Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Very Best of Canned Heat

L.A. record nerds boogie the blues

Canned Heat were the most authentic of '60s white blues bands because they were formed by two genuine blues collectors: big friendly baritone Bob Hite, nicknamed the Bear, and weird, scrawny tenor Alan Wilson, nicknamed Blind Owl. Appropriating likely tunes from bluesman Floyd James and songster Henry Thomas, Wilson scored two unlikely 1968 hits ("On the Road Again" and "Goin' up the Country") before OD'ing in 1970, and Hite charted with Wilbert Harrison's R&B strut "Let's Work Together." There have been many more distinguished white bluesmen than Hite, who died of a heart attack right after a gig in 1981, the same killer that took guitarist Henry Vestine in 1997. Doomed though they were, however, Canned Heat's cheerful hippie vibe reflected their pleasure in going public with the music they'd helped rediscover, and that pleasure is still audible.

Blender, Sept. 2005