An Interview With Adolfo 'Fito' De La Parra
Original Drummer For Canned Heat
Interviewer’s Note: Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson and Bob “The Bear” Hite formed Canned Heat in 1966 as a blues-based rock band. Their most notable hits include, “On the Road Again,” “Goin’ Up the Country,” and “Let’s Work Together,” all of which have been given new life recently in advertisements and TV commercials. They gained notoriety when they appeared at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and The Who.
Canned Heat was probably at the height of its popularity in 1969, when they were scheduled to headline at the now historic Woodstock Festival. The band’s 1968 classic hit, “Goin’ Up the Country,” was designated as the official song of the celebration and will be forever affiliated with the event and the embodiment of the sixties.
This band has survived all the excesses of rock n’ roll: death, sex, drugs, touring, tragedy, deception, and the mercuriality of public scrutiny. Three of Canned Heat’s original members, Wilson, Hite, and Henry Vestine have passed on (Wilson committed suicide and Hite died in 1981 onstage).
The following is a brief interview I conducted with original Canned Heat drummer, Fito De La Parra at the Martini Blues Supper Club in Huntington Beach on December 12, 2004:
[Corvette Sandy] Where are you from?
Fito de la Parra I’m from Mexico City.
[Corvette Sandy] How long have you been together?
Fito de la Parra The band is celebrating its 40th anniversary next year, but I’ve been with them 38 years.
[Corvette Sandy] Why are you still doing what you are doing?
Fito de la Parra We’ve gone through many changes, including tragedies and loss. Eventually, when the band ended up in my hands, I decided to leave it up to the fans. I figure that I will have a lineup to present decent music and be loyal to the concept that this band has created.
[NAME] How many albums have you recorded?
Fito de la Parra Well, it’s hard to tell because of all the pirates out there, but legally, we have recorded 39 albums and working on our 40th!
[Corvette Sandy] Where are they available?
Fito de la Parra On our website: www.cannedheatmusic.com and of course, some distributors. The records are from different companies, so people would have to find re-issues and order them. If they want rare or original recordings, our website would be the best place.
[Corvette Sandy] How did you get started?
Fito de la Parra I was a young kid with a lot of feeling and desire to play music, growing up with youngsters much like or very similar to how kids grow up in America. I was from an upper-middle class family that was very Americanized to start with. We all got those records from Elvis Presley and Bill Hailey [when they] came to Mexico, [and] Jerry Lee Lewis and all the pioneers of rock n’ roll. My parents took me to see them, and I got infected with the wonderful American music when I was very young.
[Corvette Sandy] Did you ever dream that you would play at Woodstock?
Fito de la Parra NO! I didn’t even want to go when Woodstock happened! They practically dragged me out of the room, because I was very tired and I didn’t want to play the following day. My manager knew that it was a huge event, so they forced me to play by dragging me out of bed. I quit the band that day, before they managed to wake me up fully. Then, when I was in the helicopter flying over the festival, I saw the estimated half-million people and it was an amazing experience! Then I woke up and was glad that I was there!
[Corvette Sandy] How did that event affect your life afterwards?
Fito de la Parra Well, the band was already very popular and we could have been just as popular without appearing at Woodstock. Woodstock is just one of our many accomplishments. By the time Woodstock happened, we had scored two number one worldwide hit records. “Let’s Work Together” came a little later. So in many ways, Woodstock helped the band’s career, but it also identified us with that era and we don’t want to be a nostalgia act. We like to do new things and continue the challenge of bringing different music to the stage every time we play.
[Corvette Sandy] What happened to your lead singer? (The Bear)
Fito de la Parra Well, with this kind of question I would like you all to read my book, because I have detailed all of the history of the band there. It is called “Living The Blues” and it is available on our website or at www.amazon.com. The Bear (Bob Hite) died of an overdose, stemming from depression, desperation, and a bad marriage. It was also a time when the band was not popular, nor desirable, because of the disco times and people were into plastic things. Live blues bands with people who had long hair and beards were totally out. For Bob Hite, that was devastating, because he really found himself in being “The Bear.” He couldn’t face becoming somebody else and that is what really killed him. He used the drugs as a vehicle, but he was already dead with disappointment.
[Corvette Sandy] I notice that you hold your drumsticks correctly. Did you have lessons?
Fito de la Parra I never took any real music lessons. The person who sold me my first snare drum told me how to hold the sticks. My first and only music lesson came when I went to see this local jazz drummer, whom I really respected. I asked him to teach me how to read, because I wanted to understand the value of the notes. He didn’t want to have anything do with some pimple-faced kid with drumsticks, so he grabs a piece of paper and tears it in two and says, “this is two halves,” then “and this is four quarters” and again “eighths” and again “sixteenths.” Now don’t bother me anymore! It was simple for me to understand, so whenever you want to teach somebody to play, just tear up a piece of paper! My first drum was a military snare drum, so I used to hold the sticks like military drum players and that is the proper way to develop technique.
[Corvette Sandy] Is it easier for you being a left-handed drummer?
Fito de la Parra I don’t think so; it’s actually harder. When I sit in or jam with somebody, I have to change everything around, or play left-handed on a right-handed kit. I wish I had learned right-handed just to be able to sit-in with any band and not have a problem. Every time I sit in, I feel embarrassed that I have to move the drums and all, so I just avoid sitting in with anybody. It’s true.
[Corvette Sandy] What is on the horizon for the band?
Fito de la Parra We travel a lot. I’ve been to Europe 104 times in my career. When we go over this January, we’ll visit the Czech Republic and then we go to Germany, France and Scandinavia in the spring of 2005. We have a DVD coming out soon called, “Boogie With Canned Heat.” Perhaps it will be shown on VH1 and it tells the whole history of the band. I do the narrating with our manager, and it contains lots of old footage.
[Corvette Sandy] Can people find that on your website as well?
Fito de la Parra When it is released soon.
Canned Heat remains active and has a new CD out entitled Friends in the Can. The current lineup features Greg Kage on bass; Don Preston, guitar; Stanley Behrens, sax, harmonica, flute and vocals; Dallas Hodge, guitar and vocals, and Fito De La Parra, drums. You can read more about the extensive history of this band in Fito’s book, “Living The Blues,” which available on their website.
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