American blues band Canned Heat are on the road again in celebration of the band’s 50th anniversary and BSide Magazine chatted to the grpup’s long-serving, Mexican-born drummer Adolfo ‘Fito’ de la Parra over the telephone.
“And we’ll be playing what people know,” Fito says of the band’s current live set. “We have to play songs such as Goin’ Up The Country, Let’s Work Together and On The Road Again and, if we see any bikers in the audience, we’ll roll out Amphetamine Annie.
“But we were never a band that had hit records – we’ve never been that kind of band and never wanted to be that – but we do have a lot of songs that people associate with Canned Heat. And we also do some traditional country blues because we have always done that.
“We will also be playing some new stuff too,” Fito continues, “because we’ve been working on some instrumentals and having a lot of fun with them. And even with our well-known songs, we tend to improvise when we play them live.
“And while we have now plans to do any recording, the new material helps keep the set fresh and makes it fun for us too,” he considers. “And that’s the great thing about playing blues – you get to improvise every night.
“You can break the rules when you play jazz and blues and, in that regard, it’s not like today’s music – the contemporary music of today – that seems to be very stiff and regimented to me.
“So what you are going to see with us is a bunch of old guys up on stage doing what they love and doing what they do best,” Fito than adds with a laugh.
While this marks the first visit to Adelaide for some time, Canned Heat, who performed at Woodstock Music & Art Fair in 1969 and now have 32 studio albums to their credit, have played the eastern seaboard in recent times.
“Yeah,” Fito remarks. “We did Bluesfest two or three years ago and also did shows in Melbourne and Sydney. But, before that, I would say it’s been seven years at least since we were last there. And that was to play another festival.
“But we used to tour all over Australia in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” he laughs. “We used to travel everywhere in station wagons or utes as you guys call them. We travelled from club to club and place to place and I think I have actually seen more of Australia than most Australians.
“And it’s always been a wonderful experience so it’s nice to be coming back,” Fito says convincingly.
And it’s good to have a reason, such as a 50th anniversary, to hang a visit on.
“It’s a mark of resilience,” Fito, who still retains his Mexican accent, responds with a laugh. “And I have to say we are playing very well at the moment. We are enjoying the music and are playing good.
“So we are also looking forward to show our experience and how we have kept in tune with the music over the years and how we have really honed our craft,” he says. “And, hey, I’m not just bragging as it’s something we’ve all been talking about recently.
“Musicians are not like most athletes and are done by a certain age, although that may well be true of some pop artists because that’s a whole different world,” Fito laughs. “A true musician can only get better with age and the older they get, the more interesting they often become.”
Fito, who once auditioned for Bill Haley & The Comets, joined Canned Heat in 1967 to replace drummer Frank Cook due to an incident in Denver that ended up with the whole group in the can with their manager, Skip Taylor, having to bail them out by selling the band’s publishing rights.
“I don’t know,” Fito laughs, “but they were having some problems. Frank Cook was jazz-orientated and really not into the blues and they really wanted a blues drummer. And there were some personality clashes too, but I don’t know too much about all that.
“And, from different sources, the band had heard about me – someone had told them I was, ‘The greatest blues drummer in the world’ – and thought, ‘Well, we really gotta go see this guy’,” he continues. “And then the band I was playing with at the time did a show with Canned Heat who had just been bailed out of jail.
“So they weren’t in good shape as there was a lot of in-fighting and they didn’t play very well that night,” Fito continues. ‘But they had seem me play – and we were great that night – and invited me to audition with them.
“And they offered me the gig and I said, “Well, I was born to play with Canned Heat’,” he laughs. “So they could tell I was already committed which I have shown them over the years.”
Fito says he and the band welcome any youngster who wants to play blues music.
“It’s a sign of rebellion against the established thing,” he suggests. “The corporate music industry of today has invaded the taste of the people and, in many ways, ruined it for them.
“Younger musicians, who are interested in their craft and art and in their instrument instead of being a disc jockey and just pushing a few buttons, are welcomed by Canned Heat.
“I occasionally jam with young musicians here at my house in California,” Fito says. “And we are always meeting young musicians when we travel. And it is important that they are helping to keep blues music alive.
“Blues music will never become mainstream, but it will never disappear,” he concludes.
Influential American blues legends Canned Heat will play the Governor Hindmarsh, 59 Port Rd, Hindmarsh, on Sunday 1 November with tickets via the venue or OzTix.