Twilight-Distribution offers you an interview with Canned Heat, named for the drink that the truly desperate make from cans of Sterno, has truly lived the Blues. Its members have drank hard, taken all the drugs the 60’s had to offer, and enjoyed the attentions of female fans and groupies across several continents. Many of its members have died over the course of the band’s history…none of them of natural causes. Fito de la Para, who signed on as drummer in the eleventh hour before fame struck, has been there through it all, and no matter how hard the road became, he never gave up on his vision of Canned Heat as a living entity. This year he has helped produce CANNED HEAT 1967-1976, THE BOOGIE HOUSE TAPES, a two CD collection of the best the band has to offer. Fito has also penned a definitive history of the band called LIVING THE BLUES (reviews of both at right) which chronicles the band from the Woodstock years to the present in all of its drugged out irrepressible glory.
De La Parra in the 90’s
CA: Canned Heat has been together, in one form or another for the past 30 years. Have they played the whole time or have there been hibernation periods?
FP: Officially, we’ve been together all the time working. Only a few weeks here and there we have off.
CA: When did you start functioning as the historian of the band?
FP: When I got recruited and convinced to write my book by co-writers T.W. and Marlane McGarry.
CA: Why is it so important to you to preserve the history and the music of the band?
FP: It has been very unique and great band and it represents a renaissance in music of the 20th century. Our history is so riddled with trudging and events, more than your average band, and it shouldn’t be forgotten.
CA: I love the Boogie House Tapes, you guys have such a solid sound. Are you happy with the collection?
FP: Well you see, the collection was put together by Dr. Boogie who is our #1 fan. Through him it represents what a Canned Heat fan would want as far as archives. It’s interesting to see the different perspective of what is valuable between the band’s standpoint and the fans standpoint. It’s great for people who want more Canned Heat music. Plus it has great historical value. This is the last you are going to hear from that era of Canned Heat.
CA: Was it hard to put together on a technical level? What went into the re-mastering process?
FP: It’s always hard to re-master old tapes. Sometimes they fall apart in our fingers as we are working with them and you end up with pieces of magnetic tape and great music on your fingertips. You completely loose what is on there. I think this project was very successful in capturing an authentic sound. We had to go from analog to digital.
CA: Canned Heat has played at some of the greatest venues in the world, Carnegie Hall, Royal Albert Hall. Which shows stick out in your memory?
FP: Of course Woodstock and some of the other great big festivals of the era, but then we had gigs in smaller clubs that have been as remarkable and even more fun. We always liked to be in communion with he people which you don’t get so much at large festivals and in big theaters. For example, our gigs at the Topanga Corral and a lot of funky joints in Europe. People would be right up on the stage dancing and pass us joints and drinks.
CA: The track with the studio jokes is funny. I haven’t been fortunate enough to see any of your live shows but it seems like you guys know how to have a lot of fun. Would you say the band is more work or fun
FP: The fun part is the show and the time we spend at the place we play at. The rest is all hard work…travelling, hotels, etc….a life of inconvenience and discomfort. Like I say in my book, “The music is free. We charge to get there.”
CA: You guys have been touring all over Europe. How have the crowds been reacting to your music?
FP: We’ve always had a very strong fan base over there. It looks like it will be like that until the end of our days. I yearn for that kind of following in the US. Here, the blues scene is too over saturated and politicised.
CA: Who are your favorite bands to play with?
FP: You mean next to Canned Heat? Eric Burdon and the New Animals, Dr. Feelgood, Room Full of Blues, and all the other Woodstock dinosaurs that we occasionally join in with for nostalgia purposes.
CA: You obviously have a strong bias towards blues and roots rock, what do you think of modern rock and where it’s going? Who are some of your favorite new musicians?
FP: I have great hope for modern music in the new millennium because it looks now that there is not so much emphasis on the disco and techno crap that we’ve been suffering with for the last 20 years. There is a new awareness in some new musicians that reminds me of what we had during those great musical years of the late 1960’s and early 70’s. I like Beck and Dave Mathews, Rob Thomas with Santana. I also feel there is a great future in Latin influenced music.
CA: What next for Canned Heat?
FP: We’ve just finished two European tours and we went to Singapore and Diego Garcia, an island right off the coast of Madagascar. It was amazing. We are going to tour Europe two more times this summer and we have some nice interesting gigs in the US. Check them out at www.cannedheatmusic.com. We are also planning to record a new CD for Ruf records that will have some very special guests including Eric Burdon, Tom Waitts, and probably George Thuroughgood.
CA: After reading your book it’s clear that the era of royalty problems are not over for musicians. What advice would you give to up and coming bands about protecting their music and themselves?
FP: The best advice is to do everything regarding recording or royalties in writing. And even verbal agreements between band members should be put in writing. EVERYTHING.
CA: It’s hard to believe the life on the road you describe in LIVING THE BLUES. It is hard and uncompromising on your body and your soul. Given the choice would you have done anything differently if you had it to do again?
FP: There are many things I would have done differently and still try. The most important thing regarding the road is to try to prevent anything from going wrong far ahead of time. However sometimes we do our best to prevent, and agents and managers don’t listen to us and things go wrong anyway.
CA: Canned Heat seems more like a living organism than a blues band, with members changing and growing and moving, keeping things in a constant movement. Do you think this has added to the music or lessened it?
FP: Neither. Each human being that comes into the band brings their creative forces and contributions as well as their baggage and hang-ups like any other relationship.
CA: If you could chose from heaven and hell, the living and the dead, what would your favorite Canned Heat line up be?
FP: The line up from 1967 to 71 – the classic Canned Heat lineup. It’s the original and we were really a band. We gave Cream and Hendrix a run for their money.
If you want to read another interview with Molly McQuade, follow this link.