8/3/70: Canned Heat – Future Blues
For two or three years around the turn of the 1970’s, a handful of artists stepped away from the trend of heavy, self-important music to record albums that get the listener up off the couch and into boogie mode. A couple days ago we turned the spotlight on Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen, which I described as loose and sounding like a party taking place on stage. That album had counterparts in the blues rock idiom at the time such as Delaney & Bonnie: On Tour with Eric Clapton and Canned Heat’s Future Blues, the latter released 50 years ago today.
Future Blues was the band’s fifth album, and the last to feature most of the classic lineup. Larry Taylor and Harvey Mandel left the group after its recording and just before its release. Co-founder Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson passed away a month after its release, an unfortunate founding member of the 27 Club.
This is widely considered to be one of their best albums. Future Blues was to critic Robert Christgau what Life Cereal was to Mikey… The band eschewed the extended jams they were also known for, sticking with more concise tracks mostly under three minutes long. The whole thing clocks in under 36 minutes as originally released. Future Blues is also noted for its stylistic diversity, from 1940’s jump blues on Skat (with horns arranged by Dr. John), to the darker London Blues (featuring Dr. John on piano) and heavy guitar of its most well known track, Let’s Work Together. This is not to say it’s a dark album, not by a long shot.
Favorite tracks of mine include the straight forward blues of Sugar Bee and So Sad, both sung by Bob Hite, Charlie Patton’s Shake It and Break It sung by the Blind Owl, Arthur Crudup’s That’s All Right, Mama with Hite’s gravely vocal, as well as Wilson’s rolling but eerily prophetic My Time Ain’t Long and John Lee Hooker-influenced London Blues. When I think of American bands from that time, the “Woodstock Era,” Canned heat is one of the first to come to mind. Their combination of blues n’ boogie was unmatched to my ears. The vocal styles of Bob Hite and Alan Wilson couldn’t have been much more different, yet it was unquestionably Canned Heat regardless of who sang or how long the track was.
- Sugar Bee
- Shake it and Break it
- That’s All Right (Mama)
- My Time Ain’t Long
- Let’s Work Together
- London Blues
- So Sad (The World’s in a Tangle)
- Future Blues