[Harp-L] Alan Wilson

     There have been few references to Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson's harp playing in recent postings, so I thought I would take this opportunity to reintroduce his legacy to the forum. While not as much of a household name as Paul Butterfield, Rod Piazza, or other younger players who first came to prominence in the "blues revival" days of the Sixties, Alan was one of the most soulful harp players of this era. In addition to having great tone, a wide vocabulary of licks, and extraordinary arranging ability, he was also an accomplished guitarist and piano player. A real scholar of the blues, he was extremely knowledgeable about a musical form that was unknown to most people of his age and cultural background. When interviewed by Pete Welding for Down Beat magazine in the late Sixties, he proved to be extremely well versed in the historical development of the blues and the range of styles by the artists who performed it, dating back to the earliest days of blues recording.
     He was a founding member of Canned Heat and was a major factor in the rediscovery and subsequent revitalized career of Son House, and is credited with helping House re-learn the guitar parts to tunes he first recorded in the 1930s. He contributed some amazing harp work both to Canned Heat's recordings and to the band's collaboration with John Lee Hooker on the "Hooker 'n Heat" double album, recorded in May of 1970. This recording stands up well today as an affirmation of both men's talents and musical empathy - Hooker was moved to exclaim "I really like this kid's harmonica playing. I can't lose him. I don't know how he stays with me, but he do!" Side Two of the four-side double album is especially outstanding, with just Hooker and Wilson in the mix, a fine example of guitar and harp feeding off each other with superb results. 
     Unfortunately, Alan Wilson died, a possible suicide, shortly after the recording was completed. It was a great loss to the blues community and to the field of blues harp in particular. As with many talented individuals, he had personal demons to combat that made his life a tortured one, in a number of areas. The music hopefully helped him survive as long as he did, but in the end it may not have been enough.
     For examples of some of Alan's fine harp and guitar work, the following are recommended:
     1) Hooker 'n Heat 
     2) Future Blues 
     3) Hallelujah
     4) Boogie With Canned Heat
     5) Canned Heat (1st album)
     All these were originally issued as LPs on the Liberty label. I haven't checked, but I'm guessing that most of them are now available on CD. 
Pete Sheridan
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