It’s Throwback Thursday, and the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month, so it’s the perfect time to highlight an underrated blues-rock hero that drummed his way into music history.
Born in Mexico City in 1946, Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra played with some of Mexico’s biggest bands, including Los Sinners and Los Hooligans, before coming to America and joining Canned Heat, which brings its Woodstock legacy to Rams Head in Annapolis on Monday, Sept. 19.
“I came to the U.S. a young guy, I married an American girl and I wanted to play rhythm and blues music,” Fito told WTOP. “I wanted to experiment and learn more about this kind of music that conquered me. I never expected to find a bunch of people like the guys in Canned Heat that were very much like me — scholars, record collectors and musicologists.”
Formed in Los Angeles in 1965, the band’s self-titled debut album reworked various blues standards, including a Muddy Waters riff on “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” (1967), which wowed the Monterey Pop Festival as seen in D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary “Monterey Pop.”
Fito joined the band for its second album “Boogie with Canned Heat,” including its radio hit “On the Road Again” (1968), which featured the falsetto of Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson instead of the gravely voice of Bob “The Bear” Hite heard on many other songs.
“Those were the two styles that Canned Heat was known for: The rowdy blues shouter a la Big Joe Turner, that was Bob Hite, the big bear, the big party guy,” Fito said. “Then there was the more sophisticated, softer blues of Alan Wilson … blues was not popular, it was not mainstream, so when ‘On the Road Again’ became a hit it was amazing!”
Their third album “Living the Blues” (1968) featured the iconic tune “Going Up the Country” with the legendary refrain “Going up the country’s baby don’t you want to go?” Today, it’s played in TV commercials, but at the time, it became synonymous with Woodstock.
“It became a hit record, it became a very important song and it became the theme of the Woodstock festival,” Fito said. “When you think of Woodstock, you think of going up the country from New York (City) to the Catskill Mountains to the farm, to Max Yasgur’s farm where the festival was happening. You visualize all those people going up the country.”
In 1969, Canned Heat boogied on Day Two of Woodstock at sunset right before Mountain, The Grateful Dead and Creedence Clearwater Revival. “We always believed when the sun is setting is the best time to play,” Fito said. “We had a good performance and an excellent response from the audience … I don’t know if any other band had as big of a response.”
In 1970, the band recorded its most famous song, “Let’s Work Together,” this time with Hite’s gravely voice. “It came out almost magical,” Fito said. “It’s a great sound, a great mix and the message is still very much relevant today. A lot of people are using it for commercials, movies, many other things. It’s good to have an impact on the culture.”
Sadly, the next decade brought the band tons of tragedy as Wilson died in 1970 at age 27, while Hite died in 1981 at age 38. “It has been a very hard and very tragic band,” Fito said. “We’ve had a dark cloud above us most of our career, not only with the deaths of the guys but many other things that happened throughout … but we’ve been able to endure.”
Through it all, the band’s legacy remains. “We had a lot of influence on the dissemination and acceptance of blues music all over the world,” Fito said. “We were part of the pioneer movement to make blues music palatable and accepted … That was our contribution. Now there are all kinds of blues festivals, blues societies, blues bands all over the place.”