Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
A white blues band formed in 1966 by vocalist Bob 'The Bear' Hite (b 26 February 1945, Torrance CA, d 5 April 1981) and guitarist Alan 'Blind Owl' Wilson (b 4 July 1943, Boston, d 3 September 1970). Hite was a former record shop manager with a mania for blues; Wilson a music major at Boston U. who formed a jug band in 1965 in Los Angeles with drummer Bob Cook. They recruited ex-Frank Zappa sideman Henry Vestine (b 25 December 1944, Washington DC; d 20 October 1997), ex-Jerry Lee Lewis bassist Larry Taylor (b 26 June 1942, NYC) to mix country blues with electric instruments. Exposure at the Monterey Festival in 1967 promoted their eponymous first LP nd made them headliners.
The bespectacled Wilson and the man-mountain Hite made an unlikely-looking combination, but Wilson's light tenor was an effective contrast with Hite's growl. They replaced Cook with Mexican Adolpho 'Fito' de la Parra (b 8 February 1946) for Boogie With Canned Heat '68, including hit singles 'On The Road Again' (USA no. 16/UK no. 8) and 'Going Up The Country' (no. 11 USA/19 UK), mid-tempo chuggers adapted from old blues songs by Jim Oden and Henry Thomas respectively. Albums Living The Blues and Hallelujah '69 consolidated their appeal; then Vestine left to work with Albert Ayler, replaced by Harvey Mandel (b 11 March 1945, Detroit). They played Woodstock that year. Their best year was 1970, with a cover of Wilbert Harrison's 'Let's Work Together' (USA no. 26/UK 2), classic compilation Cookbook and album Future Blues. A famous session with John Lee Hooker (Hooker And Heat released '71) showed the legendary black bluesman sympathetic to white disciples.
Changes destabilized the lineup: Mandel was replaced by the returning Vestine and Taylor by Antonio de la Berreda (aka Tony Olav), but Wilson's death on the eve of the band's third UK tour tore the heart out of group. They continued in the '70s with Historical Figures And Ancient Heads '72, New Age '73, One More River To Cross '74 etc, Hite the driving force and the only constant factor; they were recorded live on Long Island '79 with Mike 'Hollywood Fats' Mann on guitar. Hite's death from a heart attack ended the story. Initially imitative, at their peak they produced genuinely moving white blues; Hite, who had a collection of 60,000+ blues records, left a further legacy by helping United Artists compile their Legendary Masters series.