CANNED HEAT: KINGS OF THE BOOGIE (1981)
1) Kings Of The Boogie; 2) Stoned Bad Street Fighting Man; 3) So Fine; 4) You Can't Get Close To Me; 5) Hell's Just On Down The Road; 6) I Was Wrong; 7) Little Crystal; 8) Dog House Blues; 9) Sleepy Hollow Baby; 10) Chicken Shack.
Still more lineup changes; by the time they got around to recording this one, The Bear and Fito were still in, and the lead guitar position once again miraculously shifted from Harvey Mandel to The Amazing Disappearing (And Reappearing At Will) Henry Vestine. Unfortunately, an even more serious problem than a quantum-state lead guitar sound struck them this time: before the album was completed, Bob Hite happened to miscalculate his heroin dosage (allegedly, they say he mistook cocaine for heroin), collapsed on stage, and died on April 6, 1981, somewhere in Hollywood; I think he was the last of the Woodstock heroes to have the hand of fate catch up with him in such an ironic manner.
Somehow the band still carried on, though, and the album was completed with three of the recent members contributing vocals where necessary: Ernie Rodriguez on bass, Rick Kellog on harp, and Mike Halby on guitar. There are still plenty of Hite-sung vocal tracks, though, so do not believe them who say that Human Condition was the last Hite-led Canned Heat album: if you have enough love/respect for him as a lead figure, be sure to check out Kings Of The Boogie, because he actually sounds a little more loose here (or maybe it's just better production).
The overall style is not that far removed from Human Condition's, though: basic fast-tempo boogie and generic, but mean-wishing blues-rock constitutes the bulk of it, and where there are exceptions, I'd rather there wasn't any — for instance, the band's cover of Johnny Otis' ʽSo Fineʼ is amazingly stiff and sung without the slightest bit of emotion. Technically, ʽDog House Bluesʼ is also an exception, because it is credited to two members of Devo (and no, it has nothing to do with the Devo outtake ʽDoghouse Doghouseʼ that would surface later from the archives); however, it fits in so naturally with the other blues-rock tracks here that you could never suspect foul play without checking the credits.
Anyway, the best tracks on the album are the fast-paced ones: they close the record with a merry revival of the old Amos Milburn jump blues classic ʽChicken Shackʼ, energized harmonica and guitar solos and all, and open it with their own modern day take on jump blues — the title track probably has the best guitar riff of 'em all, with a nice mix of syncopation and sustain, and the rhythm section is so tight that even if you still wish to deny them the title of Kings of the Boogie (or, at least, continue to insist that they lost that title a decade ago), it would be unfair to strip them of a lifetime board membership at least.
Guitarist Mike Halby contributes much of the original songwriting where it is present, and turns out to be a modestly competent riffmeister with a knack for a decent variation: I think that ʽLittle Crystalʼ reuses and embellishes the more Spartan riff pattern of CCR's ʽBootlegʼ, and although ʽStone Bad Street Fighting Manʼ has nothing to do with the melody of Stones' ʽStreet Fighting Manʼ, the title of the song is amusingly delivered in the same melodic way as it was done by Mick — coincidence?.. Little things like these add a much-needed pinch of amusement to what otherwise would be a completely unremarkable set of barroom tunes. Well, frankly speaking, it is still a fairly unremarkable set of barroom tunes, but then, it hardly aspires to any higher status. The whole thing, bar the totally out-of-place Otis cover, is fully adequate to the purpose, and I might even consider recommending it with a thumbs up, if not for the production, which might on the whole be even worse than Human Condition's — almost lo-fi in places (and I am not sure if it is just my copy, but you can actually sense the engineer adjusting the volume level right in the middle of the title track... what the heck???).
If there's any place left for real amazement, it has to be outside the music — with the death of The Bear, you'd think the team should have finally thought about calling it a day: what is the sense of retaining a mediocre brand name anyway, after two of the band's chief symbols had left this world, and the only original member left was the drummer? But then again, never underestimate the drummer (even if his name happens to be Phil Collins) — especially in the case of Canned Heat, where, somehow, the drummer eventually managed to make a difference.