Tag Archives: Canned Heat

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!”

“Going up the Country” – Back to Binghamton.

13 Oct

If you have been viewing this blog for a while, you know that a post about “Going up the Country” by Canned Heat has become synonymous with my trips up to Binghamton. What started as a quick and short post just to alert readers that I was driving four hours north to Binghamton (and could not post that day because of it), became a tradition, a sort-of good luck charm, declaring safe passage up to Binghamton University. I graduated from Binghamton last Spring and I am now settled into the world of commuting, but, as the title of this post suggests, I will be visiting the Ol’ Alma Mater this weekend, and therefore “Going up the Country” returns.

Canned Heat’s “Going up the Country” struck it big because of its appearance in the Woodstock movie. Because of its bluesy and rhythmic bustle, and apt message (for the journey to Woodstock was a trip up the New York country), the song became that Woodstock song. Alan Wilson’s trademark high-pitched and possessed croon just assisted in the song’s overall aura.

I have posted about this song too many times. How can I possibly make this any different? Well, hmm, today I believe I will do my favorite cover version of the song.

Here is “Going up the Country,” the 50’s shuffle version.

The band is Kitty Daisy & Lewis and this country/rock-a-billy/all-around twang sibling throwback play music in London. This version of the song has gained over one million views on YouTube, which is a pretty extraordinary feat. It moves. It’s cool. A well-put together and filmed cover.

But my favorite version (that is not the original) is not a cover at all. Instead, it is actually what the song is based on (or completely stolen from, matters who you ask). Alan Wilson is listed as the writer of the song, but Henry Thomas recorded the song with different lyrics in 1928. So, yeah, it’s stolen (not the lyric, but the entire melody) “Bull Doze Blues” is “Going up the Country.” Enjoy the quills!

Going Up The Country…For the Last Time

20 Jan

On The Spine - I am not in this picture. But I should be

Today marks the last time I will make the trek up to Binghamton University in anticipation for either Fall/Spring semester. I have reached the Spring semester of my senior year of college. In May I will adorn green and white and graduate with a BA in English – Rhetoric – Creative Writing – whatever other English specification you want to pack into my degree. I am excited to enter the “real world.” I may be continuing my education at a Graduate level in hopes of achieving a masters in journalism. Or I may immediately enter the work force and become a member of the working population. For now, I will enjoy my last semester of college.

Since today is the last time I will be heading up to Binghamton after winter (or summer) break, it also is the last time that I will feature “Going Up The Country” by Canned Heat paired with my farewell Long Island post. This classic, that was made iconic by the Woodstock movie, is not only a Woodstock anthem, but also an ode to my departure to the north country. Upstate New York…where the water tastes like wine?

The Canned Heat recording from Woodstock also makes the perfect driving song. In it you can hear Bob Hite say that he really needs to pee but there is nowhere to go. A problem when you are driving up deserted 17 as well. So, for good luck on my final trip, here is Canned Heat with “Going Up The Country.”

Heading Back Up To Binghamton – Going Up The Country

28 Nov

Oh do I love the 4-hour drive to Binghamton…and the 2-hour round-trip to Cornell and back to Binghamton. No, seriously, I really do not mind it. While some would scoff at the long drive and complain, I welcome it. It is not hard to put my foot on the gas for an extended period of time, especially when I have good company and an iPod jam-packed with music on shuffle. Now, it is not my favorite thing in the world. But, it’s not too bad.

In what has become a semi-tradition here at the Music Court, I always preface my trip up north with Canned Heat‘s “Going Up the Country,” which unofficially became the anthem of Woodstock and has now become good luck for my ride up to school.

Did you know that multi-instrumentalist Jim Horn played a large flute part in the song? Horn played flute and saxophone on The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and solo albums by three members of the Beatles.

Enjoy!

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