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The Day Canned Heat Frontman Bob Hite Overdosed Between Sets

Liberty Records
Liberty Records

None of his Canned Heat bandmates took great notice when Bob “The Bear” Hite, the group’s rotund, over-indulgent frontman, fell to a dressing room floor during an apparent overdose. Instead, they returned to the stage for a second set at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood.

“He’d collapsed so many times before,” drummer Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra told Classic Rock. “Drugs, usually. So we were used to leaving him when he passed out onstage. Who can lift a 300-pound man? Every other time, he’d wake up in the morning and say, ‘What the f— happened?’ … Er, you got wasted again.”

Except this time was different. Hite, who sang Canned Heat to blues-boogie fame after a breakout performance at Woodstock, would die on April 5, 1981, after being put into the back of a van on the way to de la Parra’s home in nearby Mar Vista. Canned Heat were said to be mounting a lengthy jam through “Fried Hockey Boogie” to close out the night at the Palomino when Hite’s heart stopped.

This wasn’t Canned Heat’s first brush with fate. Co-founder Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson had died at 27 in 1970, also apparently from an overdose, just a few months before Hooker ‘n Heat – the band’s celebrated collaboration with John Lee Hooker — hit shelves. But they weren’t exactly prepared for Hite’s departure, despite his famously prodigious appetites. After the first signs of his overdose, first-aid apparently came in the form of more drugs.

Hite had reportedly already injected a gram of cocaine when he was approached by a fan carrying heroin outside the Palomino. De la Parra says he tried to warn Hite off, saying “Careful, bro. His trash is strong.” But reportedly Hite snorted the entire contents of the fan’s vial, but not before making a chilling boast. “This s— ain’t even gonna get me high,” he said.

Within moments, Hite had passed out. Someone then apparently tried to revive him with two huge lines of coke, which Hite snorted without seeming to wake up. Roadies were dragging Hite out to the van by his ankles as Canned Heat continued their show.

Later, as they gathered to decide whether to carry on without Hite, manager Ray “The Push” Chambers set a tone of determination for Canned Heat – and they continue to this day, despite the tragedies. “Too bad about Bob,” Chambers said, as he poured powdered speed into a large glass of Pepsi. “But heroin is for losers.”

Co-founder Henry “The Sunflower” Vestine later died too, in 1997. But de la Parra still leads Canned Heat’s current lineup, which includes core members Larry “The Mole” Taylor and Harvey “The Snake” Mandel along with newer recruit Dale Wesley Spalding. “It was what the Bear would have wanted,” de la Parra said. “Don’t forget: to boogie was his thing.”

See Canned Heat in 1971’s Best Rock Albums

Next: Top 10 Woodstock Performances

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