Canned Heat

Canned HeatFrom: Los Angeles, CA, USA

Canned Heat is a blues/boogie band that formed in 1965. Noted for its own inspirations of blues music, Canned Heat are also known for their efforts to promote interest in the original blues musicians. The band was started by Alan Wilson and Bob Hite. The two took the name Canned Heat from the Tommy Johnson song, “Canned Heat Blues,” from 1928. Performances at both Monterey and Woodstock helped Canned Heat acquire worldwide fame. This line-up was made up of Bob “The Bear” Hite (vocals), Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson (guitar, harmonica, vocals), Henry “Sunflower” Vestine (replaced by Harvey “The Snake” Mandel) (guitar), Larry “The Mole” Taylor (bass), and Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra (drums).

Things started back where Hite lived as a teen in Topanga Canyon, a meeting place for people interested in music. This is where a group of blues fans decided to form a jug band, featuring Hite (vocals), Wilson (bottleneck guitar), Mike Perlowin (guitar), Stu Brotman (bass) and Keith Sawyer (drums). After only a few days, Perlowin and Sawyer quit, and were replaced with Kenny Edwards and Ron Holmes. Holmes agreed to be the drummer, just until they found a permanent replacement.

Hite and Vestine had been friends, and when Vestine was kicked out of the Mothers of Invention for excessive drug use, he asked if he could join their jug band. He was accepted, soon leading to the departure of Edwards, who went on to form the Stone Poneys with Linda Ronstadt. At the same time, Frank Cook came in to take over the drumming role. Cook already had a great deal of experience, performing with Charlie Haden, Chet Baker, Elmo Hope, Shirley Ellis, and Dobie Gray.

The band’s first album was recorded in 1966 by producer Johnny Otis. The album would not be released until 1970, appearing as Vintage Canned Heat. After the summer of 1966, Brotman left the band going on to join Kaleidoscope. Mark Andres was brought in as Brotman’s repleacement, lasting only a couple of months before leaving to form what would eventually become Spirit. Finally in March of 1967, Canned Heat found a permanent bass player in Larry Taylor, brother of the Ventures’ Mel Taylor. Taylor had the experience of playing with such greats as Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry in concert, as well as studio sessions for the Monkees.

This line-up would release Canned Heat’s first single in April 1967 with “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” / “Bullfrog Blues.” In July, they released their first official album, Canned Heat. The entire album featured re-workings of classic blues songs. The album reached #76 on the Billboard chart. The first major live performance by Canned Heat was at the Monterey Pop Festival. They were featured in Down Beat Magazine, complimenting them on their playing. The article wrote,  “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.”

While in Denver, Colorado, Canned Heat were jailed after police provided enough evidence for their arrest for drugs. The incident was reflected upon on the band’s song “My Crime.” Manager Skip Taylor was forced to sell off Canned Heat’s publishing rights to Liberty Records President Al Bennett in order to cover the $10,000 bail to get the band out of jail. After this incident, Cook was replaced by de la Parra. de la Parra played his first gig with the band on December 1, 1967, where Canned Heat shared top billing with Doors at the Long Beach Auditorium. This began what has become known as the “classic” time of Canned Heat. Skip Taylor and John Hartmann introduced the band members by their nicknames at this point:

  • Bob “The Bear” Hite
  • Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson
  • Henry “Sunflower” Vestine (later Harvey “The Snake” Mandel)
  • Larry “The Mole” Taylor
  • Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra

The band would release their breakthrough song on their second album, Boogie With Canned Heat. This 1968  album featured a cover of Floyd Jones’ song “On The Road Again,” reaching worldwide success, becoming #1 in most markets, finally putting a blues song on the top charts. Hite’s “Amphetamine Annie” was inspired by the drug abuse of an acquaintance, and became one of Canned Heat’s most enduring songs, as well as one of the decade’s first anti-drug songs. Also in 1968, Canned Head played for some 80,000 fans at the first annual Newport Pop Festival in September, before heading out on the band’s first European tour.

Canned Heat would release their third album in 1969. Living With The Blues features the band’s best known song, “Going Up The Country.” The song was Wilson’s incarnation of Henry Thomas’ “Bull-Doze Blues.” Almost a note-for-note copy, Canned Heat even included the instrumental break in which Jim Horn played flute. “Going Up The Country” went to #1 in 25 countries and became the unofficial theme song of the Woodstock Festival.

The fourth album by Canned Heat, Hallelujah, was released in July 1969. 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 record was made up of mostly original compositions. Within days of the album’s release, Vestine left Canned Heat after a dispute with Taylor on-stage at the Fillmore West. The next night, Mike Bloomfield and Mandel were offered Vestine’s spot. Mandel accepted and the new lineup played two shows at the Fillmore before appearing at Woodstock.

The band recorded the album Future Blues in 1970 before they went on their European tour. The band chose to release “Let’s Work Together,” a song that would become Canned Heat’s only top ten hit that featured Hite on vocals. Dr. John played piano on the album.

By 1971, Taylor and Mandel left Canned Heat, resulting in Vestine rejoining. It was also in 1971 when Wilson attempted suicide. Suffering from depression, things worsened with his increasing environmental concerns, themes that were often reflected in his lyrics. On September 3, 1970, the band was mortified when they learned of Wilson’s death by barbiturate overdose. It is believed that he committed suicide. Wilson died at age 27, weeks before the deaths of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Canned Heat continued on, seeing several more changes in line-up. On April 5, 1981, Hite collapsed during a show at the Palomino in L.A., as a result of a heroin overdose. Hite was later found dead at the age of 38. While the band did continue, things were not the same without Wilson and Hite, Canned Heat’s founding members. On October 20, 1997, Vestine passed away from cancer in Paris, France.

Feel free to use our Facebook page to discuss & ask any questions you have about this artist, a fellow PsycheHead is sure to have the answer.

Tracks played on Psychedelicized…


  • On The Road Again [Live At Woodstock] [Originally Unreleased]

Liberty 56127 – 1969

  • Poor Moon

    Canned Heat – 1967

    • Bullfrog Blues
    • Rollin’ And Tumblin’

    Boogie With Canned Heat – 1968
    Boogie With Canned Heat

    • Amphetamine Annie
    • On The Road Again

    Living The Blues – 1968
    Living The Blues

    • Going Up The Country

    Hallelujah – 1969

    • Change My Ways
    • Do Not Enter
    • I’m Her Man
    • Sic Em Pigs
    • Time Was

    Future Blues – 1970

    • Let’s Work Together

    Topanga Corral – 1971
    Live At Topanga Corral

    • Bullfrog Blues [Live]
    • I Wish You Would [Live]
    • When Things Go Wrong [Live]