Canned Heat Says They Got Left Behind by GEICO’s ‘Going Up the Country’ Ad
It's hard to escape the series of GEICO motorcycle insurance commercials that feature Canned Heat's "Going Up the Country." The blues-rock band released the hippie anthem in 1968, and it reached No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart a year later. While the TV ads run constantly, drummer Adolfo "Fito" de la Parra says the band hasn't received performance royalties for the song's use.
"They keep playing it over and over again," says de la Parra. "The problem is that we have not received a penny from it and that's what really bothers me whenever I see the commercial." The trouble, says de la Parra, started in 1967, shortly before he joined the band. Canned Heat traveled to Denver for a gig at the Family Dog, an extension of promoter Chet Helms' San Francisco dance hall.
"The police in Denver sent this guy, this stool pigeon who was a friend of [singer] Bob Hite from the past," says de la Parra. "Bob grew up in Denver as part of his youth. And this guy came to the hotel to visit him and brought a few joints. And actually planted the joints in the chair of Bob's hotel room.
"And then he left. And a few minutes after he left the cops walked in. That guy brought the grass and left some of it there and that's when the police came in and they got busted."
University of Denver professor Scott Montgomery is working on a documentary, The Tale of the Dog, about the Denver club. "The police’s version is they got a tip from an informant and they went to the band’s hotel, where they found marijuana and hauled them off to jail,” Montgomery told Westword.
Unable to raise bail, Canned Heat manager Skip Taylor traveled to Los Angeles to meet Al Bennett, president of the band's label, Liberty Records.
"At the time of the Denver bust, the only asset that Canned Heat had was half of its publishing, which at the time was virtually worthless," says Taylor. "Al Bennett agreed to buy that half for $10,000, which enabled us to have bail money and payment of an attorney to represent us and get us all off.
"In the early '70s, our records weren't selling and we were in debt to Liberty to the tune of about $65,000. They didn't even want to give us another advance to make another record. Meanwhile, I was in negotiations with Jerry Wexler at Atlantic and they agreed to give us a $100,000 advance to make a new record with a great marketing campaign.
"Liberty agreed to give Canned Heat a release from their contract and waive the $65,000 debt in return for any future royalties. This agreement was based on the sale of LPs and cassettes. No one knew that the CD would come along in a couple of years or that the entire Canned Heat catalog would be reissued, sell like mad, and be used in commercials and movies 50 years down the road, as is now the case!"
"Going Up the Country" was written and sung by Alan Wilson. The song is based on 1928's "Bull Doze Blues" by Henry Thomas. Al Bennett died in 1989. The Liberty Records catalog is now owned by the Universal Music Group. Ultimate Classic Rock reached out to GEICO, the Martin Agency and Universal Music for comment on this story, and have yet to receive a response.
Taylor says that the band is now filing legal documents with all entities involved to regain its publishing and performance royalties along with ownership of the original master recordings.
"These are the type of mistakes that will haunt us for the rest of our lives," says de la Parra. "And many other bands have similar stories as ours. The amazing thing is that of all places, Colorado was the first state to legalize marijuana.
"And the damage they caused in our lives, I believe the city owes us an apology. At least an apology."