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Alan Wilson

Alan Wilson

American musician and leader of Canned Heat
Alan Wilson
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American musician and leader of Canned Heat
Was Singer Songwriter Musician Guitarist
From United States of America
Type Music
Gender male
Birth 4 July 1943, Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA
Death 3 September 1970, Topanga, Los Angeles County, California, USA (aged 27 years)
Star sign Cancer
Blues rock
Peoplepill ID alan-wilson-8
The details


Alan Christie Wilson (July 4, 1943 – September 3, 1970) was an American musician, best known as the co-founder, leader, co-lead singer, and primary composer of the blues band Canned Heat. He sang and played harmonica and guitar with the group live and on recordings. Wilson was the lead singer for the group's two biggest U.S. hit singles: "On the Road Again" and "Going Up the Country".

Early years

Wilson was born and grew up in the Boston suburb of Arlington, Massachusetts. Some of Wilson's first efforts at performing music publicly came during his teen years with a jazz ensemble he formed with other musically oriented friends from school. It was around this same time that Wilson developed a fascination with blues music after a friend played a Muddy Waters record for him. After graduating from Arlington High School, he majored in music at Boston University and played the Cambridge, Massachusetts coffeehouse folk-blues circuit. Wilson developed into a dedicated student of early blues, writing a number of articles for Broadside of Boston newspaper and the folk-revival magazine Little Sandy Review, including a piece on bluesman Robert Pete Williams.

Wilson was considered by many of his musical peers to be an expert on the blues musicians who came before him; many considered him as possessing an exceptional ability for connecting musically with the elder bluesmen. His biggest influences included Skip James, Robert Johnson, Son House, Charley Patton, Tommy Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Bukka White. James, in particular, was greatly admired by Wilson. In high school, Wilson studied James' 1931 recordings with great ardor. Subsequently, Wilson began singing similar to James' high pitch. Wilson eventually perfected the high tenor for which he would become known.

After Son House's 'rediscovery' in 1964, it was evident that House had forgotten his songs due to his long absence from music. Wilson showed him how to play again the songs House had recorded in 1930 and 1942. Wilson played House's old recordings for him and demonstrated them on guitar to revive House's memory. House recorded Father of Folk Blues for Columbia Records in 1965. Two of the selections on the set featured Wilson on harmonica and guitar. In a letter to Jazz Journal published in the September 1965 issue, Son House's manager Dick Waterman remarked the following about the project and Wilson: "It is a solo album, except for backing on two cuts by a 21-year-old White boy from Cambridge by the name of Al Wilson. Al plays second guitar on Empire State Express and harp on Levee Camp Moan. Al never recorded before, but he has backed John Hurt, Skip James, Sleepy John Estes, Bukka White and many others. He is good, and the record will prove it."

Canned Heat

During his time performing in Cambridge, Wilson met American guitarist John Fahey. From Fahey, he acquired the nickname "Blind Owl" owing to his extreme nearsightedness, roundish facial features and scholarly nature. 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." With Fahey's encouragement, Wilson moved with Fahey to Los Angeles with the aim of having Wilson assist Fahey with his UCLA master's thesis on Charley Patton. In Los Angeles Wilson met Bob Hite, a fellow blues enthusiast and record collector who later established Canned Heat with Wilson.

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 live performance was cut from the original theatrical release of the Woodstock film, they were featured in the 25th anniversary "Director's Cut." The studio version of "Going Up The Country" was featured in the Woodstock film.

Wilson also wrote and sang the hit record "On the Road Again". In an interview with DownBeat magazine he remarked, "... 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." 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."


On September 3, 1970, Wilson was found dead on a hillside behind bandmate Bob Hite's Topanga Canyon home; he was 27 years old. An autopsy identified his manner and cause of death as accidental acute barbiturate intoxication. 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. Although his death is sometimes reported as a suicide, this is not clearly established and he left no note. Wilson's death came just two weeks before the death of Jimi Hendrix and four weeks before the death of Janis Joplin, two artists who also died at the same age. Along with his talent and intellect, Wilson had a reputation for social awkwardness and introversion which may have been a symptom of his depression.

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

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


  • Father of the Delta Blues: The Complete 1965 Sessions, w/ Son House 1965
  • The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party & Other Excursions, w/ John Fahey 1966
  • Vintage Heat Canned Heat 1966, Janus
  • Canned Heat Canned Heat 1967, Liberty Records
  • Fred Neil w/ Fred Neil 1967, Capitol Records
  • Boogie with Canned Heat Canned Heat, 1968, Liberty Records
  • Living the Blues Canned Heat, 1968, Liberty Records
  • Woodstock w/ Canned Heat, 1969, Warner Bros. Records
  • Woodstock 2 w/ Canned Heat 1969 Warner Bros. Records
  • Hallelujah Canned Heat, 1969, Liberty Records
  • Slim's Got His Thing Going On w/ Sunnyland Slim, 1969 World Pacific Records
  • Cookbook: Their Greatest Hits Canned Heat, 1970
  • Live at the Kaleidoscope 1969 Canned Heat, 1971, (Originally released as Live at Topanga Corral), Wand Records
  • Future Blues Canned Heat, 1970, Liberty Records
  • Canned Heat '70 Concert Live in Europe Canned Heat, 1970
  • John The Revelator: The 1970 London Sessions w/ Son House, 1970, Vequel Records (re-released in 1995 on Capitol Records as Delta Blues and Spirituals)
  • Hooker 'N Heat Canned Heat w/ John Lee Hooker, 1971, Liberty Records
  • Other Canned Heat Compilations e.g. The Boogie House Tapes Vol.I, II and III - 2012 Canned Heat Revolution.
  • Alan Wilson : The Blind Owl, 2013 (2 CD Severn Records)
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 10 Sep 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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