Henry 'the Sunflower' Vestine
Band: Canned Heat
Henry Vestine died aged fifty-two on 20th of October, 1997 whilst in Paris, France.He had finished a European tour with Canned Heat when he died from heart and respiratory failure in a Paris hotel just as the band were awaiting their return to America. His ashes are interred at the Oak Hill Cemetery outside of Eugene, Oregon, U.S.A..
Henry was born in Takoma Park, Maryland, U.S.A. and was the only son of Harry and Lois Vestine. His father was a noted physicist who specialized in gravity studies.
Henry's love of music and the blues in particular was fostered at an early age when he accompanied his father on canvasses of black neighbourhoods for old recordings. Like his father, Henry became an avid collector, eventually owning tens of thousands of recordings of blues, hillbilly, country, and Cajun music. At Henry’s urging, his father also used to take him to blues shows at which he and Henry were often the only white people present. Later Henry was instrumental in the "rediscovery" of Skip James and other Delta musicians.
In the mid-1950s, Henry and his childhood friend, John Fahey, began to learn how to play guitar and sang a mixed bag of pop, hillbilly, and country music, particularly Hank Williams. Soon after the family moved to California, Henry Vestine joined his first junior high band Hial King and the Newports. On his first acid trip with a close musician friend, he went to an East LA tattoo parlor and got the first of what was to be numerous tattoos: the words "Living The Blues". Later, in 1969, that became the title of a double album by Canned Heat. By the time he was seventeen he was a regular on the Los Angeles club circuit. He became a familiar sight at many black clubs, where he often brought musician friends to turn them on to the blues. Henry became friends with Cajun guitarist Jerry McGhee. It was from him that Henry learned the flat pick and 3-fingerstyle that became so much a part of Henry’s own style. He was an early fan of Roy Buchanan and his favorite guitar players included T-Bone Walker, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Sonny Sharrock, Freddie King, and Albert Collins. In Canned Heat he was later able to play and record with blues legend, John Lee Hooker, whom he had admired since his teenage years.
Throughout the early to mid-1960s Henry played in various musical lineups and eventually was hired by Frank Zappa for the original Mothers of Invention in late October 1965. Henry was in the 'Mothers' for only a few months and left before they recorded their debut album. Demo tapes from Mothers of Invention rehearsal sessions featuring Henry Vestine (recorded in November 1965) appear on the Frank Zappa album Joe's Corsage; posthumously released in 2004.
Henry's friend John Fahey was to be instrumental in the formation of Canned Heat. He had introduced Al Wilson, whom he knew from Boston, to Henry and Bob and Richard Hite. Al Wilson, Henry Vestine and the Hite brothers formed a jug band that rehearsed at Don Brown’s Jazz Man record Shop. Bob Hite and Alan Wilson started Canned Heat with Kenny Edwards as a second guitarist, but then Henry was asked to join. The first notable appearance of the band was the following year when they played at the Monterey Pop Festival, held from sixteenth to eighteenth of June, 1967. Shortly after Canned Heat’s first album, "Canned Heat", was released, Henry burst into musical prominence as a guitarist who stretched the idiom of the blues with long solos that moved beyond the conventional genres. He had his own style and a trademark piercing treble guitar sound. Henry Vestine missed playing at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, having quit the band the previous week. In 1995, he explained to an Australian reporter that "at the time, he thought it was just another gig and that tt was too bad he wasn’t there, but he just could not continue with the band at that time. There had some tension between Henry and bassist Larry Taylor. When Larry Taylor quit Canned Heat, Henry Vestine returned; their alternating membership in the band was to be repeated a few more times over the years.
While Canned Heat played at Woodstock in August 1969, Henry was invited to New York City for session work with avant-garde jazz great Albert Ayler. That session work resulted in two releases on the Impulse label.
At the same time Henry developed an intense interest in Harley Davidson motorcycles. He eventually owned eleven of them. Prior to his death he was looking forward to playing at the Harley Davidson 75th Anniversary Celebration.
Through the 1970s gradually Canned Heat had become a part-time occupation with occasional gigs and recordings sessions. When Henry Vestine's marriage broke up in 1983, he moved to Oregon. There he lived on a farm in rural Summit for a year and then in Corvallis, making a living doing odd jobs and playing music at rodeos and taverns in a country band with Mike Rosso, an old friend from southern California who had also moved to Oregon. He also played with Ramblin' Rex.
Terry Robb brought Henry Vestine to Portland, Oregon, and they did some recording together. Henry began playing with the Pete Carnes Blues Band and made his way to Eugene when the band folded in the mid-1980s. He played the regional club scene with a number of blues and blues-rock groups including James T. and The Tough. From that band he was to bring James Thornbury to a reconstituted Canned Heat.
Henry Vestine toured with Canned Heat in Australia and Europe, where the band had a popularity that far surpassed the recognition they got in the United States. When Henry returned to Eugene, Oregon, U.S.A., he would play with The Vipers, a group of veteran blues musicians who perform throughout the north-west of America. He continued to record including sessions with Oregon bands such as Skip Jones and The Rent Party Band, Terry Robb, and The Vipers. He also recorded the album 'Guitar Gangster' with Evan Johns in Austin, Texas, U.S.A. which was released in 1991...