At the end of the 1960’s there wasn’t another group like Canned Heat. They were distinctly different from everything else on possibly the most exciting musical landscape in the history of rock n’ roll. A combination of old classic blunes with a country flair, Canned Heat shared the stage with some of the biggest names in music history, including The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. However, they managed to find a certain popularity without compromising their unique musical style and their love for classic American blues.
Formed in 1965 by blues enthusiasts Bob “The Bear” Hite and Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, Canned Heat reimagined classic blues numbers from the 20’s and 30’s for the hippie generation. Utilizing modern electrical instruments combined with Wilson’s unique falsetto voice and pulsating harmonica, Canned Heat was earthy instead of psychedelic and quickly became a favorite at music festivals during the later half of the 60’s, including key appearances at two of the eras most important festivals – Monterey Pop and Woodstock. In 1968 the group scored two Billboard Top 20 hits with Going Up the Country and On the Road Again. Uniquely different from anything that has ever been heard on Top 20 radio, a Canned Heat song was distinctly identifiable, and their songs were considered to be anthems of the Woodstock generation.
However, time hasn’t been kind to Canned Heat. In 1970, at the height of their popularity, Alan Wilson was found dead of a drug overdose at age 27. With his irreplaceable voice gone forever, Canned Heat regrouped and continued to create music, although their identifiable sound was silenced. Struggling through the 70’s, the band’s popular front man, The Bear, also died of a drug overdose in 1980. Yet, despite the major losses of the Canned Heat’s most famous members, members of the group have reformed in various incarnations during the years keeping the music and tradition of Canned Heat alive.
As one of the surviving members of the band’s classic line-up from the late 1960’s, bassist Larry “The Mole” Taylor has become Canned Heat’s current front man. Starting his career in the early 60’s as a member of the surf band The Gamblers, Taylor joined up with Bobby Hart and became a popular session musician on many of Hart’s projects, including playing bass on many of The Monkees early recordings. It 1967 Taylor was invited to join Canned Heat just before they took off to international stardom and stayed with the group through their peak years. Leaving the group in 1970, Taylor has stayed present on the blues scene as one of the country’s leading blues bassists and has worked with The Hollywood Fats Band, The Sugarcane Harris Band and Tom Waits. Taylor returned to Canned Heat in 2003 where he currently tours alongside former Canned Heat members Fito de la Parra, Harvey “The Snake” Mandel and Dale Spalding.
A man who loves music, Larry Taylor has a unique, yet educated, opinion on the history of popular music. While speeding down the highway to his next gig, I had the opportunity to talk to Taylor about his career and the history of Canned Heat. Although plagued with reception problems, Larry shared some of his stories with me about his career as a blues musician.