Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson was the preeminent statesman of ‘60’s blues/rock; a master harmonica player and guitarist in the Delta tradition who would forge unlikely relationships with heavyweights like Son House and John Lee Hooker (“Alan plays my music better than I knows it myself”) on his way toward becoming, according to Downbeat Magazine, “the finest white blues harmonica man” of the hippie era.
Nearsighted to the point of almost complete blindness, Wilson picked up the name the “Blind Owl” from good friend and fellow blues picker John Fahey. As bandmate Fito de la Parra writes: “Without the glasses, Alan literally could not recognize the people he played with at two feet, that’s how blind the ‘Blind Owl’ was.”
Born on the Fourth of July, 1943 in Boston, MA, Wilson became involved in the Cambridge coffeehouse folk-blues circuit while enrolled at Boston University. He immersed himself in the history of early blues music, becoming an authority on the subject; so much so that in 1964 noted manager/producer/blues historian Dick Waterman recruited Wilson to re-teach the legendary Son House how to play his old slide guitar licks on the songs he had recorded in the ‘30s but had forgotten. After several weeks of playing together, House invited Alan to play guitar and harmonica at the Newport Folk Festival and on his recording, The Legendary Son House: Father of Folk Blues.
In 1965, Alan helped found Los Angeles-based Canned Heat. The band performed at the two most iconic live concerts in rock history: the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock, where the Wilson-penned “Going Up the Country” not only became the theme of the movie filmed at the festival, but the anthem of the entire Woodstock Generation. It continues to be featured in movies and commercials to this day.
In September of 1970 Wilson’s body was found on a hillside behind bandmate Bob Hite’s California home. An overdose of barbiturates cut his life short making him and unwitting member of the infamous 27 Club. Thankfully, his music lives on, not only by the band which is still touring today, but on the Severn Records compilation Alan Wilson: The Blind Owl (Severn CD-0057 © 2013).