Canned Heat is a blues-rock/boogie band that formed in Los Angeles in 1965. The group has been noted for its own interpretations of blues material as well as for efforts to promote the interest in this type of music and its original artists. It was launched by two blues enthusiasts, Alan Wilson (1943 – 1970) and Bob Hite (1943 – 1981), who took the name from Tommy Johnson's 1928 Canned Heat Blues, a song about an alcoholic who has desperately turned to drinking Sterno, generically called "canned heat". After appearances at Monterey and Woodstock, at the end of the '60s the band had acquired worldwide notoriety with a lineup consisting of Bob Hite, vocals, Alan Wilson guitar, harmonica and vocals, Henry Vestine (1944 – 1997) or Harvey Mandel on lead guitar, Larry Taylor on bass, and Adolfo de la Parra on drums.
Since the early '70s numerous personnel changes have occurred and today, in the fifth decade of the band's existence, Fito de la Parra is the only original member from the glorious epoch. He has authored a book about the band's career. Larry Taylor, whose presence in the band has not been steady, is the other surviving member from the earliest lineups. Harvey Mandel, Walter Trout and Junior Watson are among the guitarists who gained notoriety for playing in later editions of the band. British blues pioneer John Mayall has frequently found musicians for his band among former Canned Heat members.
Canned Heat was started within the community of blues collectors. Bob Hite had been trading blues records since his early teens and his house in Topanga Canyon was a meeting place for people interested in music. In 1965 some blues devotees decided there to form a jug band and started rehearsals. The initial configuration was comprised of Bob Hite as vocalist, Al Wilson on bottleneck guitar, Mike Perlowin on lead guitar, Stu Brotman on bass and Keith Sawyer on drums. Perlowin and Sawyer dropped out within a few days, so guitarist Kenny Edwards (a friend of Alan Wilson) stepped in to replace Perlowin, and Ron Holmes agreed to sit in on drums until they could find a permanent drummer. Another of Bob's friends, Henry Vestine, asked if he could join the band and was accepted while keeping Edwards on temporarily. Soon Edwards departed (he went on to form the Stone Poneys with Linda Ronstadt) and at same time Frank Cook came in to replace Holmes as their permanent drummer. He already had a substantial professional experience, having performed with such jazz luminaries as bassist Charlie Haden, trumpeter Chet Baker or pianist Elmo Hope and had also collaborated with black soul/pop artists as Shirley Ellis and Dobie Gray.
Johnny Otis produced the group’s first album in 1966 but the record was not actually released until 1970 when it appeared as Vintage Heat. It featured Hite, Wilson, Cook, Vestine, and Brotman. In his studio off of Vine Street in Los Angeles. Otis ran the board for a dozen of tracks, including two versions of Rollin and Tumblin (with & without harmonica), Spoonful by Willie Dixon, and Louise by John Lee Hooker.
Over the summer hiatus of ‘66 Stuart Brotman signed a union contract with an Armenian belly-dancer and soon his interests in exotic music prompted him to form with David Lindley and Chris Darrow a world-music band, Kaleidoscope. His first replacement, Mark Andes, lasted only a couple of months before he returned to his former colleagues in the Red Roosters, who adopted the new name Spirits Rebellious, later shortened to Spirit. Finally Canned Heat found a permanent bassist in Samuel Larry Taylor, who joined in March, 1967. He is the brother of Ventures’ drummer, Mel Taylor, and already had experience backing Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry in concert and recording studio sessions for The Monkees. Taylor had also been a member of the Moondogs. In this format (Hite, Wilson, Vestine, Taylor, Cook) the band started recording in April 1967. The album Canned Heat was released three months later.
The more experienced Cook agreed to switch places with Fito de la Parra who was playing the drums in Bluesberry Jam, the band which soon evolved into Pacific Gas & Electric. As an official member of Canned Heat De la Parra played his first gig on December 1, 1967. Somehow incompatibility developed between Taylor and Vestine who quit in July '69 and was replaced by Harvey Mandel. In May, 1970, both Harvey Mandel and Larry Taylor left Canned Heat to join John Mayall. With Taylor gone, Henry Vestine returned on guitar, accompanied by bassist Antonio de la Barreda who had had played with Fito de la Parra for five years in Mexico City and was previously a member of the group Jerome.
On September 3, 1970, the band was shattered when they learned of Alan Wilson's death by barbiturate overdose, on a hillside behind Bob Hite’s home.
The classic lineups of Canned Heat are from the period between March '67 and September '70. The replacements of Cook by De la Parra in December 67 and of Vestine by Mandel a year and a half later had gone smoothly. However after Alan Wilson's death in September '70 the band was never the same again.
Part of the band image at that time was the use of nicknames:
Bob "The Bear" Hite
Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson
Henry "Sunflower" Vestine (and later Harvey "The Snake" Mandel)
Larry "The Mole" Taylor
Adolfo "Fito" de la Parra
Performances and Recordings
The music and attitude of Canned Heat were appreciated by a large public which made them one of the popular acts of the hippie era. Canned Heat appeared at all major musical events at the end of the 60's: Monterey, Woodstock, Isle of wight. They were able to deliver on stage electrifying performances either of blues standards or of their own material and occasionally to indulge into lengthier 'psychedelic' solos. Two of their songs Going up the Country and On the Road Again became international hits and indeed both were re-workings of obscure blues. At the time all their albums were released for worldwide distribution .
The first notable appearance of Canned Heat was at the Monterey Pop Festival on June 17, 1967. A picture of the band taken at the performance was featured on the cover of Down Beat Magazine where an article complimented their playing: “Technically, Vestine and Wilson are quite possibly the best two-guitar team in the world and Wilson has certainly become our finest white blues harmonica man. Together with powerhouse vocalist Bob Hite, they performed the country and Chicago blues idiom of the 1950s so skillfully and naturally that the question of which race the music belongs to becomes totally irrelevant.” D.A. Pennebaker's documentary captured their rendition of Rollin and Tumblin and two other songs from the set,Bullfrog Blues and Dust My Broom, found place later in a boxed CD set(1992).
Rollin’ and Tumblin’ backed with Bullfrog Blues became Canned Heat’s first single, which Liberty released shortly after their Monterey appearance. It received a fair amount of West Coast airplay, but failed to break out nationally.
Canned Heat’s self-titled debut was released in July, 1967. All tracks were re-workings of older blues songs, the first two of them having been released shortly before as a single. The Los Angeles Free Press reported : “This group has it! They should do very well, both live and with their recordings.” Canned Heat fared reasonably well commercially, reaching #76 on the Billboard chart.
Their second released album, Boogie With Canned Heat, included the worldwide hit On The Road Again, an updated version of a 1950's composition by Floyd Jones. A twelve-minute version of Fried Hockey Boogie, (credited to Larry Taylor, but rather obviously derived from John Lee Hooker’s Boogie Chillen riff) allowed each member to stretch out on his instrument while establishing them with hippie ballroom audiences across America as the “kings of the boogie”. Hite’s Amphetamine Annie (a tune inspired by the drug abuse of an acquaintance), became one of their most enduring songs and the first “anti-drug” song of the decade. Another well-known track is My Crime with lyrics inspired by a drug bust into which band members were involved.
In September, 1968, Canned Heat left for their first European tour, a month of concert performances and media engagements that included TV appearances on the British show Top of the Pops and the German program Beat Club, where they lip-synched On The Road Again as it rose to #1 in both countries and practically in all of Europe.
Their third album, Living the Blues, included a 19-minute experimental track Parthenogenesis which was a nine-part sound collage of blues, raga, sitar music, honky-tonk, guitar distortion and other electronic effects, all pulled together under the direction of manager/producer, Skip Taylor. This album included their incarnation of Henry Thomas’ Bull doze Blues; Wilson had retained the tune of the original song but rewrote the lyrics and came up with Goin’ Up The Country, whose simple message caught the “back-to-nature” attitude of the late ‘60s It went to #1 in 25 countries around the world but reached only #11 on the U.S national chart.
At about the same time in 1969 that the band recorded Living The Blues, They were also taping a live album at the Kaleidoscope nightclub in Hollywood, owned by band managers Skip Taylor and John Hartmann. Liberty Records didn’t want a live recording, so the record was issued later in the 70’s on the small Wand label with the deceptive title Live at the Topanga Corral.
In July, 1969, Hallelujah, their fourth album was released. The Melody Maker wrote: “While less ambitious than some of their work, this is nonetheless an excellent blues-based album and they remain the most convincing of the white electric blues groups.” The album contained mainly original compositions with lyrics relating to recent topics and a few covers.
Within days of the release Vestine left the group and was replaced on the spot by Harvey Mandel. The new lineup played two dates at the Fillmore East in New York before appearing at Woodstock in mid-August. Going Up The Country became the first track in the documentary which was released, even though the band's performance was not shown. The song was included in the first (triple) Woodstock album; the second one, Woodstock 2, contained Woodstock Boogie and the expanded 25th Anniversary Collection added Leaving This Town to the band’s collection of Woodstock performances.
Future BluesBefore their European tour in early 1970, the band recorded Future Blues, an album containing five original compositions and three covers. Wilbert Harrison song Let’s Work Together was chosen for the single released in Europe to coincide with the tour. At the band's insistence the US release was delayed in order to offer a chance to the author's version. Canned Heat reached only #11 on the national chart but became #1 in UK and Europe. The album featured also piano parts by Dr. John and an atypical jump blues. Some controversy was sparked by the album cover.
Material from the European tour provided the tracks for Canned Heat ’70 Concert, later retitled Live In Europe. It was a live album that combined tracks from different shows throughout the tour, put together to make-up one continuous concert for the listener. While the album garnered some critical acclaim, it had limited commercial success in the U.S., but did well in the UK, peaking at #15.
Returning from Europe in may '70 Mandel and Taylor had left the band to join John Mayall who had relocated in Laurel Canyon. Vestine and Barreda came in as replacements and Bob's brother Richard eventually provided more help. This lineup went into studio to record with John Lee Hooker the tracks that would yield the double album Hooker 'N' Heat . The planned format for the sessions called for Hooker to perform a few songs by himself, followed by some duets with Alan Wilson playing piano or guitar and finally, Hooker with some backing by the group sans Bob Hite, who co-produced the album along with Skip Taylor. The album was finished after Wilson’s passing and became the first album in Hooker's career to make the charts, topping out at #73 in February of 1971.
Joel Scott Hill  was taken to fill in the void left by Alan Wilson's death. The band had a touring contract for September and later studio dates. In mid September they played in Baarn, Holland and next summer they appeared at the Turku Festival in Finland. These performances have been recorded but became available much later. At the end of 1971 a new studio album Historical Figures and Ancient Heads was released. The album included Bob Hite’s vocal duel with Little Richard on the Skip Taylor written track, Rockin’ With The King and the guitar parts of both Henry Vestine and Joel Scott Hill. After a lull, 1973 saw a reformation of the group including Bob, Fito, Henry, James Shane on rhythm guitar and vocals, Ed Beyer on keyboards, and Bob’s brother Richard Hite on bass. Three years later Chris Morgan and Gene Taylor replaced Shane and Beyer but Morgan quickly departed and Mark Skyer came as a new guitar player.
For the 10th Anniversary of Woodstock in 1979 a concert was arranged. Bob Hite, Fito de la Parra and Jay Spell (piano) were joined by Larry Taylor and the lead guitarists of his band Mike "Hollywood Fats" Mann. A recording of the performance appeared in 1984. It must be said that while the band endured during the 1970s, their music became somewhat stale on their recordings, but their live performances were usually terrific.
On April 5, 1981, at the Palomino in Los Angeles, Bob Hite, collapsed and died of a heart attack. The last studio recording with Bob Hite was 1978's Human Condition, with Hite singing the title track, an old Alan Wilson tune that had been recorded solo by Wilson but had not been released. The 1981 album Kings of The Boogie also featured Hite on a couple of tracks, with Richard Kellogg and Mike Halby doing vocals on the rest of the album. During the '80s the interest in the type of music played by Canned Heat was revived and, despite the past tragedies and permanent instability, the band appeared to be revitalized.
Walter Trout, a remarkable guitarist and harmonica player, who had been with John Lee Hooker, came to front the band for the next few years. Live recordings from a tour of Australia have been released and also, in 84, the album Heat Brothers. By that time Fito de la Parra was the only original member in the lineup completed by Mike Halby on (guitar and vocals) and Ernie Rodriguez (lead vocals and bass).
In 1985 Trout joined John Mayall' Bluesbreakers and Henry Vestine's friend James Thornbury (slide guitar and vocals) was the next recruit. During the next 10 years and Canned Heat released some more albums with Junior Watson assuming the lead guitar parts. His style emulated Hollywood Fats and perfectly suited for the band as witnessed by the album Reheated and its live sequel Burnin' Live.
The next decade saw more personnel changes while recordings from the older lineups were steadily appearing. In 1995 Robert Lucas came to front the band and Greg Kage took the bass. On October 20, 1997, Henry Vestine died in Paris, France following the final gig of a European tour.
Just before the end of the century Lucas departed and the lineup was completed by John Paulus, who had played guitar with Mayall, Dallas Hodge (guitar) and Stanley Behrens (sax, flute). However in 2005 Lucas returned and as of 2008, the band consists of Robert Lucas (guitar and vocals), Barry Levenson (guitar), Greg Kage (bass), and Adolfo "Fito" De La Para.
Canned Heat's popularity has endured in some European countries and Australia. In Belgium they have a particularly devoted following thanks in great part to Walter de Paduwa, aka Dr Boogie, considered by the band as their "official historian" . He has assisted Fito de la Parra in compiling and producing The Boogie House Tapes from unreleased and rare Canned Heat recordings. Dr Boogie's weekly Sunday evening radio show on Radio Classic 21, has for over a decade invariably started with a Canned Heat song.
In July 2007, a documentary, Boogie with Canned Heat: The Canned Heat Story, was released and also music historian Rebecca Davis Winters published a biography of Alan Wilson, "Blind Owl Blues".
Canned Heat have collaborated with many blues artists, recording and helping them to regain some notoriety. Among them notable names are:
John Lee Hooker: in 1971 Canned Heat backed John Lee Hooker on the album Hooker'n'Heat. In 1978 a joint performance was recorded live and released as Hooker'n'Heat, live at the Fox Venice Theatre (1981). In 1989 Canned Heat (and many others) guested on John Lee Hooker's album The Healer.
Sunnyland Slim: in the spring of 1968, Al Wilson, Bob Hite, and Fito de la Parra took a cab whose driver turned out to be Sunnyland Slim. Bob and Alan convinced him to go in the studio again and cut an album for a sublabel of Liberty Records. The album, Slim’s Got His Thing Goin’ On featured tracks with Slim fronting Canned Heat and Hite acted as co-producer. Slim thanked them by playing the piano on Turpentine Moan for the album Boogie With Canned Heat.
Memphis Slim: in Paris, on September 18, 1970 Canned Heat went into the studio at the request of French music producer Phillipe Rault to record with Memphis Slim. Three years later and after an overdubbing session with the Memphis Horns of Stax Records fame, Memphis Heat was finally released on the French label, Barclay (and was re-released in 2006 on Sunnyside Recordings).
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown: in 1973 Canned Heat went again in France to record for Rault, this time with Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. The sessions did not go work out as planned but the album had been released as Gate’s On The Heat and another track appeared in 1975 on his album Down South In The Bayou Country. Later they joined him for a set at the Montreux Jazz Festival. A DVD of the performance has been released.
Javier Batiz: during the summer of '69 Fito de La Parra arranged in LA a recording session for Mexican r'n'b star Javier Batiz with whom he had played before moving north and joining Canned Heat. His fellow band mate Larry Taylor took part in the project and also three musicians who in later years would join the band: Tony de la Barreda (bass), Ernest Lane (piano) and Clifford Solomon (sax). The recording was released some 30 years later as The USA Sessions.
Albert Collins: in early 1969 Canned Heat met Albert Collins after a gig and advised him to move to LA in order to boost his career; there they found him an agent and introduced him to executives for UA. In appreciation, Collins’ first record title for UA became Love Can Be Found Anywhere, taken from the lyrics of Fried Hockey Boogie.
Henry Vestine: a recording project from 1981 has been released more than twenty years later under Henry Vestine's name as I Used To Be Mad (but Now I am Half Crazy). The musicians on the album are indeed the Canned Heat members at that time: Henry Vestine (guitar), Mike Halby (vocals, guitar), Ernie Rodrigues (vocals, bass), Ricky Kellogg (vocals, harmonica) and Fito De La Parra (drums).
Fito de La Parra and Walter de Paduwa, aka Dr. Boogie, have compiled an album of blues selected from Bob Hite's collection Rarities from the Bob Hite Vault, Sub Rosa SRV 271. Included are tracks by a dozen artists such as Pete Johnson, Johnny Otis, Clarence Brown, Otis Rush, Etta James and Elmore James .
1967 – Canned Heat, Liberty Records
1968 – Boogie with Canned Heat, Liberty
1968 – Living the Blues [Akarma], Liberty
1968 – Hallelujah, Liberty
1970 – Future Blues, Liberty
1970 – Live in Europe, Liberty; reissues Live in concert'70 ,
1970 - Vintage, Janus (1966 early recordings); reissues Don't forget to boogie; 2002 Big Road Blues
1970 – Hooker 'N' Heat, Liberty LP, CD EMI, (w/ John Lee Hooker)
1971 – Live at Topanga Corral (1969 live recordings); reissue Live at the Kaleidoscope
1972 - Historical Figures and Ancient Heads, United Artists
1973 – The New Age, United Artists
1973 – One More River to Cross, Atlantic, WEA Records
1973 – Memphis Heat, Barclay (France), w/ Memphis Slim, rec. Sept. '70 & finished in '73
1978 – Human Condition, Takoma/Sonet
1980 - Captured live, Accord
1981 – Hooker'n'Heat, Live at the Fox Venice Theatre from 1978 w/ John Lee Hooker, Rhino
1981 - Kings of The Boogie, a.k.a. Dog House Blues, Destiny Records
1986 - Infinite Boogie, Rhino
1988 – Reheated, SPV 858805
1991 - Burnin' live, SPV 848857
1991 - Boogie Assault; reissue Live in Oz, Aim 1003
1993 - Canned Heat Live
1994 - Internal Combustion,Aim 1044 (augmented ed. as Gambling Woman)
1995 – King Biscuit Flower Hour, (live '79 w/ Hollywood Fats" on lead guitar); reissues Greatest Hits Live 2003, From the front row live (in DST), Woodstock Festival 10th Anniversary Concert 1979 2008 .
1995 - Live at Turku Festival (71)
1996 - The Heat Brothers (84)
1996 - Canned Heat Blues Band,Ruf Records
1997 - The Ties That Bind (74)
1998 - House of Blue Lights
1999 – Boogie 2000, Ruf Records
2000 – The Boogie House Tapes, Ruf Records
2003 – Friends in the Can, Ruf Records
2003 - The USA Sessions w/ Javier Batiz (in'69)
2005 – The Boogie House Tapes vols.2,3, Ruf Records
2007 - Under Dutch Skies, Mlp (3 concerts from '70,'71,'74)
2007 - Christmas Album, Ruf Records (w/ E. Clapton, Dr. John)
1969 – Canned Heat Cookbook, Liberty
1972 – The Best of Canned Heat, 1990 CD, EMI/Capitol
1989 – Let's Work Together: The Best of Canned Heat, EMI
1994 – Uncanned! The Best of Canned Heat, EMI/Capitol
1996 – Best of Hooker 'n' Heat, EMI E2-38207
1996 - Straight Ahead, Magnum (from Vintage('66) + Live at Topanga('69))
2007 - The Very Best of Canned Heat, EMI
Notes and References
^ Fito De La Parra, Living The Blues.(2000)
^ Down Beat, August 10th, 1967
^ Canned Heat played (see below) at the 10th Anniversary Concert for Woodstock and their performance has been issued on disc under different titles, one of them being Woodstock Festival 10th Anniversary Concert 1979 (see discography, 1995). They appear also on The Celebration Continues - Woodstock '79
^ J.S.Hill had been playing guitar since the end of the '50s with early surf band "The Strangers"
^ Canned Heat Official WebSite - Biography
^ Dr Boogie rentrée 2007
^ Dr. BOOGIE presents | Rarities from the Bob Hite Vaults | Orkhestra
Rebecca Davis Winters, "Blind Owl Blues: The Mysterious Life and Death of Blues Legend Alan Wilson" (2007) ISBN 978-0-615-14617-1
Charles Shaar Murray, Blues on CD: The Essential Guide (1993) ISBN 1-85626-084-4
Fito De La Parra, Living The Blues. Canned Heat's story of Music, Drugs, Death, Sex and Survival (2000) ISBN 0-9676449-0-9
Boogie with Canned Heat: The Canned Heat Story, a documentary (on DVD, Eagle Ent., 2007)
The band's official website
A concise history of Canned Heat (recommended reading)
History and discography
A studio and concert chronology
Joel Scott Hill's official website
James Thornbury interview
Dallas Hodge info
Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson biography site
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