Named after a 1928 recording by Tommy Johnson and formed in late 1965, Canned Heat was the result of a collaboration between two musicologists, Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson from Arlington, Massachusetts and Bob "The Bear" Hite from Denver, Colorado, who got together in Northridge, California. This meeting would result in the "psychedelic" era's greatest contribution to electrified blues/rock music.
Blind Owl Wilson was already known for his blues harp playing and had recorded with bluesman Son House. In Canned Heat, Wilson also played slide and rhythm guitar, and provided falsetto vocals. The Bear, Bob Hite handled lead vocals. An adamant blues aficionado and record collector, Hite quickly took over as "spokesman" for the group.
Lead guitarist Henry "The Sunflower" Vestine, originally with the Mothers of Invention, joined up, and contributed distinctive and memorable solos. Like Hite and Wilson, Vestine was another avid collector of blues recordings. Larry "The Mole" Taylor was recruited as the bassist and Bob Cook handled drums in the original lineup.
Canned Heat was, from the beginning, a group devoted to popularizing the blues. The blues are not (and never have been) a popular genre in terms of record sales. However, with their electrified sound, the band developed a strong following and achieved surprising commercial success, especially with classic hits "Going Up The Country", and "On The Road Again."
In 1967, the group appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival, along with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Mamas and Papas, and The Who. The year also saw the release of their self titled album, Canned Heat.
Again in 1967, the band was allegedly set up by the Denver Police Department. An undercover cop is said to have visited them at their hotel while they were preparing to perform at The Family Dog, a newly-opened hippie bar, and one the Denver police wanted to close. The police infiltrator supposedly got the band stoned and then, after leaving some contraband in a chair, took off. The raid took place immediately thereafter, and Canned Heat were busted for possession of marijuana. This incident endeared them to many of society's rebels, including the Hell's Angels. The unfair harassment and arrest gave Canned Heat the outlaw image that The Bear felt they had to have in order to be considered true bluesmen. (As an indirect result of the Denver bust, Canned Heat have played more biker rallies than any other band in history.)
Before the release of Boogie With Canned Heat in 1968, Adolfo "Fito" de la Parra replaced drummer Bob Cook. Fito had played with The Platters, The Shirelles, T-Bone Walker and Etta James.
In 1969, the group released Living The Blues, and made a headline appearance at Woodstock. "Going Up The Country" became a theme song for the famous festival. After Woodstock, Vestine left the group and was replaced by Harvey Mandel.
One of the most critically-revered albums by Canned Heat was a collaboration with John Lee Hooker, Hooker 'n' Heat, released in 1970. This album featured Alan Wilson on harp, backing Hooker. There was a tremendous mutual admiration between John Lee and Blind Owl, and there is no question that Canned Heat derived a large part of its musical inspiration from John Lee.
In addition to Hooker, the Heat also collaborated with John Mayall, Little Richard, and Taj Mahal, among others. They were additionally responsible for assisting bluesmen Sunnyland Slim, Skip James, Memphis Slim, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and Albert Collins. With the help of Canned Heat, these true bluesmen gained some of the recognition that they deserved.
Canned Heat also appeared at the Newport Pop Festival, Sturgis Motorcycle Run, Paris' Olympia, both Fillmores, The Kaleidoscope, Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden and London's Royal Albert Hall.
In 1970, Canned Heat's best selling single "Let's Work Together" hit the charts, but the year was one of sorrow for Canned Heat. Alan Wilson, died from a drug overdose in September.
In 1981, The Bear, Bob Hite suffered a fatal heart attack.
The band changed lineups often in the following years, but to this day, Canned Heat is still shouting the gospel of the boogie blues with early member, drummer Fito de la Parra carrying the torch. From 1967 to 2003, Canned Heat has released some 36 albums. There is no indication that they are slowing down and it is apparent that they are continuing on the same musical path that the Bear and Blind Owl began over 35 years ago.
The current lineup (as of 2003), consists of:
Dallas Hodge - Vocals, Guitar
J.P. Paulus - Guitar. Slide Guitar
Greg Kage - Bass, Vocals
Stan Behrens - Flute, Sax, Harmonica, Vocals
Fito de la Parra - Drums, Percussion