Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
ROCK N BLUES FEST
Canned Heat, Pat Travers, Rick Derringer, Edgar Winter, Ten Years After
August 8, 2013
Arcada Theater, St. Charles, IL
By Linda Cain
Photos: Dianne Bruce Dunklau
“The blues had a baby and they named the baby rock and roll.” – Muddy Waters
Canned Heat, Pat Travers, Rick Derringer, Edgar Winter, Ten Years After. What a lineup! No matter your age or taste in music, who doesn’t know at least one song by each of these artists?
These iconic rock stars/bands have carved out a solid piece of rock ‘n’ roll history and will forever be featured on classic rock radio; they will be discovered by new generations of rock fans through the ages. In fact two of the bands, Canned Heat and Ten Years After, performed at Woodstock and have current members who were there playing for the peace and love generation in 1969.
Another fact: all of these artists were influenced by blues music. Canned Heat has always remained a blues boogie band with forays into jazzy psychedelic instrumentals courtesy of guitarist Harvey Mandel. The other four bands have all recorded at least one blues album throughout their long, storied careers.
So naturally, the inquiring minds at Chicago Blues Guide were curious to see how much of their respective blues roots would be showing during this special concert. Read on…
You would have expected to see an all-star show like this booked into a large sports arena. Surprisingly, the Rock n Blues Fest was held in a 900 seat gem of a theater in the quaint river town of St. Charles in the western suburbs. Thanks to promoter Ron Onesti, the historic 1926 theater has been restored to its former glory from the vaudeville era. For a nostalgic touch, a veteran keyboardist entertained the folks as they took their seats by playing the theater’s fully functioning, majestic pipe organ. Rumor has it that the Arcada is home to a top-hatted ghost!
The Rock n Blues Fest began at 7 p.m. and ended at 10:30 p.m. Each act played for about 30 minutes, give or take a few, which gave them just enough time to perform their greatest hits, along with some improvisation. The time between sets was brief, thanks to the sharing of equipment and back up musicians (more on that later). It would have been nice to hear longer sets by these famous artists, but it was a weekday and some folks had to get up early in the morning.
Canned Heat has survived a number of personnel changes since it began in the early ‘60s in Southern California. Founding members Bob “The Bear” Hite (falsetto vocals) and Al “Blind Owl” Wilson (guitar/harmonica) passed away long ago, but Fito de la Parra has kept the band going for over 40 years in one form or another.
Today the band is comprised of drummer de la Parra, guitarist Harvey Mandel, and multi-instrumentalists Larry Taylor (bass, guitar) and Dale Spalding (vocals, bass, harp). Mandel, Taylor and de la Parra all performed at Woodstock. Canned Heat plays in ensemble style, with each member taking turns, and no singular front person.
The band opened with “On The Road Again,” sung by de la Parra, featuring a soaring harp solo by Spalding that echoed off the arched walls of the Arcada. Mandel’s “Midnight Sun” was an instrumental excursion into jazzy psychedelic sounds. When the innovative guitarist tapped his fingers about the neck, the crowd cheered its approval. It’s an innovation that Mandel pretty much invented in the ‘60s, a technique that has been copied by countless guitarists through the decades.
It was back to the blues with “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” as Dale Spalding took a turn on the bass and lead vocals, while Larry Taylor and Harvey Mandel played a fierce blues duet on guitars
“Going Up the Country,” was introduced with a joke about avoiding the brown acid at Woodstock then, and taking arthritis medicine now. De la Parra sang the famous cheerful tune, Spalding blew harp and the crowd cheered and clapped along. The final number, “Let’s Work Together,” featured Larry Taylor playing slide guitar and Harvey Mandel soloing, too. The fans cheered and shouted for more, but Canned Heat politely stood and bowed before they exited.
A guitarist as skilled as Pat Travers can surely play any style of music he chooses, and knock it out of the park. Over his career, which has spanned five decades, the former Canadian has performed heavy metal, blues rock and hard rock. For his half-hour set, he gave us a taste of each style.
Travers opened with a loud, bombastic, in your face, arena rock number, backed by a second guitarist, bassist and drummer who collectively pummeled away. A fan gently blew back Travers hair as if he was in a fashion spread.
The band switched gears for a new tune, “Diamond Girl,” a love song from Travers’ just released CD, Can Do. Thanks to his still snarling vocals, Travers knows how to make a even romantic tune sound rockin’ instead of sappy.
For the third number, Travers switched from his black Les Paul to a red guitar and placed a slide on his finger, as skilled guitarist Kirk McKim from Texas, performed a solo, playing a flurry of rapid-fire notes and then sending one long, string bending note into wailing. Travers took over for a fitting homage to the man who influenced him to play guitar at age 12: Jimi Hendrix. Travers’ haunting rendition of blues rock classic “Red House” featured his mesmerizing slide playing that sent collective chills up the audience’s spines. The crowd roared its approval and Travers responded: “Thank you. That was nothing but fun. I could do that all night long!” Now that would be a blues show worth seeing.
It was back to the black Les Paul for his 1980 hit “Snortin’ Whiskey,” a raucous anthem that drew a standing ovation. The band kept up the pace with a high speed boogie into the final song and his biggest hit, “Boom, Boom, Out Go The Lights,” on which Travers asked the audience to sing along. They gladly obliged and gave Travers another standing ovation (One wonders what the late great blues harp player Little Walter would have thought about this version of his song).
At age 66, Rick Derringer still maintains his boyish charm and immense guitar skills. Backed by the same house rhythm section as Travers -- the devastating engine room of bassist Koko Powell and drummer Jason Carpenter -- the diminutive guitar slinger opened with “So Sad.” He was joined on guitar by Doug Rappaport who got to play some killer solos, too. As Derringer closed “So Sad” with a note-scaling solo, a fog machine and rotating stage lights kicked in for a cool special effect.
The band segued into the rockin’ “Still Alive And Well” to which Derringer sang very different lyrics from his original version and Johnny Winter’s, too. Reflecting his alter ego as a Christian rocker, Derringer inserted religious lyrics, letting us know that Jesus is “Still Alive And Well.”
Derringer reminisced about his first band from his native Ohio, The McCoys, and their monster hit from 1965, “Hang On Sloopy,” which went to Number One, trumping The Beatles’ “Yesterday” which held the Number 2 slot of the Top 40 charts. The entire band sang along for a four-part harmony as they played the nostalgic, poppy song, and asked the audience to sing along too. Derringer even treated us to a lyric that was dropped from the recorded version of the song, about Sloopy’s sexy red dress.
He closed the set with the song that we all were waiting for: “Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo.” Derringer went all out to perform an extended version on which he played a myriad of styles and effects on his guitar. His fingers flew all up and down the frets, he tapped the guitar’s neck, and stomped on the pedals, creating a wall of sound, while the band dropped out. Of course, he received a standing ovation as the crowd cheered for more. Lawdy, mama, indeed!
To say that Edgar Winter is a musical genius would not be a stretch. After all, the multi-instrumentalist has been performing professionally since childhood, when he and brother Johnny Winter were a duet. Today, at age 66, Edgar is as robust as poor Johnny is frail. And Edgar continues to perform his trailblazing music that defies genres with gusto.
For his set, Edgar only played three numbers: “Tobacco Road,” “Frankenstein” and “Free Ride”. They were very LONG versions of the songs that featured much improvisation. Winter was a man in constant motion with his long white hair flowing, as he strapped on his giant keyboard/synthesizer and moved all about the stage. Sometimes he stopped moving long enough to kneel down and rest the keyboard on the front of the stage, with the keys facing out, his giant fingers flying, which certainly was a thrill for those in the first row.
When he wasn’t on keyboards, Edgar picked up his saxophone and duetted with Rappaport on guitar. Or he waved his arms about, conducting his band. Edgar also used his voice as an instrument and took turns going up to each band member to scat-sing a cascade of notes, which of course the guitarist, bassist and drummer had to try and play back for him. Edgar’s vocal impersonation of drum rolls and cymbal crashes was especially mind blowing! Each band member got his turn to shine and earn huge cheers from the fans.
For “Frankenstein,” a song which prompted him to invent the strap-on keyboard synthesizer so he could move about while playing, Edgar played keyboards, saxophone and drums, continually running all over the stage for each segment of the monstrous (pardon the pun) progressive rock instrumental. Naturally he brought they house down.
And he managed to follow up with a grand finish, by inviting former band mate Rick Derringer back out for “Free Ride.” This got everybody on their feet clapping and dancing as the band’s collective voices soared on the harmonies. Guitarist Doug and bassist Koko hopped and danced all over the stage to add to the festive spirit.
Ten Years After
With the recent tragic passing of guitarist/singer/songwriter Alvin Lee in March of this year at age 68, this set by his former band was especially poignant and inspired. Consisting of three original members who all played at Woodstock with Lee, today’s Ten Years After includes: Leo Lyons on bass, drummer Ric Lee and keyboardist Chick Churchill. Young guitarist/vocalist Joe Gooch joined in 2003.
Ten Years After cranked up the volume for the first number; it was way too loud to understand the lyrics Gooch was singing. They were definitely the loudest act of the night as the mighty rhythm section shook the rafters with Lyons' and Lee’s high speed blues boogie beat. It was difficult to hear Churchill’s keyboards, but glimmers of his sparkling sound on the 88s still shined through the din.
For the second song, “King of the Blues,” Gooch’s vocals were thankfully more audible on this John Lee Hooker riffed song about a Chicago blues hero who has paid his dues.
Bassist Lyons dedicated the next song to Alvin Lee. He and the band were clearly still in mourning and the bass player expressed his shock and sorrow at losing their dear friend. The opening notes of the band’s classic hit from 1971, “I’d Love To Change The World,” drew cheers of recognition. Gooch’s intricate and mesmerizing guitar solo, which built to a crescendo at the end, was awarded with a standing ovation.
“Love Like A Man” featured a dynamic duet between bassist and guitarist. Lyons’ solo was incredibly muscular as the bassist pounded his instrument, shaking it as he moved about the stage while the fans went nuts! As the guitar players had the floor, Churchill stood up from his keyboards and walked about, chewing gum and looking bored. Maybe he was used to seeing this over the past five decades, but it was a thrill for the audience!
The thrills kept coming as the band reprised the song from Woodstock that made them superstars: “I’m Going Home” with its medley of 1950s rock’n’roll hits: “Baby Please Don’t Go,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog,” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’”.
Churchill beckoned the crowd to stand and clap and we gladly obliged. The fans continued standing for the hip-shakin’ finale “Choo Choo Mama” on which Churchill got his turn in the spotlight with an inspired solo.
The Rock n Blues Fest ended promptly at 10:30 p.m. with the house lights turned on. The audience happily went out into the summer night, having been thoroughly rocked by an incredible group of veterans who are all “Still Alive And Well.”