Canned Heat started out as a Los Angeles blues band in 1965 and were one of the first white American blues bands to get across to a rock audience.
The original line-up was Bob ‘The Bear’ Hite (vocals), Al ‘The Owl’ Wilson (guitar), Henry Vestine (lead guitar), Larry Taylor (bass) and Adolfo De La Parra (drums).
By no means a purist blues band, they featured a gutsy boogie element as on Rollin’ And Tumblin’ from their debut self-titled album in 1967. But they really took off later that year after appearing at the Monterey Jazz & Blues Festival.
The following year, On The Road Again became the band’s first hit single – but then guitarist Henry Vestine left to form his own band (although he later returned to Canned Heat) and his place was filled by Detroit guitarist Harvey Mandel.
The line-up reshuffle coincided with the start of Canned Heat’s two-year boom, during which time they had three more big hit singles – Going Up The Country, Let’s Work Together and Sugar Bee. In 1969 they appeared at the Woodstock festival.
The group spent much of 1970 touring in Europe before returning to the US.
Late in the summer, guitarist Al Wilson – nicknamed “Blind Owl” because of his poor eyesight – was found dead in the woods behind Bob Hite’s house in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles. He had committed suicide.
Larry Taylor left in 1970 to play with John Mayall, and he was replaced by Mexican bass player, Antonio De La Barreda. Mandel also left and for a time was tipped to replace Mick Taylor in The Rolling Stones – a job which eventually went to Ronnie Wood.
By 1971 Vestine had returned to the fold, only to quit again four years later. Other noted personnel during this period included Joel Scott Hill (replacing Al Wilson), James Shane and Hite’s younger brother, Richard.
Bob Hite died of a heart attack in April 1981, aged just 38. Henry Vestine died in Paris, France, on October 20th, 1997, following the final gig of a European tour.
The band continue to tour, particularly in Europe. The only member with any real longevity, though, is drummer Adolfo De La Parra.
Bob ‘The Bear’ Hite
Adolfo De La Parra
Antonio De La Barreda
Joel Scott Hill
Guitar, vocals, harmonica