Friday, July 3, 2015

Fossils: Canned Heat's Future Blues (1970)

Canned Heat's Future Blues
(click to embiggen)
Canned Heat – Future Blues

It had been a long, strange trip for blues-rock stalwarts Canned Heat between the band’s founding in 1966 and the 1970 release of Future Blues. Formed by blues fanatics and record collectors Al Wilson and Bob “The Bear” Hite, and named for an obscure blues song by an even more obscure Delta bluesman, Canned Heat had recorded four studio albums, enjoyed a couple of smash hit singles, and performed a knock-out live set at the Woodstock Festival in 1969 previous to Future Blues.

For any other band, this modest commercial success and traditionally-based blues-rock sound would have had rock’s critical establishment hanging by their tails from the trees and throwing poo at anyone who dared dissent from the conventional wisdom. Oddly enough, however, Canned Heat never received much love from the scribes, the band somehow deemed “inauthentic” and/or “sell outs” by the rock ‘n’ roll press (in spite of their later collaboration with blues legend John Lee Hooker, a rigid taskmaster who didn’t suffer fools lightly).

Regardless, the band had its fans, and Future Blues performed about as well as Canned Heat’s previous efforts, scoring a minor Top 30 hit with a cover of Wilber Harrison’s “Let’s Work Together.” The album itself inched its way up to #59 on the Billboard Top 200 chart…no mean feat, considering the band’s blues obsession in the fledgling era of album oriented rock (AOR). The label’s creative department did little but splash the album’s cover art on the page with the “one small step for man” tagline, but the cover art itself was brilliant, if controversial.

Blending the iconic photo of the raising of the American flag over Iwo Jima during World War II with the recent (summer 1969) moon landing, it’s as if the band was declaring both a new sense of musical freedom as well as commenting on the country’s social distress (thus the upside-down flag), the imagery conceived, no doubt, in response to Al Wilson’s growing environmental concerns. The cover perfectly captures the vibe of the band at the time as they were striving to move beyond mere blues and R&B cover tunes (“Let’s Work Together,” Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “That’s Alright Mama”) towards a new blues-rock sound (“London Blues,” “Future Blues,” Wilson’s eerily prescient “My Time Ain’t Long”).

Other than the aforementioned John Lee Hooker collaboration, Future Blues would be the last album to feature band founder Wilson, who tragically passed away not long after its release. The album remains an unheralded gem in the band’s catalog, its long-term legacy lessened, somewhat, by inferior versions of Canned Heat that still perform to this day.

No comments: