Tag Archives: Music

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!”

It’s a Sin to Live So Well – “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger

16 Jul

The plethora of one-hit wonders that exist in the wide world of 20th and 21st century music is indicative of just how hard it is to hit success twice as a band or musician. It is somewhat analogous to striking gold twice. This makes the multi-level houses of gold that could have been constructed by the Beatles or Michael Jackson all the more impressive. That said, this section is about one-hit wonders, and we are going back to the 1990s, an era that spawned long lists of the one-off greats for this song.

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Before we get into “Flagpole Sitta,” let me clarify that a one-hit wonder does not mean that the band broke up directly after the release of the song. On the contrary, as is the case of Harvey Danger, the band played together for 15 years, released three albums, and performed a large amount of shows. A one-hit wonder indicates that a band/singer found wide-ranging chart success with only one track, and that was “Flagpole Sitta,” the alt/punk classic that exposed the mainstream alt/punk/grunge scene, as impacted by Seattle grunge bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.

“Flagpole Sitta,” and, in larger part, the album it is housed on Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone is a true indie success story. Initially released on an independent label based in Oregon called Arena Rock Recording Company. “Flagpole Sitta” was recognized as the awesome song it is, and it started seeing airplay all over. The band had sent demos of all the songs on the album to music industry professionals, including Slash records, in 1996, and Slash ended up re-releasing the album, cementing the album and its lead track as a 1990s staple and, now, best hits collection item.

What makes the song so good? It’s angry. The song doesn’t let up. It starts with a rising guitar riff that blends into Sean Nelson’s pleading vocals. The chorus is a amalgamation of yelling harmonies and a crashing instrumental. The lyric reflects the potency of the rhythm effectively; it is a catharsis of frustration and candor (“been around the world and found that only stupid people are breeding”). The song also has a timeless quality (even with the reference to ‘zines and Rage Against the Machine). It is a excellent portrayal of societal angst that uses a head-banging, toe-tapping instrumental that pumps the tune on repeat in your head for hours.

Before I end this post, it would be averse if I did not mention the passing of the founding bassist Aaron Huffman who died in March of this year of respiratory failure. Rest in peace.

Stuck In My Head — Bear Hands

30 May

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I’ve had a chance to listen to a lot of Sirius XM radio lately, and in my listening binge I have found myself on the Alt Nation channel much of the time. On it, Bear Hands, an Indie Rock/Punk band formed in Brooklyn a decade ago, has found much play with a song called “2 a.m.” from the band’s 2016 studio album You’ll Pay for This. The song is just one in a vast library of excellent music Bear Hands has released since its first LP was introduced to the listening populace in 2010. Let’s explore two of Bear Hands’ most popular songs.

“Agora,” an ode to the phobia that shares the prefix, is a jaunty, paranoid song with fragmented guitar, pleading harmonies, and a spooky key motif. With the repetition of agora in the verse it almost sounds like the band is the music video’s protagonist’s deranged mind. Oh, and the song is pretty awesome too; a sub-3-minute ditty that hits the ears hard and sticks.

“2 a.m.” has marked differences that demonstrate the band’s multifarious skill. The song is more methodical in its pace, featuring slow keys and muffled drums. The vocals reflect the instrumentation; at times they even some strained and depressed. The song serves a wonderful contrast to “Agora” and other fast-paced Bear Hands songs, and the slowed down style is impressive. It also reflects the lyrics, which sings of getting older.

 

You can find out more about Bear Hands at the band’s website

Music Palace – Rival Sons, Adam Sullivan and the Trees

28 Feb

I must proclaim that I am a little late to the game with both Rival Sons and Adam Sullivan and the Trees. I first heard about both bands back in 2014, and, well, there they sat on my list of bands to write about for around two years. Since then, though, both bands have continued their drive to the top of their respective genres, creating excellent music that, if you have not heard of yet, you should have (and you will now).

 

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Hard Rock is tough to come by these days. And, no, I’m not talking about the loud, “hard rock” proto-punk sound that occasionally serves as a substitute to traditional hard rock. I’m talking about Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer 1960s/1970s hard rock that took blues music and shaped it into a driving sound that rocked the socks off of my parent’s generation. Lucky for listeners today, Rival Sons is doing just that. Much in the vein of modern bands like The Sheepdogs and Gary Clark Jr., Rival Sons is creating old-style rock n’ roll music with a keen blues sound, driving percussion, and raspy vocals. This is not going unnoticed. The Californian band, which formed back in 2009,  was handpicked to be the main support for the entire Black Sabbath farewell world tour. That’s a high compliment from one of the originators of the genre.

Released in 2014, on the 4th studio album from the band – Great Western Valkyrie – “Open My Eyes” was a large reason why the album reached #1 on the US Heat charts as well as charting in several European countries. Hit play on that track and tell me it does not sound like you just lightly placed the needle down on an LP. The crashing percussion and satiating riff – purveyed by Mike Miley and Scott Holiday respectively – are jaw-dropping. Lead vocalist Jay Buchanan belts the vocals from the first note, calling forth comparisons to Paul Rodgers and Lou Gramm. Dave Beste provides a solid bass guitar to round out the quartet. The song even features a Bad Compary-esque acoustic interlude. This is a tremendous release from an up-and-coming band, and I cannot wait to hear more from them.

Adam Sullivan and the Trees

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After years as a solo artist, Adam Sullivan needed some more roots to shape his music career, so he recruited some NYC trees and started making music with them. The result? Adam Sullivan and the Trees, a four-piece Indie/Folk/Pop outfit whose music relies on catchy melodies, dulcet rhythms, and, according to the Facebook page, halal food and whiskey. The band, which consists of Adam Sullivan (keys, vocals), Mason Ingram (drums), Rob Ritchie (guitars), and Zack Lober (bass), formed in 2013 and since then released a self-titled LP (2014) and Live and Acoustic album (2015).

“Cool Kids” – the live version – is off of the band’s most recent 2015 release. It is a ditty in every traditional sense. The band describes its genre as happy/sad music, and this song encompasses that genre perfectly. Ostensibly, it is a melodic acoustic track with pleasant vocals and cheery instrumentation; the lyrics, though, are about trying to fit in with the cool kids and are, well, sad; however, the lyrics fit perfectly with the track and in that are successful.

Flaunt Brings An Atmosphere of Sound In Their Newest Track, Restraint

25 Feb

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Flaunt puts their mysterious and noir sound on the map within their newest single Restraint. The light addition of drumming within the track and subtle, but powerful guitar riffs set the tone for Restraint as an intentional and focused one. With their musical aesthetic being on the same wavelength as artists such as Bloc Party, The Killers, and even Spooky Black, Flaunt makes their music completely unique and addicting to the auditory sense. Even within their track, the word phrases of “after you knocked me over and “you turned to the quickest escape” convey the track not only as a strong anthem, but also one that’s filled with emotion, despair, and dashes of melancholia. Previously earning an Independent Music Award in 2014 for New Discovery Artist, it should not be a surprise to listeners how authentic and raw Flaunt truly is.

For more listening:

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