Letting loose theTHERE'S AN AMUSING TYPO on the press release for Canned Heat's gig tonight at the Hawaiian Hut. "Don't forget to boggie!" the release enthusiastically encourages.
Drummer Fito de la Parra, the
only original member of the jump-blues
group, recalls the early years
By Burl Burlingame
Since Canned Heat has ruled that zen pocket of jump-blues known as "boogie" for something like a third of a century now -- inheriting the mantle from A-chord, finger-floppin' John Lee Hooker -- it's unlikely any fans will be confused.
Since Canned Heat was established in Los Angeles in 1966, the band has never gone away, though it's been quiet on occasion due to the deaths of front men guitarist Al Wilson, singer Bob Hite and lead guitarist Henry Vestine.
Original bass player Larry Taylor rejoins the lineup from time to time, but the one constant has been drummer Adolfo "Fito" de la Parra.
"Oh, I quit a couple of times, but Bob always ran out and dragged me back," chuckled de la Parra over the phone. "So, when Bob died and I sort of inherited the band, it fell to me to keep it together."
Featuring Canned Heat
The Boogie Blues Dance Party
When: Tonight, doors open at 8:15 p.m.
Where: South Seas Village at the Hawaiian Hut, 410 Atkinson Drive
Tickets: $22 in advance at Tower Video, Tower Records Kahala and Pearl Kai, Hungry Ear Kailua, Rainbow Books University, and MWR Kunia; $25 at the door
De la Parra actually lists his role in the band as "drummer and historian," and his memoir "Living the Blues" (available from the Web site cannedheatmusic.com) likely contains everything a boogie-child needs to know about what the band's been up to.
But there's nothing quite like going back to the very beginning, huh, Fito?
"I came up from Mexico and I was playing in clubs in L.A.; I was 19 years old," recalled de la Parra. "My English wasn't so good, but I could already play good. So I decided to try out for this band that was auditioning drummers."
Are there many Mexican blues musicians?
"Carlos Santana and me, we're it! Anyway, I found out later that it wasn't my drumming that made Bob Hite choose me! I came to the audition with a Junior Wells and Buddy Guy album under my arm. Bob's mind, in his head, was that we find rapport in the music, and he decided immediately I was the guy he wanted to work with."
Bob "The Bear" Hite was a legendary performer and blues fanatic, and a man of large appetites. The only time de la Parra wondered if the band would continue was when Hite passed away in the mid-'70s.
But Hite charged de la Parra with keeping the spirit of boogie ringing throughout the world.
"I was insecure with such a big responsibility. No band continues this long without changes in the line-up," said de la Parra. "No one has accomplished this, regardless of fame and fortune. Not even the Rolling Stones. It's like being married five ways."
Musicians might not be able to stand each other. One might get fat, the other might get skinny. One's a drunk, one's religious. It's a matter of getting along.
"And so the thing to do is reflect what Canned Heat is in the purity of the songs and performances, recreate what people think of as Canned Heat, with some of our classic songs and hot new stuff. Otherwise you're a jukebox band. We gotta keep the challenge to boogie in the new century. As Stravinsky said, 'People don't know what they like, but they like what they know.' "
The band draws on the pool of excellent Los Angeles-based musicians. "The main thing, though, is a state of mind to play Canned Heat music," said de la Parra. "Otherwise, you're just five people playing together, and you might as well be a hotel band."
The current line-up, in addition to drummer/historian de la Parra, is John "JP" Paulus, lead guitarist, formerly with John Mayall; Dallas "Man Mountain of Blues & Boogie" Hodge, lead singer and guitarist, formerly of the Catfish Hodge Band and The Detroit All-Stars; Stanley "The Baron" Behrens, vocals, harmonica, flute and sax; and Greg Kage, vocals and bass, now with the band for five years.
Also returning to the band is manager Skip Taylor, who helmed the band in the early years.
"Oh, he's too good a manager," said de la Parra. "He's got us playing 150, 175 gigs a year. I'm 55 years old and he's kicking my butt! Traveling used to be great, when you're young."
Although Canned Heat hasn't played Oahu in a decade -- there have been some neighbor-island gigs -- one of de la Parra's fond memories of the islands is playing a Diamond Head crater festival in the mid-'70s, along with a newly-revamped edition of Fleetwood Mac.
"It was the first time Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham played with them, and they were just poor musicians. I had to lend them a credit card so they could check into a hotel."
De la Parra is comforted by a growing number of "very young fans, judging by the e-mails we get," although the average Canned Heat fan is all grown up, male, and likely to own a motorcycle.
The core audience for Canned Heat is in Germany, as it turns out.
"Germany is our No. 1 market. We toured there a lot over the years, building long-term fans. Americans can be jaded and over-saturated, and we get more respect in Europe. They have a history of musical culture and take things more seriously.
"We're happy to play anywhere where the weather is warm and the people are friendly, and that's Hawaii, isn't it? In Europe, the weather is terrible and cold, and they don't have 7-Elevens. Can't tour properly without 7-Elevens!"
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