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His was the voice of the Woodstock generation who asked “baby, do you want to go” in the classic Canned Heat anthem “Going Up the Country.” Now Severn Records presents The Blind Owl, a two-CD compilation featuring Alan Wilson’s greatest works with the legendary band he helped form in 1965.
Packaged in digipack format with cover art created by Josh Hunter, illustrator of The 27s book, The Blind Owl features 20 songs that clock in at over 60 minutes of satisfying electric blues boogie. In addition to the iconic “Going Up the Country” are the reflective “My Time Ain’t Long,” Little Walter’s “Mean Old World,” and the band’s breakout recording “On the Road Again” from their critically acclaimed Boogie with Canned Heat.
Painfully awkward, the eccentric Wilson battled anxiety and bouts of depression as heard in “My Mistake” and “Change My Ways.” He was keenly attuned to environmental issues and in almost prophetic foretelling wrote about man’s negative impact on the planet in his lamenting “Poor Moon,” a theme found in many of his works. Fan favorite “Time Was” (still being performed by Canned Heat today) sheds light on tensions within the band, as the upbeat “Shake It and Break It” adapts lyrics from a song penned by Charley Patton, another of Wilson’s musical heroes. Dr. John serves as guest keyboardist on “An Owl Song” and the set concludes with “Childhood’s End,” the last installment of a nine part psychedelic symphony Wilson termed “Parthenogenesis.”
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 an unwitting member of the infamous 27 Club.
Who knows what might have been for the Blind Owl. All that is certain is that his legacy remains strong today despite an early demise as proven in this collection of remarkable recordings. Alan Wilson: The Blind Owl is a must for any serious blues collector as well as fans of 60’s psychedelic rock.
LINER NOTES (BY PRODUCER SKIP TAYLOR)
- On the Road Again (from Boogie With Canned Heat) – This is a traditional country blues, inspired by Floyd Jones and adapted by Alan Wilson. This is the first worldwide Top 10 single for the band. Alan lost his mom at a young age and related to these lyrics.
- Help Me (from Canned Heat) – A Sonny Boy Williamson blues standard. This was Alan’s debut as a singer in 1966 on the first record for Liberty Records.
- An Owl Song (from Boogie With Canned Heat) – I recruited Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) to play piano on this track and on a number of other Canned Heat recordings through the years. This is the band’s first recording with horns. Horn arrangement by Adolfo de la Parra and Dr. John. Alan’s harp ending was inspired by Junior Wells.
- Going Up the Country (from Living the Blues) – The original melody from Henry Thomas’ “Bulldoze Blues” was retained with new lyrics by Alan. It was an anti-Vietnam War theme that became Canned Heat’s second Top 10 worldwide hit. It was a defining moment at the Woodstock Festival in 1969 and became the theme of the movie and the anthem of the “Woodstock Generation.” It has been featured in many movies and commercials ever since. It was Alan’s first lyric about getting away, leaving and going someplace “I ain’t never been before.”
- My Mistake (from Living the Blues) – Alan’s first song about his lack of success with women and a defining moment in writing about his personal demons.
- Change My Ways (from Hallelujah) – Alan’s loneliness was becoming very apparent. The rest of the band was enjoying stardom and the groupies that went with it, but Alan was not yet giving up and was even ready to “change my ways” … a small ray of hope.
- Get Off My Back (from Hallelujah) – A song about Alan’s relationship with his father, rejecting his father’s vocation as a bricklayer and his father’s refusal to accept Alan’s interest in music. Also a rebellious and general anti-establishment statement… anti-war and anti-authority… a real 60’s attitude.
- Time Was (from Hallelujah) – One of the bands most popular recordings. They still play it at almost every performance. This is about the friction within the band, mainly between Henry Vestine and Larry Taylor. Both had different ideas about the musical direction the band should take at this point in their career. It is really not about a broken love relationship, as some have thought, but about the band.
- Do Not Enter (from Hallelujah) – This is about Alan’s attempt to inspire a girl that had just refused to sleep with him by preaching that she should be rebellious and “reject your father’s rule!”
- Shake It and Break It (from Future Blues) – A good time, country blues with lyrics adapted from the original song by Charley Patton. This features Harvey “The Snake” Mandel on his first Canned Heat recording.
- Nebulosity / Rollin’ & Tumblin’/ Five Owls (from Living the Blues) – Here are Alan’s three parts of the nine part psychedelic, musical adventure known as “Parthenogenesis”… usually referring to a form of asexual reproduction, but here a solo reproduction of sound. Each band member could do whatever he wanted on his part without interference from the others. Alan tried to make his parts invoke a celestial, cloud like phenomenon.
DISC TWO (NOTES BY PRODUCER SKIP TAYLOR)
- Alan’s Intro (from Woodstock / Boogie House III) – Alan’s amazing slide guitar intro to Canned Heat’s “Woodstock Boogie” “live” at the original Woodstock Festival, 1969.
- My Time Ain’t Long (from Future Blues) – Recorded in late 1969 when Alan was getting more and more depressed. Here his lyrics insist that he has to get out and get away. He is talking about leaving the planet and giving a real signal that he is very troubled… “and I know… know My Time Ain’t Long.”
- Skat (from Future Blues) – This “good time” song developed out of a Canned Heat “jam” and when no lyric ever developed, Alan decided to “skat.” In vocal jazz, scat singing is vocal improvisation with random vocables and nonsense syllables or without words at all. Scat singing gives singers the ability to sing improvised melodies and rhythms, to create the equivalent of an instrumental solo using their voice. Dr. John on piano and the horn arrangement.
- London Blues (from Future Blues) – Originally recorded during a 1970 tour of Europe, this is Alan’s true story/narration of a very disappointing relationship with a “groupie” in London. The girl took full advantage of Alan’s sweet natured vulnerability and he wound up walking back from her place, across Hyde Park to the Royal Garden Hotel… alone. For her actions and his disillusionment, his final statement declares: “You can go straight to hell!” Piano is played by Dr. John.
- Poor Moon (released as a single in July, 1969; also from Uncanned – The Best of Canned Heat) – At the time Alan wrote this song the U.S. government was having discussions about the possibility of dumping nuclear waste on the moon. Alan had now become a militant environmentalist and correctly predicted: “They might test some bombs and scar your skin, I wonder when they’re going to destroy your face.” In 2009, NASA bombed the moon looking for water.
- Pulling Hair Blues (from Canned Heat Concert: Recorded Live In Europe) – Alan had a habit of “twisting his hair” not really pulling it. This was another sign of his deep thoughts and depression. The engineer in our recording studio finally asked that we keep Alan away from the mixing console because he was tired of cleaning Alan’s hair out of the sliders and controls. Again, the lyrics show Alan’s increasing frustration with simple, everyday life.
- Mean Old World (from Uncanned – The Best of Canned Heat) – A great blues standard that was one of Alan’s favorites. Recorded in early 1967 but never released until 1994.
- Human Condition (from Uncanned – The Best of Canned Heat) – This was Alan’s final studio recording. It was completed after his first attempt at suicide when he drove his van off the road. He then had a number of sessions with a female psychiatrist that led to this lyric and his “condition.”
- Childhood’s End (from Living the Blues) – The final part of “Parthenogenesis” with Alan showing his talent and versatility while playing the chromatic harmonica to say “goodbye” to the listener.
Alan Wilson: Vocals, Rhythm and Bottleneck Guitar, Harmonica (all tracks)
Henry Vestine: Lead Guitar (tracks 5, 7, 8)
Harvey Mandel: Lead Guitar (tracks 2, 3, 4, 6)
Larry Taylor: Bass (tracks 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
Tony de la Barreda: Bass (track 8)
Adolfo de la Parra: Drums and Percussion (tracks 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8)
Frank Cook: Drums (track 7)
Dr. John: Piano (tracks 3, 4)
Executive Producers: Skip Taylor and Adolfo De La Parra
Mastered by Ira Ingber at Muscletone Village Studio
Cover artwork from The 27s: The Greatest Myth of Rock & Roll, a story by Eric Segalstad and Josh Hunter
Package design by Al Brandtner, Brandtner Design, Chicago, IL