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Byron Shire
March 9, 2021

Blues in the Can

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Canned Heat at the Blues Fest

Blues rock band Canned Heat has more lineup changes than most. With more than 40 lineup changes over the years, one thing is for sure: it doesn’t really mean who’s lining up. With Skip Taylor calling the shots, you can be assured that hard-luck blues is coming your way.

Skip Taylor has pretty well managed the band since the beginning – 51 years in fact. He’s 75 and going strong. His story is the stuff of music history.

‘Well I had started the rock’n’roll department at the William Morris Agency in Beverly Hills, which was the biggest booking agency in the world; it’s still one of the biggest. And a friend of mine who was head of the film school at UCLA, at the University in Westwood, California, right near my office, suggested I come to the campus and see two bands that were playing at a fraternity that night. One was called The Doors and one was called Canned Heat. And so I got to see these guys in their infancy and had them all in my office the next day and signed them both for representation and made record deals for The Doors and for Canned Heat.

And eventually when I was done with the William Morris office and went out on my own I wound up managing Canned Heat along with my partner John Hartman, whose brother was Phil Hartman from Saturday Night Live fame. And John wound up managing America and a couple other people including Neil Young. And we both handled Buffalo Springfield and Chad and Jeremy and had a lot of the big bands of the late sixties early seventies.’

Skip knows the music business. ‘It’s music,’ he says and ‘business’.

‘Unless you have those two things together in good proportions you don’t have success and you can’t make a living at it. And you have to decide is this something of a hobby or do I want to make my living at it? And if so, you look at it as a giant puzzle with all these various pieces. And those pieces include your record company, the agent, the manager, the tour manager, your equipment, your roadie, your van, your travel agent, your business manager. All these pieces.

‘And as you grow you need more and more of these things having expertise and making the whole operation run smoothly so that you can use music to keep the roof over your head and to become commercially successful, which was never Canned Heat’s goal, I can tell you that. They wanted to be as big as Paul Butterfield. Get an album out and maybe a record deal and get a record in the top hundred. That would make them happy, you know? But it does take a lot of pieces of the puzzle working together and having a vision, and especially when it’s the blues, which was not the most popular music of the day and still isn’t, and you have places that you can see it at. Byron Bay, when we played the very first Byron Bay Blues Festival it was all blues acts.

‘And today the blues acts alone can’t draw enough people to make those kinds of ventures worthwhile financially or any other way. And so you’ve got most festivals that were mainly started with blues are now bikes and blues, meaning motorcycles and blues. Or blues and brews, so it’s blues and craft beers or something else that brings another element in to bring a larger audience. My hat is tipped to Peter Noble and Bluesfest because even the Blues Foundation just awarded him the lifetime blues achievement award or some nomination, an award for being one of the ones to keep the blues alive. I think that’s what the award is, keeping the blues alive.’

Canned Heat lost one of their favourite players, James T, to Australia when he moved to Australia after meeting his wife on the road. But losing great players and gaining great players is all part of the Canned Heat experience.

‘We’ve lived through that many times in Canned Heat. And Robert Lucas, and Bob Hite, you know, Alan Wilson, Henry Vestine, these guys, Jay Spell, I mean there are so many great musicians who have come through Canned Heat and are no longer with us. And rather than have the band disintegrate, Fito or I or both of us together at different times have kept it going because it is our family and it is unique. It has a very different sound from any other band. The way it’s put together, the way the songs are put together, the two guitar sounds, the harmonica, the lead vocal and one of the most fabulous rhythm sections ever, Larry and Fito, are still there putting it together and creating the base for this great music that appeals to so many people and has, fortunately, been able to expose so many people around the world to the blues.’

Canned Heat play Byron Bluesfest this Easter. For tickets and program info go to www.bluesfest.com.au.

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