Alan Wilson (musician)

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Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson
Alan Wilson, musician.jpg
Background information
Birth name Alan Christie Wilson
Born (1943-07-04)July 4, 1943
Arlington, Massachusetts, United States
Died September 3, 1970(1970-09-03) (aged 27)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Genres Blues-rock, blues
Occupations Musician, songwriter
Instruments Guitar (rhythm, slide), harmonica, vocals, jaw-harp
Years active 1960–1970
Labels Liberty Records
Associated acts Canned Heat
Notable instruments
Gibson Les Paul (1954 goldtop model)
Fender Telecaster

Alan Christie Wilson (July 4, 1943 – September 3, 1970) was the leader, singer, and primary composer in the American blues band Canned Heat. He played guitar and harmonica, and wrote several songs for the band.

Early years[edit]

Wilson was born and grew up in the Boston suburb of Arlington, Massachusetts.[1] He majored in music at Boston University and often played the Cambridge coffeehouse folk-blues circuit. He acquired the nickname "Blind Owl" owing to his extreme nearsightedness.[2] In one instance when he was playing at a wedding, he laid his guitar on the wedding cake because he did not see it. As Canned Heat's drummer, Fito de la Parra, wrote in his book: "Without the glasses, Alan literally could not recognize the people he played with at two feet, that's how blind the 'Blind Owl' was." [3] Wilson wrote for a newspaper in Boston and was considered one of the foremost experts on the blues musicians who came before him. A dedicated student of early blues, his biggest influences included Skip James, Robert Johnson, Son House, Charley Patton, Tommy Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Booker White. James was the most exalted figure in Wilson's personal music journey. In high school, Wilson studied James' 1931 recordings with great fascination. It was around that time Wilson began singing similar to James' high pitch. Wilson eventually perfected the high tenor, for which he would become known.

Canned Heat[edit]

With Canned Heat, Wilson performed at two prominent concerts of the 1960s era, the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969. Although Canned Heat's performance was cut from the original theatrical release of the Woodstock film, they were featured in the 25th anniversary "Director's Cut." The exception was "Going Up the Country," which was featured in the opening credits of the original Woodstock film.[4] It has been referred to as the festival's unofficial theme song. Wilson also wrote and sang the notable "On the Road Again." In an interview with Down Beat magazine he remarked that, "... on On The Road Again [second LP] I appear in six different capacities – three tamboura parts, harmonica, vocal, and guitar, all recorded at different times." [5]

Wilson was a passionate conservationist who loved reading books on botany and ecology. He often slept outdoors to be closer to nature. In 1969, he wrote and recorded a song, "Poor Moon", which expressed concern over potential pollution of the moon. He wrote an essay called 'Grim Harvest', about the coastal redwood forests of California, which was printed as the liner notes to the Future Blues album by Canned Heat.

After Eddie 'Son' House's 'rediscovery' in 1964, Wilson taught him how to play again the songs House had recorded in 1930 and 1942 (which he had forgotten over a long absence from music); House recorded for Columbia in 1965 and two of three selections featuring Wilson on harmonica and guitar appeared on the set. On the double album Hooker 'N Heat (1970), John Lee Hooker is heard wondering how Wilson is capable of following Hooker's guitar playing so well. Hooker was known to be a difficult performer to accompany, partly because of his disregard of song form. Yet Wilson seemed to have no trouble at all following him on this album. Hooker concludes that "you [Wilson] musta been listenin' to my records all your life". Hooker is also known to have stated "Wilson is the greatest harmonica player ever"

Stephen Stills' song "Blues Man" from the album Manassas is dedicated to Wilson, along with Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman.

Death[edit]

On September 3, 1970 Wilson was found dead on a hillside behind band mate Bob Hite's Topanga Canyon house. He was 27 years old. An autopsy identified his cause of death as acute barbiturate intoxication.[6] Wilson reportedly had attempted suicide a few months earlier, attempting to drive his car off a freeway in Los Angeles. He was briefly hospitalized for significant Depression, and was released after a few weeks.[7] Although his death is sometimes reported as a suicide, this is not clearly established and he left no note.[8] Wilson's death came just two weeks before the death of Jimi Hendrix and four weeks before the death of Janis Joplin.

Wilson was interested in preserving the natural world, particularly the redwood trees. When he died, so too did the Music Mountain organization he had initiated dedicated to this purpose.[9] In order to support his dream, Wilson's family has purchased a "grove naming" in his memory through the Save the Redwoods League of California. The money donated to create this memorial will be used by the League to support redwood reforestation, research, education, and land acquisition of both new and old growth redwoods.[10]

Discography[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Davis, Rebecca (2013). Blind Owl Blues: The Mysterious Life and Death of Blues Legend Alan Wilson. Blind Owl Blues. p. 7. ISBN 0-615-79298-7. 
  2. ^ Davis, Rebecca (2013). Blind Owl Blues: The Mysterious Life and Death of Blues Legend Alan Wilson. Blind Owl Blues. pp. 63, 85. ISBN 0-615-79298-7. 
  3. ^ de la Parra, Fito (2000). Living The Blues: Canned Heat's Story of Music, Drugs, Death, Sex, and Survival. Canned Heat Music. p. 125. ISBN 0-9676449-0-9. 
  4. ^ de la Parra, Fito (2000). Living The Blues: Canned Heat's Story of Music, Drugs, Death, Sex, and Survival. Canned Heat Music. p. 19. ISBN 0-9676449-0-9. 
  5. ^ Down Beat magazine, published June 19, 1968
  6. ^ Davis, Rebecca (2013). Blind Owl Blues: The Mysterious Life and Death of Blues Legend Alan Wilson. Blind Owl Blues. pp. 229, 243. ISBN 0-615-79298-7. 
  7. ^ Talevski, Nick (2006). Rock Obituaries - Knocking On Heaven's Door. Omnibus Press. p. 719. ISBN 1-84609-091-1. 
  8. ^ Rolling Stone issue #68, published October 29, 1970
  9. ^ Davis, Rebecca (2013). Blind Owl Blues: The Mysterious Life and Death of Blues Legend Alan Wilson. Blind Owl Blues. pp. 218–219. ISBN 0-615-79298-7. 
  10. ^ Davis, Rebecca (2013). Blind Owl Blues: The Mysterious Life and Death of Blues Legend Alan Wilson. Blind Owl Blues. p. 3. ISBN 0-615-79298-7. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Rebecca Davis, "Blind Owl Blues: The Mysterious Life and Death of Blues Legend Alan Wilson" (2007) ISBN 978-0-615-14617-1
  • Fito De La Parra, Living The Blues. Canned Heat's story of Music, Drugs, Death, Sex and Survival (2000) ISBN 0-9676449-0-9
  • Boogie with Canned Heat: The Canned Heat Story, a documentary (on DVD, Eagle Ent., 2007)

External links[edit]