Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pitching In: Canned Heat: "Let's Work Together"

And now we stand on the very threshold of the 70s; we are close enough to press our ear to the wall, hold our breath, and hear what it portends. It portends a great deal, but the first sound that can be made out is...boogie.

No other decade owns this word quite as much as the 70s. It is only fitting that the kickstart here comes straight outta the blues, the bluesmen being from Los Angeles, all having knocked around the scene, starting as collectors of blues sides and then deciding to make some music themselves, in their own way.

Canned Heat brought the boogie far and wide, like blues birds, from Newport to Monterey, Woodstock to their own home town. Hippies loved them, blues fans and blues musicians loved them, and there's a good reason for that; they did this song but only released it after Wilbert Harrison's version (which was a reworking of his own "Let's Stick Together from '62) had had its time in the charts. The song is a crunchy blues that evokes blue collar workers, granola, long hard hours of searching for blues records in dusty shops, and a worldwide call to arms to get up and do something and to do it together, as the power of the collective (as opposed to the individual) was something hippies and others could equally grasp.

After so many sad songs, this blunt and friendly song essentially says that no matter who you are, you've got to do your part, however small it may seem; there's no point in just sitting around, you've got to have something to do. Even if it's for "two or three hours" (clearly Canned Heat understand how tiring picking up litter/writing polite but firm letters to politicians/planning or going on demonstrations is) it is worth it, and just as the blues is for everyone, so is the effort. There is something tough and indomitable about boogie, after all, something humble as well, that says "Hey, this isn't so hard, once you start doing it - you might even find it calming, enjoyable and worth doing again."

Thus the 70s are about to start with a request to make another smile and laugh, to pitch in, to quit feeling sorry for yourself and the last decade and make something new right now. Boogie doesn't care about hipness, it cares about the groove, and respects those who created the boogie groove in the first place, but boogie can't continue on its own; the blues requires dedication, sure, but that dedication is automatic and lifelong, and is like good bread - nourishing, crusty on the outside, comforting and absolutely essential*. And at bottom, utterly simple - and simplicity is what the overwrought late 60s needed, as much as anything else.

Though the band would lose members (most tragically, Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson, who sings lead on "On The Road Again**" - Bob "The Bear" Hite sings lead here - died in September of 1970, weeks before Hendrix), they are still around - still playing for those who remember this period as one of seemingly endless boogie shuffles, good times and good-natured determination to make a difference and "make life worthwhile."

As this gruff cheer fades away, there is a pause; something that has been in the works for some time - like an elaborate fireworks display, perhaps, or a spectacular painting - is about to be heard, and the world, a bit tired and bleary still, is about to be amazed.

* Dr. Atkins, I would guess, was not a blues fan, nor a man sustained by boogie. Too bad.

** Later covered by Sloan on their epochal Live At A Sloan Party! EP, merging perfectly with Stereolab's "Transona Five" - yes, even French Marxist-Situationists can get down with the boogie. I wonder if Canned Heat have ever heard this...


Anonymous said...

Thanks for featuring Canned Heat on your blog! I'm looking forward to exploring more great music with you.

Should you wish to learn more about classic-era Canned Heat, I hope you'll check out my bio of band co-founder Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson. It's at my website, http://blindowlbio.com, and covers Wilson's early experiences with Delta blues legend Son House, his career with Canned Heat, his work as a pioneering ecological activist, and his mysterious, untimely death at the age of 27.

There's also a great tribute to Wilson at a family-authorized site, AlanWilsonCannedHeat.com. It contains some excellent rare photos, videos, and even music downloads.

Thanks again and don't forget to boogie, as Bob Hite always said!

Lena said...

Thanks! I am very happy you like this and if you could post a link to it anywhere I'd be most obliged!