Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2018 Mar-Apr Contents 32 Rhythms
De la Parra and Larry Taylor will appear on stage at this
year’s Bluesfest (a festival, incidentally, they co-headlined in
its very first year, back in 1990), minus Mandel who’s out on
health grounds. Rounding out the band will be guitarist and
harmonica player Dale Spalding, along with guitarist John
Paulus, both of who, as Taylor says, bring something special
to an already strong lineup.
“Dale’s been there permanently now for almost ten years,
and JP has been all but two years when we had Harvey
back, so he’s been with us for eight of the past ten years,”
Taylor says. “This unit is actually the longest-running unit
in all of Canned Heat’s history. And they enjoy playing
together... I tell promoters and buyers that these guys,
you’re not paying them to play, they love to play and they
play for free and in fact have done more charity shows
than any other band in the world. But they pay them to be
comfortable. Seventy years old, more, at least you want to
With this comfort, and indeed with having nothing to
prove, Taylor says the band have mellowed a lot, and so
this enjoyment really comes to the fore, particularly as the
lineup has become more versatile.
“Having JP in there, he played bass for John Mayall for, like,
six years, and he’s really a lead guitarist,” Taylor explains.
“So when you have a guy who’s equally adept at bass and
guitar, that allows Larry Taylor, one of the originals who
has also been a guitar player most of his life and has all the
original Alan Wilson slide parts down, that allows now for
Larry to play a lot of that bottleneck and slide stuff of the
original band, and JP plays bass. So they switch back and
forth, and Dale also plays guitar and sings and we’ve even
got JP singing, ‘Goin’ Up The Country’ and ‘On The Road
Again’ now because Fito, as you get older, sometimes your
voice just doesn’t hold up as well.
“And it also, as he says, allows him to smoke a little more
and play better drums,” Taylor adds with a laugh. “And not
be as concentrated on the vocals, so he has a little more fun
and smiles a little more.”
After more than half a century, to still be doing this, to still
be playing and touring, packing festival tents with diehard
fans, no matter their age, the key ingredient to a band still
doing this, is enjoyment, and this is the name of the game
for the band these days. “I think it is [freer and more fun
now], and part of that is just growing older,” reasons Taylor.
“And looking around and realising, thanks goodness. And I
take a little bow myself, because Canned Heat is my family.
They love doing it, I love doing it, I’ll still go out there and
stand over the shoulder of a guy at the front-of-house board,
mixing... if I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t be there, none of us
“And I still look at Canned Heat as one of the few bands
out there who can go out on that stage and break down, or
erase, that imaginary shield that exists between the stage
and the audience, and really involve the audience and have
them feel that they’re seeing something. I mean, they still
get to see and hear four of the finest musicians in the world,
you know? These guys play their arses off... I see all sorts of
other bands at festivals and clubs and theatres, but there are
very few that want to follow Canned Heat on stage, plain
and simple. They have fun and hopefully the audience has
I’m still leaning against that pole when the band finish
up some time later, not having moved since I got there,
most of a set ago, the final chords from the final song still
reverberating through my head, a few cigarettes smoked, no
more beer consumed as I’ve not left, not moved, stood stock
still and just let it all wash and churn around me.
Over the course of my time, I’ve listened to a lot of music,
specifically a lot of blues-inspired material, and so I’m well
versed in how this all comes together and yet Canned Heat
have done it differently, and I can still feel it, writing this
some six years later. The Rolling Stones, most notably,
traffic in this sort of music and have done for decades,
Canned Heat. They’re different bands, from different places,
and while they’re informed by similar things, events, music,
sounds and people, it’s come to be in a different way, and
that way is powerful. In its own way.
I eventually move, head over to the bar, drifting through
the crowd now dispersing, off to find something else,
someone new to listen to. I find a beer and drink it as I
wander towards the exit, deciding the best course of action
is to leave and catch the bus home because I don’t think
anything else I’ll see tonight will top that and so a quiet
whiskey somewhere is the obvious choice and before I know
it I’m in the dark carpark, the festival cacophony fading
behind me into quiet.
Fifty-three years ago, three blues nuts formed a band to try
and push the music they loved, albeit in a different fashion,
and for the most part, they’re still here today, doing just that.
That is indeed something powerful, and is deserved of all
the notoriety one can find.
Canned Heat play Bluesfest on March 30 & 31, full tour
dates in the Gig Guide.
SAMUEL J FELL
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