I'm surprised that Alan Wilson didn't make it in the "honorable mention" list, as I found his playing very soulful and subtle. Same remark for Johnny Woods (maybe less subtle, but great stuff anyway).
Then allow me for a bit of chauvinism, but have you cheked out Steven De Bruyn (check the song "Monk it up" on Youtube) ? I think he's a mighty player. Thierry Crommen is also great, more of a jazz harpist but he used to play the blues as well.
Johnny Woods belongs on the list. I have only one album of his: an LP with him and Fred McDowell. The recording accompnaying the video is excellent; it's better than what's on the record.
Alan Wilson's playing doesn't do anything for me. I once asked somebody to send me a few mp3s of what they considered his best stuff. I don't know what they sent, but it just left me cold. Maybe I haven't heard the right stuff. If you'd care to point me towards TWO cuts of his that you consider his best stuff, I'll download it from iTunes and reconsider.
Last Edited by on May 05, 2009 7:34 AM
Alan Wilson was also known as "The Blind Owl." Jason has an instructional video up on Canned Heat--worth checking out--the cut includes John Lee Hooker.
I think the Owl would have been worthy of the list if he had lived long enough to develop--he died very young.
He was one of my first introductions to blues harp--I still love to listen to "On the Road Again" by Canned Heat. One of the loudest bands I ever heard. . .
* Father of the Delta Blues: The Complete 1965 Sessions, w/ Son House 1965 * Guitar Vol.4: The Great San Bernadino Birthday Party, w/ John Fahey 1966 * Vintage Heat Canned Heat 1966, Janus Records * 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 * 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 * Live '70 Concert in Europe Canned Heat, 1970 * John The Revelator: The 1970 London Sessions w/ Son House, 1970, Vequel Records * Hooker 'N Heat Canned Heat w/ John Lee Hooker, 1971, Liberty Records * Old Girlfriends and Other Horrible Memories w/ John Fahey, 1992, Takoma Records * Other Canned Heat Complimations e.g. The Boogie House Tapes Vol.I, II and III.
Last Edited by on May 05, 2009 10:25 AM
I haven't listened to the Heat for a long time, but I always loved the harp parts from "On the road again"(same as for Oldwailer - probably first blues harp I heard), and I remember a good version of "Rollin' and Tumblin'" on "Future Blues" (that album has got some crazy psychedelic stuff including harmonica and jaw harp).
About Johnny woods : here are two vids of him with R.L.Burnside on guitar. check out the face of Burnside looking at Woods doin' his thing, and when he takes on the singing at 1.25 on the first vid, WaW !
Glad there's a topic mentioning Alan 'Blind Owl' Wilson!
I really urge everyone to check out Canned Heat's album Live in Europe '70. The tracks Bring it on Home, Pulling Hair Blues (this blues features only Alan's harp and vocals, and Larry Talor's bass guitar. Really awesome) and the medley Back Out On The Road - On The Road Again all feature amazing harp. His soft, subtle tone and sweet melodies are unbelievable. Kudzu, I suggest you grab these three tracks (I know, you asked for two, but I can't decide between these.)
There's this one video on the Tube which I think shows some great harp by Alan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrljWGIHB7c It's a version of On The Road again, recorded in early 1970.
Last Edited by on May 06, 2009 3:23 AM
I don't quite agree with the "great harp" characterization, but I will admit that he's trying some different things. For me, he's pretty close to the threshold for inclusion, but not--based solely on this video clip--clearly over it. But this is, as they say, a good teaching moment all around. Here's the video, embedded. Will everybody who cares about this particular debate please watch the entire video and tell me what makes Al Wilson great. I like his vocals a lot, actually: they're extremely distinctive, instantly recognizable. His harp, to me, lacks spiritual commitment and swing. It's noodling. Or maybe it's a startlingly original sort of 'ambient harp'. You guys tell me. If there's very strong support on the board after y'all have viewed this video, and/or if you find (and can embed) a video that seems even stronger, I'm willing to include him on the honorable mention list sheerly because of mass popular support. But I gotta see the support right here, in this thread:
If I were to judge Alan Wilson solely on that video, I wouldn't include him. But I know he's done better. I have a CD: Uncanned: The Best of Canned Heat. EMI D 203377. It's a double CD. Don't know if it's still in print,but if it is,that's the one to get. A studio outtake of "On the Road Again" starts it off. He plays much better than any of the other versions I've heard.That whole side was pretty damn good.Much bluesier than any of his other stuff. He was much better than I gave him credit for until I heard that CD. Had he lived longer,I believe he would have developed into one of the great ones.
P.S. If someone can tell me how to embed an audio sample,I'd give you a taste.
Last Edited by on May 06, 2009 8:36 AM
I will have to look at Jason's video as I can't think of a harp player whose technique I respect more --though there are some ties--but I bought a canned heat album some time in the mid-'70s and was left unimpressed with the harp player's tone. I would call the playing serviceable, but not in the same league as any notable pros. I haven't heard anything since to change my opinion. I'll throw out a not-so-well-known name who I think plays circles around Mr. Wilson: Jimmy Zavala, who played the harp part on the Eurythmics' "Missionary Man".
I'll watch the JR clip after. Still, I wonder if their isn't a nostalgia factor there.
I have heard the first two Canned Heat albums, and he had some fat tone. HE WAS DIFFERENT. He did not just do what Little Walter did, he did lots of staccato, he had tonal variations, etc. He was different, very willing to do different things, THAT ALONE should include him.
Adam, I agree with Tuckster and Zack : Wilson had a special tone, immediately recognizable, even in that not-quite-good version of " On the Road Again". And the album version of that song being such a huge classic played by radios all over the world, his style was certainly influential on many blues harp players.
The song has a kind of "ambient" feeling actually (it's much more evident on the studio version) : with the guitar playing a drone, his haunting voice, and the floating harp that underlines the guitars... Probably that he doesn't want to play too much notes and drift from the drone, because it's the feeling of the song.
For the others songs he played, I should get the albums and listen to them again,'cause it's been a long time...
Gloth, I don't know if you'd agree, but I know that Alan was very trouble, he was a VERY troubled man. But, when he was playing I feel he was portraying how he felt. Sometimes he needed more to say it.
Plus, Alan was not a regular 'Blues Harp' player. He studied them, but he definitely wanted to do his own thing. Plus, John Lee Hooker even thought he was the best...EVEN Michael Bloomfield...Yes, THAT Michael Bloomfield.
I was listening to Blues on WGBH one Saturday night and I heard a great duo with a guitar player who was obviously of that first generation delta tradition (though I wasn't an experienced enough listener to know exactly who) and a very soulful harp player who was playing in a country blues style similar to Sonny Terry. In fact, for a while I actually thought that it might just be Sonny Terry experimenting with a new style. The rhythms weren't as complex. It was a little bit more songful but the tonal qualities were very Sonny Terry. I went to the computer the next day to look up the playlist, and boy! was I surprised. It was Alan Wilson playing with Son House. As a guy who only knew about the Blind Owl through the Hooker n' Heat album I was damn near astonished. That was not at all the Al Wilson I was familiar with or, for that matter, the Al Wilson in the video above.
I guess the point that I'm trying to make is that Wilson truly had the chops to play some fantastic blues in a more traditionalist mold and that what you hear on the Hooker album and what you hear in the above video is a conscious attempt to forge a new sound; a new direction. Perhaps the difficulty in assessing his worth and influence is that one needs to understand these disparate aspects of Wilson’s musical sensibilities together to get the true essence of what he was trying to do. Unfortunately I don’t own the album with Son House and I’ve never been able to find it (at least not on Amazon or at any record store I’ve ever been to). But if someone out there had recordings of Wilson at his best and was willing to put that on Youtube… well… I think it would really change the way people thought about The Owl.
I'm pretty sure that clip of "On the Road Again" was a plant by Adam--it looked to me like he got Germanharpist to wear some weird contact lenses and fill in the harp part. ;-) (I mean no disrespect to GH--just kidding)!
Seriously--after listening some more, after having learned a lot more about harp and blues--and 40 years passing, I kinda gotta go along with Adam on this one--like I said before--he just didn't live long enough to develop.
Come to think of it--Neither did Robert Johnson!
Last Edited by on May 06, 2009 7:55 PM
I checked YouTube and it turns out the three songs I was talking about are actually on it:
Pulling Hair Blues: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snUMoD6iaDs Back Out On The Road/On The Road Again: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hV9eZNGXlQ Bring It On Home: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KawpEK5SdHQ
You should all listen to these cuts. I'm a big fan of Canned Heat, and these tracks rank among my favorites.
The songs harper is talking about are from a 1970 Son House concert where Blind Owl set in for two songs. Alan's tone there is quite different from his usual Canned Heat approach, indeed. (They are on the Son House album 'Delta Blues and Spirituals'. You should be able to still find it.)
The CD 'Uncanned' Tuckster talked about is also great. The 7 minute studio cut of On The Road Again is indeed awesome, as is Nine Below Zero.
When I listen to Alan Wilson's playing, I am not being overwhelmed by supertechnique skills or anything. What I hear, is this deep soulful sound. It's laid back, it's rich and it definitely shows how much this guy from Boston had the blues. (Yes, he was very troubled. For one, he was about the only rock star - Canned Heat was one of the world's biggest bands in the late 60s - who had troubles with women.)
Another interesting fact (man, I could go on all day) is that the guitarist you see in the above video of On The Road Again, Harvey Mandel, was the guitarist for Charley Musselwhite's first album. I believe Harvey once said that according to him, Alan was the better player (I don't have a source for this, but the thought is nice for Wilson fans) Harvey played with Canned Heat from July 1969 to May 1970.
Oldwailer : I don't agree with you, saying that Robert Johnson didn't have the time to develop his playing ! He died soon alright, but he had enough time to be one of the best guitar players of his time, and most of all he found a new way to play the blues ; he had (and still has, some 70 years after his death) a major influence on almost every blues player, including the most famous of them.
So did Jimi Hendrix, who also died at 27. Would you say that Jimi didn't have time to develop, having put such a huge print on music in general ?
I think the question of early death is irrelevant. Think about Eric Clapton : how old was he, when people were writing "Clapton is God" on London walls ? Althought he's still living today, and had plenty of time to improve his playing, he produced his finest musics in the 60's and 70's. That has to do with creativity, not virtuosity.
I'm not saying that Alan Wilson was the Jimi Hendrix of the harp, but to me he certainly left his mark by finding his own original sound. Had he lived, he would have perfected his craft but his most important achievement would have been done already.
I don't know what anybody sees/hears in Alan Wilson's playing. It's very intermediate to me and Adam is spot on with saying his playing has no spiritual connections.
His playing is very basic and to me there is nothing original about it with the exception that he actually a decent musician and knows how to support a band with his playing.
Big YAWN from me on this guy.
And Gloth, Jimi was still a developing musician. Who knows what he would sound like today but I'd bet anything that it wouldn't be anything like he did in '69.
And Clapton has produced his finest music more recently than he did in the 60s and 70s. Ask him what he thinks. He's much more of an artist now than he was then. What WE all think about him is irrelevant since he's the artist.
"He is actually a decent musician and knows how to support a band with his playing". An important skill, I think you acknowledge on previous threads? The Gloth only asked for an honourable mention, so perhaps people are being a bit hard on AW. But if people don't think he is quite up to that level, that's OK by me too. Adam asked some friends for mp3s. Well, that's always tempting the worst fate can throw at you. Yes, his YouTube offering was crap. If you asked friends for some mp3s of Hendrix, there's some crap they could send you if you were unlucky enough. So, what to listen to? Hooker 'n' Heat, of course, mainly. I think that's clearly his best offering, and On The Road Again (the album version obviously). But I don't know the rest of the Heat's oeuvre well enough to suggest more. Yes, his technique and style are clearly limited. But there's still plenty I can learn from him, and I like his tone and control and restraint. He creates a cool sound, but as part of a whole, certainly. (However, I'm just this moment listening to "An Owl Song", which doesn't sound like something I will want to emulate! Ditto for Marie Laveau, which I'm on to now) What would Hendrix have become is an interesting question. I'm too young to have been to the Isle of Wight Festival (a friend who did go says Hendrix was crap). To judge from what I've heard of the concert, Hendrix could well have gotten into Funk (IMO)! But if he had survived, would music's subsequent direction have been the same as it has been? Historians hate the question "what if?" because it's unanswerable.
Last Edited by on May 09, 2009 7:47 AM
The problem with AW is this... if you name him honorable mention, then most of the people on the board need to be there too. Skill wise on the harmonica he's very average. Musician-wise is simply average.
So he should given an honorable mention because he's on a few recordings? That could be any of you in a few years. I think there were so few harmonica recordings back then that many picked up hi albums because they couldn't find anything else.
I'm not calling him a hack but I don't see how he would even be considered "good" at any local blues jam.
Compare him to a player like Gussow, Adam would go to a blues jam and absolutely rule the joint if AW where there as a jammer.
Buddha, that's very nice of you. Truth is, I'm intrigued enough by the support that Wilson has garnered here that, when I've got a little time, I'm going to investigate further. It's certainly possible that the few things I've heard, including the video I commented on above, aren't representative. We've all had the experience of being judged on stuff that isn't our best stuff; sometimes it leads people to underestimate us.
Jason is certainly a fan of Wilson's; that alone is reason enough to take him seriously--although it's also possible that Jason and I don't see eye to eye on him. Some players impress in one context and don't impress in another. In some ways I'm not a huge fan of Jerry Portnoy's (and by the way, is he on my honorable mention list? He certainly should be), because I've heard various recordings in which he just doesn't swing at ALL. But then again: he plays great raunchy stuff on that mid-70s Muddy Waters album (I'M READY), and when I saw him live in NYC in the early 90s, he did a terrific swinging version of "Misty" in second position. I try to give players the benefit of the doubt, reserving judgment until I've checked out what people consider their best.
Just joined this group. Not a player but an avid listener. Just re-discovering Canned Heat - used to listen to 'On the Road again' when it first came out in the '60s but lost touch about them. Wow Alan Wilson was such a great bluesman - not only his singing, guitar and harp but he did so much for the careers and songs of old bluesmen like Son House, John Lee Hooker and several others.
Re: his harp playing, I strongly believe he fulfills most, if not all, the criteria for inclusion as a 'great'. His playing was technically brilliant, original and very soulful and his songs were largely self-written or arranged. You only have to listen to Canned Heat's '9 below zero' to realise how brilliant Alan's harp playing was. He achieved so much for blues especially considering he died so young. John Lee Hooker once said that Alan was the best harp player in the world. You can't get better than that!
there are a lot of comparisons and evaluations on this forum which to me are not necessarily necessary-al wilson was a big reason canned heat was such a legendary blues band-as far as 1 of the greats,thats arguable and subject to endless debates-all I can say is that at 60 I am old enough to remember how much I loved canned heat
I'll have to revisit the Al Wilson issue. The version of "Nine Below Zero" on YouTube--since somebody has mentioned that song--intrigues me, but it doesn't blow me away. That 3 draw bend is a distinctive sound, very minor-y, and the sort-of-overblow (a re-tuned reed?) on hole 6 is also nice. There's also a lot of derivative Rice Miller and Junior Wells stuff. But AW's restraint and and technical abilities WITHIN his minimalist approach is beginning to get to me. Here's the video:
@groyster: "comparisons and evaluations" is what we do here. Otherwise you're just saying "Groovy!" and "That sucks." You're always free to just like and dislike the stuff that you like and dislike. But this is one place on the web--one!!--where talking stuff to death is an important activity. As for Canned Heat being a legendary blues band: legend means little to me. When you've seen the greats live, as I have--and Albert Collins, younger James Cotton, William Clarke, and Junior Wells in particular--then it's about what people can actually throw down, in the moment, onstage. (Clapton, BTW, can really throw down; he's equal to the legend. Or at least he was the one time I saw him live, at the Garden in '85.)
dont think you will have many doubters about clapton-he is my fav guitar player of all time but refuse to say he is the greatest-I wonder how many in this forum ever heard any very early fleetwood mac with peter green playing blues guitar-some say he was as good as ec
IMHO,the harp in 9 below zero is average/ intermedate harp playing.I agree with Adam he's not a great, but he did play to thousands back in the day and probably inspired many to pick up a harp and give it a try. I will say he is worth mentionting on that element alone. Mike
when he died it created a huge void in canned heat much to the same of duane allmans passing creating a huge void as to me the allmans were never quite the same-al wilson besides harp had good vocals which seem to reflect his "living the blues" as he battled life long depression-he also played good flute in the solo for goin up the country-he was not a solo artist so I guess that could keep him off the list as he was more of a contributer to canned heat
Last Edited by on Dec 29, 2010 7:59 AM
Doesn't the retuned 7 draw note AW sometimes used make him the pioneer of alternate tunings for blues on records? 7 draw retuned 1/2 step flat.
People should also listen to his accompaniment of John Lee Hooker on "Burning Hell" on HOOKER 'N HEAT, which unfortunately seems NOT readily available without buying the track--samples seem fixated on the first 30 seconds of the track, where Hooker praises AW's harp playing before starting the song (something like "I don't know how that boy can follow me, but he do"). I first heard it on the Rhino JLH box, where they had cut the studio talk off. Dunno if it's available in that form anywhere else.
I,m a big fan of the Blind Owl and the Canned Heat music. He must be close. I try to keep Adam's criteria in mind when listening to these players. I'm big on Pat Ramsey right now. A friend gave me a couple of his CDs and they have blown me away. His sound is original and I really like his voice. I can see why Jason latched on to this guy as an influence. Adam, have you ever considered Mike Stevens as an honorable mention. His playing is more along the style of Deford and Madcat. He does what he does very well.
@harpdude61: I *am* keeping Adam's criteria in mind. All the current fuss about the Powerbender ought to indicate that if Al Wilson was the first to use an alternate tuning effectively for blues on a record, he probably deserves honorable mention for that alone. But--
Originality: Weak in the 3-second rule area, although the stuff with Hooker or the flatted 7 draw is pretty recognizable if you've heard any of it before. Not sure his harp style had really fully matured, or that he considered himself primarily a harp player.
Influence: Yes. Much like Taj Mahal in that respect--not technically dazzling by today's standards, but heard by many back then & a positive influence on that audience. That flatted 7 draw is a blues harp wonk FAQ hall-of-famer.
Technical Mastery: Not overpowering overall, but at least a couple formidable things--that retuned note, and check the breathed groove on "Burning Hell," and the powerful tone there as well. If you compare that to the 1949 original with Eddie Burns on acoustic harmonica, you can hear precisely how Wilson takes advantage of the added sustain and nuance made possible by amplified playing. He seems cavalier about gear overall--if his recorded sound had been like this more of the time, his reputation would stand higher.
Soulfulness: If "Burning Hell" doesn't make the point, I don't know what will. Pretty soulful overall despite technical limitations.
Recorded Evidence: See Powerbender, etc. above.
I think the often sloppy/woozy early quality of Canned Heat's early stuff and their descent after Wilson & Hite's deaths into four decades of biker-blues-boogie-band limbo should not obscure the fact that the band was way ahead of its time--all that stuff that was so hot ca. 2000, the fife and drum bands, Burnside/Kimbrough/N. Miss. All-Stars, Canned Heat was virtually alone in putting the electric pre-Chicago Delta blues out into circulation when other white bands were doing mainly Chess Records or the various Kings. Sorry, Brits, but early Canned Heat's boogie is a lot deeper in the mud than what you hear Savoy Brown or Rory Gallagher doing in the same time frame. Listen to "Peavine" on HOOKER 'N HEAT for an example--I first heard that near the end of the second disc on the abovementioned Rhino box and thought, "Damn, finally Hooker is playing with his own band instead of a pickup one." A lot of Canned Heat stuff is terribly boring IMO, but their good stuff is outstanding.
They were all about the groove, and Wilson brought an intelligent, soulful, and innovative approach on harmonica to that. If Taj Mahal deserves honorable mention, so does Al Wilson.
anybody remember thom doucette of allman bros fame? I have a cd called the fillmore concerts where,unlike live @fillmore east he does a harp solo on stormy monday besides done somebody wrong-I only heard him with the allmans understand he is a yoga teacher @present
I'm going to take htown's advocacy very seriously. I'll report back when I've inspected the evidence!
Mike Stevens: Hmmm. The man has incredible technique, which is to say he's very fast and aggressive. I don't hear any blues in his playing (although I DO hear a nice bright bluegrass sound in the video below) and I hear no subtlety. He's a great harmonica player, in his own way, but he's not a great blues player--or at least those two videos don't give me any evidence that he's a great blues player. He clearly deserves his place in SOME honorable mention list--actually a Top 10 list of active Nashville/bluegrass players--but I'm afraid I can't put him on mine. Fine player, wrong list.
my great aunt and uncle had a radio so people in their bills creek,nc community would come to listen to the grand ole opry on saturday night they would listen to it until midnite because that is when deford bailey would come on he quit the opry before ww2 broke out when they changed sponsors
a much over looked solo is walkin by my self. its short but rips. saw them many times live sometimes they were magic The Bear had a huge blues lp. collection he knew everyone on them . his good friend James Harman used to talk about them in small clubs .
Since Beefheart died, I have been listening to a lot of his stuff and I'm surprised at how much harp he really plays on some of his albums. I'm really digging the stuff on "The Spotlight Kid" and "Clear Spot." He's definately under the radar (Doc?) when it comes to playing harp.
@Blueharper: The three-second rule is Adam's individuality index. If you heard three seconds of the player on an unfamiliar tune, could you recognize their individual style and sound?
I realize I'm pushing Al Wilson on the basis of his best stuff and strongest points rather than a large body of consistently excellent work and wide range of skills like most of the other honorable mentions. But harp players Of A Certain Age seem disproportionately aware of him, for someone who simply wasn't active for very long.
@oda: Dunno what Little Sonny is doing now, but the LP reissue of NEW KING OF THE BLUES HARMONICA is what me realize I could solo instead of copying solos: "Oh, arpeggio up, and bent arpeggio down, and a 2 draw bend here, and a 3 draw bend there, and some 2 draw and 4 blow and 1 draw where they fit . . . okay." I think I'd spot him in three seconds.