Revisiting Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson’s Musical Legacy

Alan Wilson – The Blind Owl
*** (out of 4 stars)
Label: Severn Records

On a recent trip up to the country (in Woodstock, NY), I brought along the newly released CD of Alan Wilson music, The Blind Owl. I had no idea who Alan Wilson was, but the packaging looked promising and the CD contained two discs — perfect for the nearly two-hour drive out of Manhattan. What a great surprise, then, to discover that Alan Wilson wasn’t some new hipster rocker, but the voice of the 1960s blues/rock band Canned Heat. Canned Heat performed at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967 and the Woodstock Music and Art Festival in 1969. In fact, their song, “Going Up The Country” became Woodstock’s unofficial theme song after it was prominently featured in the promotion of the Woodstock film. Now, Severn Records has released The Blind Owl, a compilation of Alan Wilson’s greatest works.

Canned Heat performing “On The Road Again” (live at Woodstock, 1969)…

Wilson had a unique voice… almost bird-like in a way. He was nicknamed “Blind Owl” for his poor eyesight (a name given to him from musician John Fahey), but the dove standing on the guitar, on the Woodstock poster, might as well have been a tribute to his sensitive tenor vocals. Just as prominently featured in the tracks here, is Alan Wilson’s uniquely subtle bluesharp playing.

The 2-CD set features 20 songs of gratifying blues and rock. Reading the liner notes written by co-producer Skip Taylor (the other co-producer is Adolfo adds a layer of meaning to the songs. Songs you thought you knew well take on new significance when you realize the degree to which Wilson’s music was born out of his emotional life (or Wilson’s growing environmentalist attitude). The stories behind the songs matter more when the songs are this good to begin with.

Wilson died in 1970 of a drug overdose, at the age of 27. Listening to this collection, it is easy to question why Wilson’s legacy isn’t as strong today as perhaps it should be. But listening is what it takes, so here’s hoping these CDs help in that department. The Blind Owl is a must-have for any serious collector of 1960s blues rock.

To preview or purchase this album on iTunes, click here.


Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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