because they’ve always held the record for Longest Single Boogie Preserved on Wax: “Refried Boogie” from Livin’ the Blues was forty-plus minutes of real raunch froth perfect for parties or car stereos, especially if they got ripped off- and a lot of it was actually listenable. We loved ’em because Henry Vestine was an incredible, scorching motherfucker of a guitarist, knocking you through the wall. And we loved ’em because Bobby Bear was so damned weird you could abide his every excess.
-Lester Bangs, Rolling Stone, June 7, 1973
Plastic has an ethics, an aesthetic, and an ontology. . . . And I want you to know that I was with Henry Vestine in the co-op department store plastics salon when Henry Vestine first became aware of the charm of these phony materials, especially plastics, because I was with him when it happened. And still, to this very day, when Henry plays in deepest, darkest, Eugene, Orgeon, Earth City, his solos are essentially long, discursive lectures on plasticity.
-John Fahey, “Henry Vestine and the Allure of La Plastique“
In the summer of 2001 my brother and I got into my 1989 Honda Prelude and trekked out to the desert on the other side of the Great Salt Lake for a classic rock festival promoted by one or another of the rock stations that we all know and love so well, that place Led Zep and Foreigner on equal rotation, that manage to make Black Sabbath into musical wallpaper. As far as I can remember we went because we weren’t old enough to get into bars or private clubs and had nothing better to do. On the lineup were Credence Clearwater Revisited (Credence minus John Fogerty), Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad (billed in those exact words) wearing a blindingly shiny shirt and inspiring a chorus of air-guitars from the crowd, and Vanilla Fudge in their marvelously billowing vestments like it was still 1971. I don’t think we even knew Canned Heat was going to be playing. They went on early in the blistering sun. It was just after the death of John Lee Hooker, with whom they had recorded two albums, Hooker ‘N Heat (not Hooker in Heat, though that’s what the music sounds like a lot of the time) form 1970, and a live album in 1981, both of which are worth your money if you like down-and-dirty blues. They announced their sadness at the loss and, inspired by the great master, proceeded to boogie down nonstop for a good chunk of the afternoon. The music like the pied piper called forth the old hippies to kick up dust perform the formless gyrations that are ubiquitous at summer music festivals everywhere, and two young geeks, my brother and I, approached the stage as well to groove as much as we could and gawk at the aging bluesmen. It was the high point of the day, and a great performance despite the absence of Henry Vestine, who died in 1997. Like the Ramones, Canned Heat played the same music for their whole career, and it rarely got boring. Not even the Rolling Stones can say that.
Today’s tune: Catfish Blues