Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Canned Heat - Poor Moon/Sic 'Em Pigs

Canned Heat
Poor Moon/Sic 'Em Pigs


Released 1970 on Liberty
Reviewed by Dave Furgess, 11/03/2007ce


Of all the white rock and roll groups of the 1960's who attempted to recreate to sound of the real delta blues, Canned Heat were one of the few who got it right (along with Captain Beefheart, The Rising Sons, John Fahey, and a few others.)

Most of the British blues boom groups with the possible exception of Chris Youlden era-Savoy Brown were overly concerned with chops and technique rather than the true feeling of country blues. Also I should point out that the Rolling Stones 1968 cover of "Prodigal Son" hit the nail right on the head, Mick Jagger's vocal was just outstanding. Yet for the most part the groups of the psychedelic era were trying to recreate the flash of Chicago electric blues. Even Beefheart was going for the Howlin' Wolf model rather than Robert Johnson.

Enter Los Angeles blues/boogie group Canned Heat. They were also mining the territory of most white blues based groups, but they had the one missing link in the whole chain, one Al "Blind Owl" Wilson. Wilson was a Boston born blues historian who became friends with John Fahey. Wilson also had the greatest single blues voice since Skip James. I catch a lot of laughs when I say that, but I really believe it 100%. Wilson's voice was so pure and real there was no way it could have been an act. It was a haunting voice that was both friendly and terribly unsettling.

Just listen to the power of Wilson's voice in Canned Heat visionary 1968 hit single "On The Road Again" it's like the spirit of Skip James was brought back to life, and he wasn't even dead yet. Then there was the group's second hit, the legendary "Goin' Up The Country" which could raise a smile on the face of a cadaver. I think the Kinks Ray Davies was paying close attention, just tell me the Kinks "Victoria" was not inspired by the Canned Heat hit.

Yet oddly enough Wilson only got a few lead vocals during his entire time with the group. Sure Bob Hite had a potent blues growl, but Wilson had a gift that very few blues singers had, I just wished he had used it more. Wilson was known to be extremely shy and suffered with serious bouts of depression and heavy drug addiction. Just look at Wilson in the Monterey Pop Movie from the 1967 festival, "Blind Owl" with his coke bottle glasses looked more like Ernie Douglas of "My Three Sons" than a late 60's blues-breaker.

This brings us to Canned Heat's brilliant 1970 flop 45 "Poor Moon." Lyrically the song dealt with Al Wilson's deep concern with ecology. The song is about what would happen to the moon if man decided to use it for it's next garbage dump. "Poor Moon" should have been a hit as it has the same catchy charm as "Goin' Up The Country", Wilson's voice steals the show as usual, but that's not taking anything away from the group's sensitive, down-home accompaniment. The whole affair was just meant for a front porch on a hot August day with a bottle of orange pop in hand. The flip "Sic 'Em Pigs" was more in step with the electric boogie identity of the group and probably went down better on stage than on disc.

Al "Blind" Owl Wilson died in the early 70's and for the most part is forgotten by the music world. But he is a true hero to me. Let's face it he will never truly be forgotten as long as Canned Heat's hits still get played on rock radio from time to time. Once heard, Al "Blind Owl" Wilson's voice will always haunt listeners, there is just no way to forget "that voice."


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