Tag Archives: 27 club

The 27 Club – Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson

18 Jul

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When actor Anton Yelchin died in June in a freak accident many immediately linked the death to the portentous 27 club striking again, as the actor was also a musician – a guitarist for a band called The Hammerheads. This is the typical inquiry when a musician dies young; was he/she 27 years old, and, if he/she was, it is the 27 club’s reaper coming with scythe in hand to steal another young musician from this world.

Today, I enter the Stygian realm of 27. Thankfully, I am neither a musician nor talented, and thus I should be spared by the 27 club; so, my 27th birthday can be met with more joy, despite the fact that I am getting closer to 30, which I would always consider so “adult” and “old” when I was younger. Yes, older readers are probably scoffing at my naive, doltish complaints. In all seriousness, though, it’s good to be 27 – I get to espouse on deep thoughts of the world, and, if I say anything dumb or trite, I can always use the, “well, I’m still learning” excuse.

27, though, is synonymous with the 27 club if you are a fan of music, and, thus, I felt the need to do a post on this star-crossed club. However, instead of completed a wide scope of the entire 27 club, I want to focus in on a particular musician whose death pre-dated the Mt. Rushmore of the 27 club (Jimi, Janis, Jim, and Kurt). In fact, Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson died only two weeks before Jimi Hendrix in September of 1970, a year that fell in the middle of a stretch of time where the 27 club took so many wonderful musicians (1968-1972).

Before we get into the fascinating story of Alan Wilson, let me qualify this entire post by writing that there is no special link with 27 and death for musicians. Yes, coincidentally, many talented musicians died within a short time of each other at the age of 27, but, when you do a wide scientific study, it is pretty obvious that more musicians die closer to the national average for humans than do when 27. Many musicians unfortunately die young, though, because of the lifestyle they lead – drugs, alcohol, lack of sleep, constant touring, violence, accidents, and, in some cases (like that of Mr. Wilson), debilitating depression. For example, Tupac died at 25, Otis Redding at 26, Hank Williams at 29, Sam Cooke at 33, and Buddy Holly at 22.

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Canned Heat may be the most underrated band of the 1960s. The band, which was put together by Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson and Bob “The Bear” Hite, appeared at both seminal 60’s music festivals – The Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock – and played a style of psychedelic blues music that was adroit and foundational. It is not a lie that Canned Heat provided tremendous inspiration for several blues acts during one of the most formative eras of rock n’ roll. The band housed a slew of blues-related acts in the late 60s (Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead included), and became a key starting point for tremendously talented blues musicians like Harvey Mandel and Walter Trout. Founding guitarist Henry Vestine is ranked 77th in the top 100 guitarists of all time list from Rolling Stone Magazine.

Unfortunately, Canned Heat suffered two huge losses with the death of Alan Wilson in 1970 and then Bob Hite in 1981 (at the age of 38). The band still performs today with originals Larry Taylor and Adolfo de la Parra. Harvey Mandel performs with them as well, and he is pretty much an original, joining the band in 1969 and playing with them (his third performance oddly enough) at Woodstock.

Let’s talk about Alan Wilson. Wilson, who got the nickname “Blind Owl” because he had terrible sight and was erudite, majored in music at Boston University and focused his attention on blues music. He particularly enjoyed the music of pioneer Skip James, and he emulated his high vocals in his own singing. With Hite, Canned Head was founded, and the band released a string of excellent album starting in 1966 – Vintage Heat (1966), Canned Heat (1967), Boogie with Canned Heat (1968), Hallelujah (1969), and Future Blues (1970). The albums featured such special guests like John Mayall, Dr. John, and Sunnyland Slim.

The band’s hit “Going Up The Country,” which sampled the quills of Henry Thomas’ “Bull-Doze Blues,” became the anthem of Woodstock; it is featured in the Woodstock movie.

In September of 1970, Wilson was found dead on a hill behind Bob Hite’s home. His autopsy revealed that he died of an accidental drug overdose. Wilson was hospitalized and treated for significant depression earlier that year after a suicide attempt, and some think the drug overdose was indeed a suicide.

It is worthless playing the game of what could have been, but if Bob Hite and Alan Wilson both stayed alive for longer, I believe Canned Heat would have released several more albums with the two leads at the helm, and perhaps would have gone done as one of the best blues bands ever.

Enjoy “Going Up The Country!”

Contributions of The 27 Club

22 Jul

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The anniversary of Amy Winehouse’s death is tomorrow. She is part of the infamous 27 club. Let’s welcome Marus Conner to the Music Court for a guest post; he outlines the longstanding impact that musicians in the 27 club had on the industry.

The Achievements of Fame’s Tragic 27 Club

Despite the fact that the world lost these extremely talented individuals at the tender age of 27, the contributions they made were astounding. The music world and, in many cases, society at large has benefitted from the impact of their lives, work and death.

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix was a self-taught guitarist, singer and songwriter, who could not read music. Instead he played by ear without the help of a teacher. Easily, one of the biggest and most recognizable cultural figures of the 1960s, he was named the greatest guitarist ever by Rolling Stones Magazine. He revolutionized the use of a Fender Stratocaster as an electronic sound source. He was also distinctive in his playing of the instrument because as a left hander, he played a right-handed guitar upside down. This pioneering musician was the front man for the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsys.

Janis Joplin

Rock and roller Janis Joplin was a songwriter and lead vocalist for Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Kozmic Blues Band and Full Tilt Boogie Band. Notably she had a hit #1 song for 9 weeks in 1971, with “Pearl” which was released posthumously. Her former home in the Haight district of San Francisco was transformed into a drug rehab center in 1999, four years after she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Jim Morrison

Brilliant Jim Morrison, with a 149 IQ and a voracious appetite for reading, was a poet, songwriter, singer, film director and front man for The Doors. He led the group to be named the #1 rock group in the United States in 1969. The group’s first three albums went gold, paving the road for a successful future that was marred by Morrison’s untimely death in 1971. At the Atlanta International Film Festival in 1969, multi-talented Jim Morrison won the Golden Phoenix Award for the film Feast of Friends. He has been included in many lists of greatest singers.

Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain was the lead singer, guitarist, song-writer and founding member of the band Nirvana. He led the alternative rock band to numerous awards and nominations from its start in 1992. The group was known as “the flagship band” for Generation X and Cobain was designated “the spokesman of a generation”. Twenty years after his death, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse was a British singer and songwriter who was well known for her throaty voice and the way in which she mixed different musical genres. Jazz, reggae, rhythm and blues and soul all came together for her, leading to 63 music award nominations and 25 awards. She was the first British woman to win 5 Grammy awards. Notably she sang Happy Birthday to icon Nelson Mandela.

Throughout her career, Winehouse was extremely generous and supported numerous charities. The Amy Winehouse Foundation was created by her family following her death to help disadvantaged young people and to increase awareness of the negative effects of drugs and alcohol.

Brian Jones

Brian Jones was the original founder of the famous Rolling Stones. In addition, he was a guitarist and played a variety of instruments. Brian Jones created the Rolling Stones, chose its members, decided on the music style, named the group and even secured gigs in the early days. He was the driving force behind the debut of the group and was known as being an exceptional musician.

Ron “Pigpen” McKernan

Ron “Pigpen” McKernan was a founding member of the Grateful Dead, being the one who suggested to Jerry Garcia that they form an electric group. As the keyboardist and singer for the Grateful Dead, McKernan was key to the group’s early success. 19 years after the death of McKernan, the Grateful Dead was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Dave Alexander

Dave Alexander was the bassist for the group the Stooges prior to his 1975 death. The group pioneered the genre punk-rock. He was credited as having been the lead composer on several of the songs the group and a driving force in many respects for the group’s first two albums.

Pete Ham

Pete Ham of the British band Badfinger, is a Welsh guitarist and keyboardist. He led the group, which was made famous because of its musical collaborations with The Beatles on multiple occasions. He was also a gifted composer who co-wrote songs for other performers, such as the hit “Without You” made famous by Harry Nilsson. Along with Badfinger, he is noted as being amongst the first performers of the genre power pop.

Mia Zapata

Mia Zapata, was the lead singer of the group the Gits, when she was murdered in 1993, just one month after Atlantic Records offered to sign the group. The positive cultural impact of her violent death came about at the hands of her friends who, following her death, created an organization called Home Alive that focused on self-defense. Benefit concerts for this organization featured some of the biggest names in music in Seattle, including Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Heart and Soundgarden, as well as several presidents of the United States.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell was a member of pop band Big Star, as a singer-songwriter and guitarist. He was key in the making of the band’s first album “#1 Record”, as he did vocals, songwriting and played guitar. While this album only under 10,000 copies when it was first released in 1972, yet in 2003 it was ranked number 438 in the Rolling Stone list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. This created a resurge in interest in the album.

Freaky Tah

Freaky Tah, also known as Raymond Rogers, is a rapper and a member of the hip hop group Lost Boyz. The song that propelled the group to fame was the single “Renee” from their 1996 album Legal Drug Money. It reached Gold status and was on the Billboard Top 20, and was included on the soundtrack of the comedy movie “Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood.” The album Legal Drug Money was number one on the Top R&B/Hop Hop List, number 6 on the Billboard Hot 200 and went Gold according to the RIAA, just two months after it went on sale.

Kristen Pfaff

Kristen Pfaff was a member of the alternative rock band Hole where she played bass and also a background vocalist for the band Janitor Joe out of Minneapolis. The Buffalo Music Hall of Fame inducted Kristen as a member just months after her 1994 death. The band Hole gives a portion of album sales to the Kristen Pfaff Memorial fund. In addition, each year a radio station in Minneapolis offers a Kristen Pfaff Memorial Scholarship of $1000.

Even though these legends did not live long, their impact on their industry and the world can still be felt today, all impressive tributes for those who left this world too early.

 

Marus and his friend also created a website depicting each artist mentioned in the post with some music from them. Check it out

 

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