Canned Heat

  • Biography:

    Canned Heat was rare among the American blues-loving bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s: The group had a few hits. As one critic noted, the musicians were more popularizers than purists. The 1981 death of cofounder Bob Hite essentially ended Canned Heat's most visible period, but the players have always persevered. They endured Al Wilson's death in 1970 and weathered dozens of personnel shifts (the above chronology lists only the most important ones). Canned Heat has continued under the leadership of Fito de la Parra.

    The original Canned Heat evolved out of a jug band that was formed in 1965. Record-collecting blues fanatics Alan Wilson and Bob Hite (nicknamed "Bear" because of his 300-pound frame) changed the group's focus to electric boogie. Though its debut, Canned Heat, sold respectably, its appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival that year attracted more attention. Its second album spawned a #16 hit, Wilson's "On the Road Again," and the band toured Europe. "Going Up the Country" gave it a #11 hit in 1969, and it played the Woodstock Festival in August.

    The following year was a watershed, with a worldwide hit cover of Wilbert Harrison's "Let's Work Together" and an appearance at the Bath Festival in England. But the drug overdose death of Wilson (who was partly blind and subject to severe depression) in late 1970 proved to be a setback from which the band never fully recovered. Larry Taylor and guitarist Harvey Mandel joined John Mayall's band. (Later Mandel would be considered to replace Mick Taylor in the Rolling Stones; he would record a number of albums, as both an artist and a session musician.) The remaining members, with replacements, soldiered on. Prior to Wilson's death, they had backed bluesman John Lee Hooker on Hooker 'n' Heat; in 1989 a latter-day incarnation assisted him again on The Healer. In 1973 the band backed Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and Memphis Slim on French albums released on the Barclay label.

    Canned Heat's electric blues fell out of fashion; by the early '80s the band was playing the California bar circuit. Sometime after Hite's death (he suffered a fatal heart attack) the group drifted, and while 1990's Reheated revived interest, Canned Heat has not made a commercial comeback, though it remains a steadily working band. In the early '90s guitarist Mandel rejoined the group for some live dates, and original members Taylor, Mandel, and Henry Vestine appear on 1994's Internal Combustion. They departed sometime afterward. Since then, Canned Heat has recorded two more albums with longtime manager/producer Skip Taylor. In 1999, several years after the death of Vestine, de la Parra and his new recruits made five trips to Europe and played a number of festivals in the U.S. The drummer also finished his tell-all book about the band, Living the Blues.

    from The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001)

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