The band formed in 1965 in Northbridge, California by Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson (bottleneck guitar) and Bob “The Bear” Hite (vocals). The boys were blues fanatics and started a jug band with drummer Frank Cook and they would appear at the odd gig around LA. Canned Heat were dedicated to revive the Blues and to that extent would compare favourably to John Mayall in the UK. With the addition of Henry “The Sunflower” Vestine (lead guitar and formerly of the Mothers of Invention) and Stuart Brotman, Canned Heat were finally formed. Their name came from a Tommy Johnson song entitled "Canned Heat Blues" recorded in 1928.
The group honed their craft playing in clubs around LA and perfected a mixture of country blues, modern electrification and driving boogie woogie. Canned Heat recorded their first album in 1966 which included two versions of Rollin’ and Tumblin (with and without harmonica), Willie Dixon’s Spoonful, and John Lee Hooker’s Louise. The album was produced by Johnny Otis but did not get released until 1970 under the title Vintage Heat.
The credited line up was Hite, Wilson, Cook, Vestine, and Stuart Brotman. Brotman left the band in 1966 and was replaced by Mark Andes (Spirit). Larry Taylor (Moondogs) eventually took over as bass player in 1967 when the band went under the management of Skip Taylor and John Hartmann. Canned Heat signed for Liberty Records in the same year and released the single “Rollin’ and Tumblin’" with "Bullfrog Blues" on the B side.
Later their label released their first album called Canned Heat, which was made up of re workings of old blues songs. It sold reasonably well.
Canned Heat continued to gig and appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and wowed the audience. They gained a bit of a “bad boy“ reputation with drug taking allegations and this endeared them more to their fans but did have ramifications behind the scene. Band manager Skip Taylor was forced to obtain the $10,000 bail by selling off Canned Heat's publishing rights to Liberty Records President Al Bennett when they were busted. Adolfo "Fito" de la Parra replaced Frank Cook as they were recording their second album, Boogie with Canned Heat. The album had a more R&B feel and included "On The Road Again" and "Amphetamine Annie" which was rather tongue in cheek but arguably the first “anti-drug” song of the decade.
'On the Road Again' featured Wilson’s clear vocals and exemplary harmonica and became the band's break-out song enjoying worldwide success.
Skip Taylor and John Hartmann in keeping with the old blues tradition christened the band members with nicknames: Bob "The Bear" Hite, Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson, Henry "Sunflower" Vestine (and later Harvey "The Snake" Mandel), Larry "The Mole" Taylor and Fito de la Parra. On stage ‘Heat’ was electrifying and performed blues standards as well as their own material. The popularity of the band ensured rock fans were given the full blues treatment. In 1968 they became residents at the Kaleidoscope on Sunset Boulevard east of Vine and played the first annual Newport Pop Festival. The group also toured Europe and the UK in 1968 to promote their new album "Living the Blues" (1968) which featured "Going Up The Country." The single was another enormous hit worldwide and went to #1 in 25 countries.
The next album Hallelujah (1969) was blues-based but within days of its release, Henry Vestine left the group. Harvey Mandel joined the band and they played two dates at the Fillmore before appearing at Woodstock.
"Going Up the Country" became the title track in the documentary movie directed by Michael Wadleigh (1970) and the unofficial theme song of the Festival.
In 1970 the group released Future Blues with Wilbert Harrison song "Let’s Work Together" the single.
Larry Taylor and Harvey Mandel left the band soon after to join John Mayall and Henry Vestine returned to the Heat on guitar, accompanied by bassist Antonio de la Barreda, they recorded Hooker”N Heat with John Lee Hooker. Before the album was released Alan Wilson died from a drug overdose.
Hooker’N Heat became the first album in Hooker's career to make the charts, topping out at #73 in February 1971. John Lee Hooker was a fan of Alan’s harmonica work. Joel Scott Hill, (Moby Grape) was drafted in as replacement and the group continued to tour the world. On the next album, Historical Figures and Ancient Heads was "Rockin’ with the King" which featured Bob Hite and Little Richard.
Disagreements among the band members led to unrest and eventually line-up changes just as the public’s musical tastes were changing. Canned Heat fortunes started to dwindle and by the time they signed for Atlantic most of the group were battling alcoholism and or drug dependency. Under new management attempts were made to rekindle past glories and in 1981 the album Kings of the Boogie was recorded.
During a live performance in April of that year Bob Hite collapsed and was later found dead. The group continued and had a hugely successful tour of Australia in 1982. However discord continued among band members and eventually this led to yet more line-up changes. The group has reformed over the decades and toured in Europe None of the original band from 1965 remain but three members from the band's 'classic' line-up from Woodstock do still appear, Adolfo "Fito" de la Parra, Larry "The Mole" Taylor, and Harvey "The Snake" Mandel .
Worth a listen
Rollin’ and Tumblin’ (1967)
Bullfrog Blues (1967)
Going up the Country (1968)
On the Road Again (1968)
Let's Work Together (1970)