Canned Heat

Los Angeles, California, 1965. Blues musicians Alan Wilson and Bob Hite’s ‘hippy’ band kick off an offbeat rhythmic harmonica riff accompanied by opening lyrics along the lines of “I’m so tired of cryin’ but I’m out on the road again, I’m on the road again.”

Such it is that the tune becomes our gentle earworm as the Knumptywagen trundles out – for the first time this year – on a long-weekend jaunt towards Norfolk to assist in the celebration of a good friend’s 60th birthday. 

Although bright, sharp sunshine graced us for most of the trip, prevailing winds sadly suppressed the temperature to a shrill, sharp cold – well below the canned heat we would normally expect on jaunts further south – but hell, yes, we’re on the road again!

And what roads they are! For almost every mile, extensive surface degradation is riddled with unavoidable potholes which rattle the contents of the cutlery drawer. It’s clear that wholly-unreported military-grade shelling and strafing with hostile ordnance has been taking place across our fine English counties during our pandemic-induced period of SORN.

Alarmingly, it also seems as if most of Norfolk’s fauna has been busy sacrificing itself to the roadside as well. Fully-formed and apparently unsullied deer appear at rest in gutters; shiny-furred foxes lie both intact and – slightly less shiny – flattened across white lines. Matt-grey hulks of badgers are slumped like naval shipwrecks; dead rabbits abound (or not, obvs) – along with a singular mad March hare – all are added to our incidental tally, along with a perfectly-preserved irridescently-headed male mallard. 

The most unnerving surprise of all this kerbside carnage came with a large, dumped grey-silver sandbag, glistening with reflected sunlight and looking every inch like the hunched back of a small dolphin, incongruous in the extreme given that we were still thirty miles from the nearest coast. The pheasant population had also contributed. Suicide-vested in plumes of tan, ochre and bronze they had obligingly sacrificed themselves at regular four-mile intervals by way of macabre milestones marking our journey eastwards.

At some ill-defined point in time, and slightly numbed by the monotony of the road rolling through flat, verdant Norfolk countryside, a rare moment of lucidity intruded into our reveries. When (if at all,) had we re-road-taxed the Knumptywagen after its liberation from semi-retirement? The answer was that we hadn’t, so with that guilt-ridden anxiety now lodged firmly in mind, every speed-camera was passed at well below the posted limit, with both CNO and Pilot subconsciously hunching and ducking heads in the forlorn hope of avoiding identification – and subsequent criminal proceedings.

And just by-the-by, Wells-next-the-Sea isn’t. 

It could be argued that it is, sort of – but only in the same way that Pop Tarts could claim to be edible. It is nevertheless a quaintly characterful and agreeable small town harbouring (geddit?) an upmarket café called Bang, which – as its name thankfully implies – is bang in the middle of town. Except it isn’t. Really. But no matter. It still served a damn fine brunch to our famished party of fake seafarers, newly disembarked from a completely unexpected and delightful boat-trip around the inlets and islets which keep the sea at a respectful distance from the town.

And then – what fun, frivolous and joyous sociability ensued! Our continually coalescing party of ten bimbled in nondescript convoy through the Norfolk countryside from visitor-attraction to hospitality and back again, indulging in mass-feeding-frenzies at every opportunity (all at our generous host’s considerable expense – and why not?)

Eventually, the Knumptywagen peeled away to make semi-permanent landfall at an impressively well-kept campsite at Burnham Deepdale, where we unfurled a sadly necessary windbreak and settled ourselves in for a good few days of static social activity. 

5 comments

  1. Ahhh – Canned Heat, one of my very favourite bands of the sixties. I saw them live a few times, once at the Albert Hall. Indications of how long ago that would be was that a seat in the second row cost seventeen shillings and sixpence (87.5p in new money) and that Canned Heat were top of the bill with (a pre-“Black Night”) Deep Purple as one of the support acts.

    As was the wont of sixties bands, the line-up changed frequently with members departing due to “musical differences”, substance abuse (often the cause of the musical differences) and death – this last precluding the option of rejoining which was often necessary due to contractual obligations or the demands of the tax authorities.

    The “classical” line up of Canned Heat could be considered to be:

    Al “Blind Owl” Wilson on guitar and Harmonica
    Bob “The Bear” Hite on vocals (and occasional rather ham-fisted guitar)
    Larry “the Mole” Taylor on Bass – he also played a lot of the bass guitar parts for The Monkees
    Henry “Sunflower” Vestine on guitar
    Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra on Drums (notable for a kit with two bass drums played with each foot)

    Was there ever a band more devoted to nicknames?

    Al Wilson died at the age of 27, like so many at that time – Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix to name but two. Suspected suicide due to barbiturate overdose.

    Bob Hite died of heart failure.He was quite obese at that stage and being a heroin addict didn’t help.
    Henry Vestine died of cancer in the late nineties.

    Modern incarnations of the band feature only Fito de la Parra from the original line-ups.

    The band had three notable worldwide hits, “On the Road Again”, “Going Up the Country” and “Let’s Work Together”. As I recall, Going Up the Country was the theme song during the intro of the film of the Woodstock festival although the band themselves weren’t featured. They were featured in the Monterey Pop film that came out two years previously.

    On long-playing vinyl – some of which I have somewhere in the house, the band availed themselves of the opportunity to free themselves from the rigid I, IV, V “boogie” chord structure and branched out into such as “Parthenogenesis” – a very long-winded instrumental tone-poem and a very very long-winded drum solo from Fito -that’s what they did in the late sixties.

    I thought they were great. Still do.

    Like

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