ALTHOUGH ROCK music has travelled down a dozen different paths and undergone a hundred different changes it had always carried with it the birthmark of '50s rock and roll. Born in a burst of post-war energy, rock music periodically returns to its roots for reassurance and rejuventation. The greatly admired fathers of rock and roll--Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Bo Diddley, Bill Haley and the Comets--continue to live on in just about every live rock performance. It's as though every group feels a need to pay homage to the originators. The Stone's always include one or two Chuck Berry numbers in their concerts, Jimi Hendrix always liked to play "Johnny B. Goode" and even at the Concert for Bangladesh the band gave a rendition of the '50s rocker "Youngblood." Sha Na Na attempts to create '50s rock both physically and musically.
The next logical progression after Sha Na Na's elaborate parodies of the old greats was for the musicians of the "70s to join forces with their idols of the '50s. It was no surprise, then, when several of the Rolling Stones showed up at a recent Chuck Berry concert to jam with the master.
The group that has pioneered and is presently leading the way in these unions between "fathers and sons" is Canned Heat, best known for the influence in reving the boogie, a rock form that involves the endless repetition of a fast and short musical phrase. The boogie was almost lost in the mass of rock influences until Canned Heat revived it in their 1968 single "On the Road Again". "Boogie Music." The single brought boogie back into vogue and gave the group a measure of fame they had been unable to attain as a blues band.
Canned Heat derived their boogies from an old blues and rock musician, John Lee Hooker. In 1971 Canned Heat joined up with Hooker for a two album set of boogie, entitled Hooker and Heat The album was good but a bit tiresome (after all, how much boogie can a person take?). On their latest album, Historical Figures and Ancient Heads, Canned Heat joins up with yet another father of rock and roll, Little Richard.
LITTLE RICHARD, or "The King of Rock and Roll" as he likes to call himself, appears at the height of his form on the song "Rockin' With the King" Sounding much like at the other Little Richard song with a piano banging at high speed, and a drum best that just won't quit "Rockin" With the King" could be as archetypal early rock song. It's easy to imagine Little Richard swinging his processed hair in the air, and wiggling his gaudily glad body as he screams out "Oh sock it to me."
Unfortunately Little Richard appears only once on the album. The rest of the record is divided between what seems to be an attempt by Canned Heat to return to its blues root, and several jazz and rock numbers. Canned Heat has always been one of the best white blues bands, so the inclusion of their version's of "That's All Right" and "Sneakin' Around" is another strength of the album.
The album's faults lie mainly with Canned Heat's original material. Their own compositions are not nearly the equals of their versions of other's songs though their high lever of musicianship makes ever the worst song tolerable, Judging by the recorded efforts to date, the return to the "50s has strengthened rock and roll--it's given a lot of aimless musicians someplace to go. The roots of rock have always been strong: they are a reassuring retreat in a relatively uncreative period of rock and roll.