Behind the Band Name: How a Blues Standard Inspired the Name Canned Heat

The rock band Canned Heat rose to prominence in the 1960s, garnering some attention for their bluesy style that often echoed with country, funk, and psychedelic sounds. While their approach to music labeled them among the more niche rock outfits, Canned Heat could hold their own against the era’s very best. The band is still burning brightly today as sturdy and as steadfast as ever. They’d have to be with a name like Canned Heat.

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Behind the Name

Crying, canned heat, canned heat, mama, crying, sure, Lord, killing me / Crying, canned heat, mama, sure, Lord killing me / Takes alcorub to take these canned heat blues, moans bluesman Tommy Johnson in his 1928 song, “Canned Heat Blues.” When Canned Heat was formed by blues enthusiasts Alan Wilson and Bob Hite, the pair borrowed their name from the blues standard.

Listen to their inspiration below.

Johnson’s spectral falsetto warbles out a tale of a desperate alcoholic who turns to drinking Sterno to get by. Sterno, a brand of “canned heat,” is a jellied form of denatured alcohol sold in a can and used as cooking fuel for buffet heating and under chafing dishes.

During Prohibition, the consumption of Sterno became popular as it was a substitute for alcohol at a time when the production and sale of hooch were illegal. The practice saw a resurgence again during the Great Depression.

The jellied substance would be squeezed through a cheesecloth, or it was sometimes handier to use a sock. The liquid that resulted, a diluted mixture of ethanol and methanol, would then be added to juice and consumed. Sterno is poisonous, and its consumption can lead to the possibility of permanent blindness along with myriad other side effects.

Canned Heat Today

Over five decades and after dozens of albums, Canned Heat is still doing its thing. While none of the band’s founding members are living today, the group’s longtime drummer Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra has kept the name and the music alive.

Photo of Canned Heat Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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