September 3 – Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson

There’s a great deal of joy for me in the music I celebrate on this blog, and generally that’s where I prefer to focus my attention. But with that yin comes the inevitable yang. Beginning with the death of Brian Jones in July of 1969, followed by the darkness of the Manson murders the following month and Altamont in December of that year, the positive vibes of the Peace & Love movement had taken a major hit. The great music played on, but all was not well. Fatigue had set in due to the ongoing mess in Vietnam, riots at home, Kent State, etc. Drugs of choice had become more dangerous, and some folks weren’t equipped to handle it in the long term. Canned Heat co-founder, guitarist, harmonica virtuoso, and singer Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson was a casualty of the times. In the weeks and months following his passing, the bad news kept coming.

Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson – PowerPop… An Eclectic Collection of Pop Culture

The Massachusetts born Wilson became a musician, and specifically a serious blues enthusiast and student, at a young age. His falsetto vocal style was directly influenced by Skip James. Wilson also helped Son House re-learn his own songs after years away from music. He studied music at Boston University before moving to Los Angeles with guitarist John Fahey. It was Fahey who gave the extremely nearsighted, intellectual, and introverted Wilson his moniker, “Blind Owl.” In L.A. Wilson met Bob Hite, and together they formed what became one of the greatest blues rock bands of all time, Canned Heat. That band’s two most commercially successful singles, Going Up the Country and On the Road Again, feature Wilson on vocals (the latter song also featuring him on tambura, harmonica, and guitar).

Alan Wilson of Canned Heat - Rockers Who Died at Age 27

Unfortunately, Wilson was also prone to depression. He had spent a short time in an L.A. hospital after a suicide attempt a few months prior to his death, and on this day 50 years ago he was found behind bandmate Bob Hite’s Topanga Canyon home, dead from an overdose of barbituates. There was no note, and his death was officially ruled an accident. He left an important musical legacy in his brief time on Earth. Like Brian Jones, he championed the cause of the original blues masters who had been nearly forgotten, while creating some of the enduring sounds of the Woodstock Era. Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson: 7/4/43 – 9/3/70.

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Wilson_(musician)

 

August 3 – The End of an Era for Canned Heat

8/3/70: Canned Heat – Future Blues

For two or three years around the turn of the 1970’s, a handful of artists stepped away from the trend of heavy, self-important music to record albums that get the listener up off the couch and into boogie mode. A couple days ago we turned the spotlight on Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen, which I described as loose and sounding like a party taking place on stage. That album had counterparts in the blues rock idiom at the time such as Delaney & Bonnie: On Tour with Eric Clapton and Canned Heat’s Future Blues, the latter released 50 years ago today.

6 - Canned Heat - Future Blues - D - 1970--- | Klaus Hiltscher | Flickr

Future Blues was the band’s fifth album, and the last to feature most of the classic lineup. Larry Taylor and Harvey Mandel left the group after its recording and just before its release. Co-founder Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson passed away a month after its release, an unfortunate founding member of the 27 Club.

Alan Wilson of Canned Heat - Rockers Who Died at Age 27

This is widely considered to be one of their best albums. Future Blues was to critic Robert Christgau what Life Cereal was to Mikey… The band eschewed the extended jams they were also known for, sticking with more concise tracks mostly under three minutes long. The whole thing clocks in under 36 minutes as originally released. Future Blues is also noted for its stylistic diversity, from 1940’s jump blues on Skat (with horns arranged by Dr. John), to the darker London Blues (featuring Dr. John on piano) and heavy guitar of its most well known track, Let’s Work Together. This is not to say it’s a dark album, not by a long shot.

Canned Heat - Titel & Alben : Napster

Favorite tracks of mine include the straight forward blues of Sugar Bee and So Sad, both sung by Bob Hite, Charlie Patton’s Shake It and Break It sung by the Blind Owl, Arthur Crudup’s That’s All Right, Mama with Hite’s gravely vocal, as well as Wilson’s rolling but eerily prophetic My Time Ain’t Long and John Lee Hooker-influenced London Blues. When I think of American bands from that time, the “Woodstock Era,” Canned heat is one of the first to come to mind. Their combination of blues n’ boogie was unmatched to my ears. The vocal styles of Bob Hite and Alan Wilson couldn’t have been much more different, yet it was unquestionably Canned Heat regardless of who sang or how long the track was.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Sugar Bee
  2. Shake it and Break it
  3. That’s All Right (Mama)
  4. My Time Ain’t Long
  5. Skat
  6. Let’s Work Together

Side Two:

  1. London Blues
  2. So Sad (The World’s in a Tangle)
  3. Future Blues

-Stephen

https://www.allmusic.com/album/release/future-blues-mr0000098435

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future_Blues_(Canned_Heat_album)

November 1 – Canned Heat’s Blues (and Flower) Power

Canned Heat – Living the Blues

Why do I continue to take Canned Heat’s music for granted?  Every time I listen to them I’m blown away at their combination of simplicity and virtuosity.  As with other well-known artists of the day, Canned Heat paid homage to the greats with their style of blues ‘n boogie.  But theirs was a uniquely American sound.  And as the world found out the following summer, they were just as at-home in front of massive audiences as they were in bars.

Canned-Heat-Bob-Hite.jpg

The classic lineup’s double LP Living the Blues, their second album of 1968 and third overall, was released on this date with guest appearances by John Mayall (piano on Walking by Myself) and Dr. John (Boogie Music).  And with it, they continued to make their mark on the late-60’s music scene while bringing a classic American genre to the fore.

Canned Heat 4.jpg

They also showed on this release that they could stretch it out and jam with the best of them.  While Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson’s Going Up the Country, along with his On the Road Again from Boogie with Canned Heat earlier in the year, are their trademark tunes with a permanent place on the Counter Culture’s Greatest Hits, Canned Heat were so much more.  The 20-minute Parthenogenesis which takes up nearly all of side two, and the 41-minute Refried Boogie, which consumes the entire second disc of the album, showed they could bring serious crunch to the blues.  Other great tracks here are Charley Patton’s Pony Blues and Blind Lemon Jefferson’s One Kind Favor, both powerfully delivered by Bob Hite.

AllMusic’s Lindsay Planer writes, “Living the Blues stands as a testament to Canned Heat’s prowess as modernizers of the blues and recommended as one of the most cohesive works from this incarnation.”  It’s pure, unpretentious, joyful music.

 

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Pony Blues
  2. My Mistake
  3. Sandy’s Blues
  4. Going Up the Country
  5. Walking by Myself
  6. Boogie Music

Side Two:

  1. One Kind Favor
  2. Parthenogenesis:   I. Nebulosity  II. Rollin’ and Tumblin’   III. Five Owls  IV. Bear -Wires  V.  Snooky Flowers   VI. Sunflower Power (RMS is Truth) VII. Raga Kafi  VII. Icebag  IX. Childhood’s End

Side Three:

  1. Refried Boogie (Pt. 1)

Side Four:

  1. Refried Boogie (Pt. 2)

-Stephen

https://www.allmusic.com/album/living-the-blues-mw0000006464

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_the_Blues

http://ppcorn.com/us/canned-heat-living-blues/

 

 

 

January 21, Pt. 2 – Simon & Garfunkel, Canned Heat

Simon and Garfunkel – The Graduate (Soundtrack)

My LP collection, when I last saw it, was not very impressive.  My first albums as a child were hand-me-downs from my brothers when they replaced worn out and scratched copies of Beatles and Elton John records (What?  I’m part of the reason they were worn out and scratched?).  To this day, there are certain songs I hear on CD or the radio, and I expect it to skip at a certain point in the song.  As I got older, I received LPs for birthday and Christmas gifts, and I purchased a handful during adolescence.  But I mostly bought cassettes.  I’ve since replaced all the Beatles albums on CD (twice), and all the Elton.  I never did replace those KISS albums.  My first exposure to Bob Marley was the greatest hits LP Legend, which I bought in 1986 out of curiosity after repeatedly coming across his name in various publications, namely Rolling Stone, discussing the late, great Rastafarian.  (Keep in mind I grew up in flyover USA, and I just wasn’t exposed to a lot of this stuff at a younger age.)  I owned most of the early U2 and REM LPs, a Hendrix hits album here, the Pretty in Pink soundtrack or a random Windham Hill sampler record there, and that’s about it.  All told, I owned maybe 50 pieces of vinyl, give or take.  Not much, but I wish I still had it.  And it’s my own fault I don’t.  I took for granted that it would be in its last known location when I was ready to lug it to Texas.  When I thought to do it, it was gone.  Que sera sera

One LP in my collection that I always thought was interesting but didn’t fully appreciate at a younger age was the original copy of the soundtrack to The Graduate, released this day 50 years ago, which I absconded with from my mom’s collection.  I can still see the clean, barely played, thick vinyl, and the sturdy jacket which was its home.  It still had the original shrink-wrap on it, for crying out loud.  But at 15 I didn’t care much for the instrumental music by Dave Grusin mixed in with the Simon and Garfunkel songs.  It was easier to just listen to one of their “regular” albums.  Having watched The Graduate movie (which was released in December of ’67) for the umpteenth time the other night, I can now say I do enjoy the instrumentals just as I do those from the original soundtracks to A Hard Day’s Night and Help.  Not so much as individual pieces, but because of their importance to the films which I’ve loved for so long.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. The Sound of Silence
  2. The Singleman Party Foxtrot
  3. Mrs. Robinson (version 1)
  4. Sunporch Cha-Cha-Cha
  5. Scarborough Fair/Canticle (Interlude)
  6. On the Strip
  7. April Come She Will
  8. The Folks

Side Two:

  1. Scarborough Fair/Canticle
  2. A Great Effect
  3. The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine
  4. Whew
  5. Mrs. Robinson (version 2)
  6. The Sound of Silence

There’s so much trivia surrounding this film that I won’t bother getting into it, other than to mention my surprise to learn the other day that Anne Bancroft, a.k.a. Mrs. Robinson, was only 35 years old when that movie was made.  Dustin Hoffman, the young, recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock, was 29.

The-Graduate-50-anniversary.jpg

Elaine!.gif

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Graduate

 

Canned Heat – Boogie with Canned Heat

In my “January 21, Pt. 1” post I mentioned a vague interconnectedness of important historical events and pop culture.  What I’m referring to, as it relates to these posts, is the fact that soldiers in Vietnam, or the Resistance in Prague and many other places around the globe, listened to much of this music for a respite, for inspiration, or both.  To some extent it has been glorified in films over the years, but I’ve yet to see a documentary or read an account that debunked it in the least.  Sadly, much of the music was divided along racial lines in the military at the time.  In 2018 it’s hard to imagine James Brown or The Temptations as music for “those” people, while “these” people listened to the Doors, the Stones, or Johnny Cash.  It’s all such great music.  If ever there was a band that crossed those lines, it was Canned Heat.

When Canned Heat were at the peak of their power in the late 60’s/early 70’s, there may not have been a more fun band to hear live.  There were no costumes or stage antics, just great rockin’ blues n’ boogie.  Nothing pretentious about them.  See their performance at Woodstock, for example.  Boogie with Canned Heat, also released this day, and its followup later in the year, gave us some of the most quintessential Woodstock-era music.  But remember kids, SPEED KILLS!

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Evil Woman
  2. My Crime
  3. On the Road Again
  4. World in a Jug
  5. Turpentine Moan
  6. Whiskey Headed Woman No. 2

Side Two:

  1. Amphetamine Annie
  2. An Owl Song
  3. Marie Laveau
  4. Fried Hockey Boogie

-Stephen