This popular, but ill-fated, blues/rock band was formed in 1965 by two Los Angeles-based blues aficionados: Alan Wilson (b. 4 July 1943, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, d. 3 September 1970, USA; vocals, harmonica, guitar) and Bob 'The Bear' Hite (b. 26 February 1943, Torrance, California, USA, d. 5 April 1981, Paris, France; vocals). Wilson, nicknamed 'Blind Owl' in deference to his thick-lens spectacles, was already renowned for his distinctive harmonica work and had accompanied Son House on the veteran bluesman's post-'redis-covery' album, Father Of Folk Blues. Wilson's obsession with the blues enabled him to build up a massive archive blues collection by his early 20s. The duo was joined by Frank Cook (drums) and Henry Vestine (b. 25 December 1944, Washington, DC, USA, d. December 1997, Paris, France; guitar), a former member of the Mothers Of Invention. They took the name Canned Heat from a 1928 recording by Tommy Johnson and employed several bass players prior to the arrival of Larry Taylor, an experienced session musician who had worked with Jerry Lee Lewis and the Monkees.
Canned Heat's debut album was promising rather than inspired, offering diligent readings of such 12-bar standards as 'Rollin' And Tumblin", 'Dust My Broom' and 'Bullfrog Blues'. However, the arrival of new drummer Alfredo Fito (b. Adolfo de la Parra, 8 February 1946, Mexico City, Mexico) coincided with a new-found confidence, displayed almost immediately on Boogie With Canned Heat. This impressive selection introduced the extended 'Fried Hookey Boogie', a piece destined to become an in-concert favourite, and the hypnotic remake of Jim Oden's 'On The Road Again', which gave the band a UK Top 10 and US Top 20 hit single in 1968. Wilson's distinctive frail, high voice, sitar-like guitar introduction and accompanying harmonica have made this version a classic. A double set, Livin' The Blues, includes an enthralling version of Charley Patton's 'Pony Blues' and a 19-minute tour de force, 'Parthenogenesis', which captures the quintet at their most experimental. However, it was Wilson's adaptation of a Henry Thomas song, 'Bulldoze Blues', that proved most popular. The singer retained the tune of the original, rewrote the lyric and emerged with 'Goin' Up The Country', whose simple message caught the prevalent back-to-nature attitude of the late 60s. This evocative performance charted in the US and UK Top 20, and was one of the highlights of the successful Woodstock movie.
Between 1969 and 1970 Canned Heat recorded four more albums, including a spirited collaboration with blues boogie mentor John Lee Hooker, and a fascinating documentary of their 1970 European tour. Hallelujah boasted one of artist George Hunter's finest album covers. Future Blues marked the arrival of guitarist Harvey Mandel, replacing Vestine, who could no longer tolerate working with Taylor. The reshaped band enjoyed two further UK hits with a cover version of Wilbert Harrison's 'Let's Work Together', which reached number 2, and the Cajun-inspired 'Sugar Bee', but they were then shattered by the suicide of Wilson, whose body was found in Hite's backyard on 3 September 1970. His death sparked a major reconstruction within the band: Taylor and Mandel left to join John Mayall, the former's departure prompting Vestine's return, while Antonio De La Barreda became Canned Heat's new bass player. The new quartet completed Historical Figures & Ancient Heads, before Hite's brother Richard Hite (b. 1951, d. 17 September 2001) replaced Barreda for the band's 1973 release, The New Age. The changes continued throughout the decade, undermining the band's strength of purpose. Bob Hite, the sole remaining original member, attempted to keep the band afloat, but was unable to secure a permanent recording contract. Spirits lifted with the release of Human Condition, but the years of struggle had taken their toll. On 5 April 1981, following a gig at the Palomino Club, the gargantuan vocalist collapsed and died of a heart attack. Despite the loss of many key members, the Canned Heat name has survived. Inheritors Larry Taylor and Fito de la Parra completed 1989's Reheated album with two new members, James Thornbury (vocals) and Junior Watson (b. Michael Watson, California, USA; guitar). They now pursue the lucrative nostalgia circuit with various former members coming and going as their health allows. Vestine died in 1997, and Taylor now has a heart condition. Greg Kage (bass) and Robert Lucas (vocals) joined de la Parra and Taylor on 1999's Boogie 2000. Later line-ups included Dallas Hodge, John Paulus and Stanley Behrens.
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