Canned Heat: the 10 best songs from America’s greatest boogie band

Canned Heat were one of the greatest American bands of the 60s and 70s – and certainly the most doomed. Frontmen Al ‘Blind Owl’ Wilson and Bob ‘The Bear’ Hite both died tragically young, and the band fell apart in a miasma of drugs, alcohol and mismanagement. But few bands boogied as hard as they did - as these classic anthems prove.

Refried Boogie (Part 1)

Forty-five minutes of monster truck boogie with Bob ‘The Bear’ Hite in the driving seat, Alan ‘Blind Owl’ Wilson hovering like a cyclone and Henry ‘Sunflower’ Vestine ripping out his sleaziest boogie chops. Culled from the Heat’s 68 sizzler Living The Blues, this separates the men from the boys. Greasy fuckers.

On The Road Again

Live at Germany’s legendary Beat Club, or rather lip-synching to track, this is well worth hearing and watching for the interplay between the musicians. Wilson looks spookily like a plump Jim Morrison and just looking at Vestine strumming his mandocello while squatting on a stool is enough to produce a shivering contact high.

Boogie Chillen No. 2

Boogie down Hazel Street and order up a bottle of Wild Turkey y’all. This is John Lee Hooker and The Heat in majestic bar slashing mood, rearranging the mental furniture with a blues soaked insouciance that is impossible to resist. Dig the metronomic trance beat and “that cat on the harmonica.” Let the boy boogie-woogie. He’s not long for this world.

Rollin’ And Tumblin’

Live 67 at Monterey. Cooking up a little Mississippi noise for the hippies and the Hells Angels who farcically take their seats like primary school children at the Nativity Play. A priceless example of the young Heat in their pomp with Bob Hite nailing the groove while Larry “The Mole’ Taylor digs out the bass from the basement. The leadoff track on their official debut album and a cracking tribute to Muddy Waters.

Dust My Broom

The great white blues revival never sounded better than it does here on a slab of Robert Johnson via Elmore James folk magick with a hot hoodoo lyric and killer Hite vocals. Every bit as good as anything by The Yardbirds and the precursor to Little Feat’s Californian cool this natty hip swiveller still packs plenty punch.

Going Up The Country

Although this is the original version, billed as Live at Woodstock 69 (it isn’t) this was the best thing about that festival. It is fucking outrageous. Alan Wilson’s choirboy delivery and Jim Horn’s double tracked flute drive the song home with Biblical intensity. A match for anything in Steve Miller’s armory this gorgeous anthem was also thoroughly ripped off by Mungo Jerry for In The Summertime. Five million people have watched the vid and they’re all right.

Let’s Work Together

Arguably the Heat’s biggest hit single, and their last one of any significance, this is a magnificent monophonic cover of Wilbert Harrison’s filthy call to arms, originally titled Let’s Stick Together. Wilson’s slide guitar part is Lowell George class. One of Vestine’s final recordings before his dismissal. Eat your heart out Bryan Ferry.

Sic’ em Pigs

A touch of the Mothers of Invention on this Bob Hite diatribe against the LAPD featuring a Vestine coda where he gives out the number for the LA Country Sheriff’s recruitment department (“If you’re big, strong and stupid”) while an arsenal of whacked guitar riffs and a brilliant Fito De La Parra drum performance are accompanied by little piggy noises. Oink.

My Mistake

If you have a hankering for Wilson’s ghostly Skip James delivery you’ll love this hypnotically double-tracked masterpiece with his typical lyrical despair proving that it was possible for white kids to write brand new blues material every bit as potent as the old masters. An epic three minutes is well spent here.

Amphetamine Annie

Hite makes his point crystal clear on this tongue-in-cheek warning about the perils of popping those funny little pills. The arrangement is razor blade sharp and Vestine’s taut snort solo is worth chopping one out for. Bands just don’t and can’t write songs like this 68 effort anymore. They ain’t good enough.

Canned Heat: The twisted tale of Blind Owl and The Bear

Max Bell

Max Bell worked for the NME during the golden 70s era before running up and down London’s Fleet Street for The Times and all the other hot-metal dailies. A long stint at the Standard and mags like The Face and GQ kept him honest. Later, Record Collector and Classic Rock called.