Wilbert Harrison – Let’s Work Together Pt1

Example

Mr. Wilbert Harrison

Example

Listen – Let’s Work Together MP3″

In which Canned Heat is unexpectedly/indirectly thrust upon the readers, who will thank me later…

Hi there kids.
It’s almost Wednesday (the most awkwardly spelled day of the week), which means the work week is almost half over (uh, huh…) which means…well I don’t know that it means anything at all, but let’s use this opportunity to get together and work something out.
Back a week or two ago, when I was selecting 45s to be featured in this space, I pulled out my timeworn copy of Wilbert Harrison’s ‘Let’s Work Together’, cracked a smile and tossed it on the “to be blogged” pile.
While there’s no argument that Mr. Harrison is worthy of your attention (if only for ‘Kansas City’, and that’s a big one), I knew this tune for years (many…many years) before I had any idea that it was one of his (songs that is..).
If you are of a certain vintage, the tune ‘Let’s Work Together’ brings to mind a specific set of sense memories and images, among them mud, hippies in mud, naked hippies in mud, dancing naked hippies in mud, and a pack of smiling, disheveled record collectors doing the amphetamine boogie on a rickety stage.
Are you with me?
The record collectors I speak of were none other than Bob Hite and Alan Wilson of Canned Heat.
That’s right.
Canned Heat.
You can say that time has not been kind to Canned Heat, but to deny that they loom large in the zeitgeist-geist (I just made that one up, but I think you can see where I’m coming from) that lingers amongst the flotsam and jetsam of the Love Generation.
As demonstrated by the appalling presence of Dennis Hopper in a series of financial planning advertisements, the 60’s are by and large no longer something real that the majority of the world experienced firsthand, but rather a random stew of film clips, song snippets and frayed slogans that are often stapled together to suggest the flavor of an era, then used to sell stuff.
When a documentary starts with a phrase like “The 60’s were a turbulent time!” (cue Homer SimpsonHmmmmmm..turrrrbulent…”) you can be sure that the opening strains of Jimi Hendrix playing ‘All Along the Watchtower’ or the Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Somebody to Love’ aren’t far behind. Tunes like that have become a kind of shorthand, meant to conjure up oceans of raised fists, protest signs, shots of helicopters in Vietnam and pictures of Nixon covered in a liars flopsweat.
On the other side of that coin, immortalized by the very same code is the sweaty, hippified ghost of Canned Heat.
If the beginning flute solo of ‘Going Up the Country’, or the drone of ‘On the Road Again’ don’t cause images of psychedelically painted schoolbuses driving past hundred of thousands of blissed out festival-goers, then you need to realign yourself with the mass consciousness brother because you have not been paying attention.
This is both a good and a bad thing.
On the good side, it means that as long as people are alive to do lip service to the world of the 1960’s, Canned Heat will have a kind of immortality.
On the bad side, it means that Canned Heat will have the kind of immortality in which they are reduced to a 10 second audio footnote.
This makes me sad, because – believe it or not – Canned Heat was one of the cooler bands of their era.
Here’s why….
A. The band was led by two hardcore record collectors (the aforementioned Messrs Hite and Wilson) who were part of the wave of blues fanatics that spent a great deal of their otherwise misspent youths canvassing old neighborhoods, attics and junk shops for blues 78s. I’ll understand if you don’t think this qualifies them as cool, but I’d hope you’d understand why I think it does….
B. They played the blues with the evangelical fervor of true fans, but never (thanks to Hite) seemed to take themselves too seriously, other than wanting to get out on stage and whip a little Elmore James on the kids in a tasty, bottleneck stylee
C. They were a truly weird looking bunch, in a (real) way that bands just can’t be (weird looking) anymore
D. Bob Hite was largely (no pun intended) responsible for getting Albert Collins a major label record deal

In 1970, just before Al Wilson died, they went into the studio and laid down one of their finest records, a cover of Wilbert Harrison’s ‘Let’s Work Together’. The cool thing was, that this wasn’t a reworking of a 40 year old blues chestnut, but a cover of tune that Harrison had hit the charts with in 1969!
Featuring a set of lyrics that seem to have been an attempt to tap into the peace, love and brotherhood vibe of the era (and an admirable sentiment in the face of riots, war etc.), Harrison’s recording – which we feature today – had a rough and ready vibe with some truly inspired harmonica abuse, and a great vocal by the man. While Canned Heat may have turned up the electricity a couple of dozen notches, roughing the song up a little – and God bless ‘em for it – they didn’t really deviate from Harrison’s blueprint all that much. That they were speaking the same essential language – constructing a sound from a later iteration of the same building blocks – is undeniable, and comforting.
I’m a huge blues fan, listening to everything from early songsters like Henry Thomas (from whom the Canned Heat boys borrowed the structure for ‘Going Up the Country’), up through Delta giants like Son House (on who’s 1960’s recordings Alan Wilson played) and on into the electric blues of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, but I’ve never had much use for anything crafted after that last decade.
I’m 100% positive that there were lots of great blues musicians, band and records from the early 70’s on, but to me there always seemed to me that something essential was missing. Whether this was in fact true, and blues music as a whole lost something after it was commodified for ingestion by rock audiences – a process that began with the British Invasion and locked in around the time that the audience for the blues became predominantly Caucasian- or I’m just locked inside a sentimental attachment to the “authenticity” of another time (which is entirely possible), when I listen to a band like Canned Heat (and take the step back to hear Wilbert Harrison) there’s a real sense of joy there (not at all ironic in the blues, despite what some folks might tell you) that just doesn’t seem to pop up on the radar later on.
Either way, dig the Wilbert, and if you aren’t hip to the Heat, pop on down to your local CD warehouse and grab the standard 10 dollar Best of Canned Heat (or however it’s being repackaged these days) and dig on that.
Then go play in the mud with a big smile on your face.
Peace
Larry

Buy – Wilbert Harrison ‘Let’s Work Together’ – at Amazon.com

PS I’ve been digging the hell out of the latest Amy Winehouse album, and was going to write something along those lines, but the folks over at the Captains Crate blog did it first, and quite well. Check out the post, and get yourself a copy of the CD.

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21 Responses to “Wilbert Harrison – Let’s Work Together Pt1”

  1. bbb Says:

    thanks for Canned Heat

  2. chuck Says:

    I totally agree about Canned Heat being one of the cooler bands of the late 60s, and one whose name too often escapes much of a mention when legendary rock bands are discussed, but they are imo.

    Thanks for posting this, as I had somehow missed the Wilbert Harrison original, and am sure that was rectified this morning.

    Just an aside, since I’m reading you dig deep blues, if you get a moment checkout the Henry Qualls (an old cat I desovered in Elmo, Tx) studio footage from about a dozen or so yrs ago.

    Keep them corners funky!

  3. Bobster Says:

    Hello,

    I was trying to find a song along the lines of Kansas City with the lyric/Title I’m Broke. I thought It Was Wilbert Harrison, apparently not….. Any ideas what it is

  4. djack Says:

    “Let’s Work Together” is actually a re-working of an early 60′s Wilbert harrison record called “Let’s Stick Together.” The earlier tune was about a husband and wife, as in “we amy ahve out roubles but let’s stick together for the kids’ sake.” Wilbert didn’t have to change much to make it a more broad, late 60′s message song.

    “Let’s Stick Together” was covered by Bryan Ferry.

    I know what you mean about post-60′s blues, and a lot of other music for that matter. Hound Dog Taylor and Fenton Robinson are just two of the first names that come to mind that might help one dig the seventies a little more.

    Love your blog, your writing, your attitude, and of course, the songs.

    Thank you very much.

  5. 60's Relic Says:

    All Heat fanboys need to know Fito has released a band documentary. The title escapes me right now,but it’s the same as the book.
    DFTB (Don’t Forget…)

  6. funky16corners Says:

    Djack
    Thanks. Glad you’re digging the blog.
    I’d love to hear that Bryan Ferry cover!?!?
    I love Hound Dog Taylor, but haven’t heard Fenton Robinson (I’ll have to check him out).
    Larry

  7. Vincent Says:

    I am a Canned Heat freak too, suffice it to say. I really dig Larry Taylor’s bass playing, which is really up to par on John Mayall’s “Jazz Blues Fusion”. That’s a must have 70′s blues record. It also features great trumpet work by Blue Mitchell and Freddie Robinson just knocks me out with those guitar chops. If you haven’t already indulged, you should. You’ll be glad you did. Jimmy Dawkins is also a good example of some fine 70s blues as well. I’ll post a mix of some of my faves real soon…

  8. red kelly Says:

    You are preaching to the choir, my brother!

    When I was in ninth grade I bought the first Canned Heat album… the one with ‘bullfrog blues’ and ‘dust my broom’ on it. It changed my life, man. While Butterfield and them got all the press, these guys were the real deal.

    When Bob ‘The Bear’ Hite died, his Blues 78 collection included 10,000 DOUBLES (records he already had, but figured he’d better pick up anyway….). He, in many ways, was the original character that Belushi based ‘joliet Jake’ on.

    I’ve always wondered what ever became of those records… thanks, man!

    PS: “Let’s Stick Together” is on the Fire/Fury records Story box set, which is out of print, but can still be had used at like Amazon…

  9. Jeff Says:

    One of my favorite tunes since Canned Heat did it, and delighted to hear the original. Thanks!

  10. hislordlylordship Says:

    Coupla things: One, for insane 78 rpm record hunting check out the compilation Down in the Basement: Joe Bussard’s Treasure Trove of Vintage 78s 1926-1937 (Old Hat, 2002) within which Mr Bussard details a story about how Canned Heat turned up at his house in a Rolls Royce after some gigs in Myersville, Maryland. They went through his collection of duplicates and gave him $9000 in cash for them! With that money Joe Bussard bought a swimming pool. There’s a lot of good record hunting stories in the book that comes with the CD as well as some quality old school flavours on the disc itself.
    Two, err, keep on keepin on Larry!

  11. Merkin Muffley Says:

    Larry,

    Right on to your tribute to canned heat. They took the blues and did their own thing with it, which like it or not, was authentic.

    And props to your nod to Amy Winehouse. OMG, she makes me feel like this music still has some appeal across generational lines, and she really gets it (and has vocal chops and sophistication from god knows where). She talks like a cockney and sings like Etta James!

    Hey, on the blue eyed soul tip, I have been reading on Jon and Lee and The Checkmates. Can you post their single?

    MM

  12. Dan Says:

    The Harrison and the Canned Heat were too much! My high school days were spent listening to these bands, and my local radio DJs played them a lot. Back then I never realized how influential they’d be on my own musical tastes, and on music generally. Of course, that was back when “radio personalities” were actual DJs, who could program their own shows. No wonder CD sales are slumping, and people are turning to alternative sources, like this blog, for music. Thanks so much! And this comes from one of those old DJs who used to program his whole show.

  13. Am I Blue? A Fufu Stew Blues Fix « Fufu Stew Says:

    [...] next week, and most important, I will indeed complete this post. This mix was instigated by reading Larry’s post from Wednesday where he expresses his love for Canned Heat. I’m hearing you, Larry. This one’s for [...]

  14. Chapomatic » Back To Black Says:

    [...] Funky 16 Corners, a review of the latest record by Amy [...]

  15. Chap Says:

    You’re right about Winehouse, man–”Me And Mr. Jones” and “Rehab” have been glued into my CD player this week…

  16. Rebecca Davis Winters Says:

    Check out the Blind Owl tribute page at http://myspace.com/blindowlwilson … and look for the Alan Wilson biography coming in summer 2007!

  17. Wilbert Harrison - Get It While You Can « Flea Market Funk Says:

    [...] infinite others), Harrison would move from label to label, to finally make a comeback in 1969 with “Let’s Stick Together”, reviewed by Funky 16 some time back. This proved to be Harrison’s last hurrah, but he still toured well into the 80’s. [...]

  18. Come And Get It... Fufu Stew No. 5: Pot Luck « Fufu Stew Says:

    [...] 04 I’m A Man-The Yardbirds. See track one… 05 Fried Hockey Boogie-Canned Heat. Hey Larry! 06 Sweetback-Ivan Boogaloo Joe Jones. Oh, what a funky slice of Acid Jazz… The guitar chops [...]

  19. peppy Says:

    hello there just found this blog and man its the best i have ever found i just comment on the wilbert harrison track lets work together you state that canned heat covered it well do you also realise that roxy music reworked this tune it was called lets stick together have you ever heard it

    regards peppy

  20. No Name Says:

    Excellent choices. Much enjoyed.

  21. Mike Atherton Says:

    Bobster, the Wilbert harrison song ‘I’m Broke’ which you’re looking for was issued in 1962 on Doc 1001, from Salem, Virginia. I have it on UK Island WI-031 which may be an easier issue to find.

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