On another level, Canned Heat didn't shy away from using their music to make political and social commentary. Hite's 1968 "Amphetamine Annie," for example, was one of the first anti-drug songs of the era. The band earned a measure of notoriety for the album cover for their 1970 Future blues because of the moon landing/ Iwo Jima imagery including an upside-down American flag. Along with Wilson's "Poor Moon," the point of the cover was to reflect Wilson's growing environmentalism and concern that humans would soon be polluting the moon as well as the earth.
Now, "Poor Moon," "Going Up the Country," and "On the Road Again" are among the delights on the new 20-song, two-CD set, The Blind Owl, a tribute to Alan Wilson. Lest you fear "tribute" means another collection of admirers spinning out covers of Canned Heat material, in this case tribute means a compilation of Heat tunes featuring the lead vocals and playing of the "Blind Owl." (He got the name, by the way, from guitar virtuoso John Fahey referring to Wilson's extreme nearsightedness.) So it's not a Canned Heat best of collection—no Hite belters like "Let's Work Together." It's all about Wilson's rhythm and bottleneck guitar, harmonica, and his singing in his Skip James inspired high-pitched tenor, the West Coast mirror of Britain's John Mayall.
The two executive producers certainly know their stuff. From the beginning, Skip Taylor served as both manager and producer for many of the Heat's albums. Drummer Adolpho “Fito” de la Parra, the only surviving member of the classic line-up still working in the band, also oversaw the anthology. They culled tracks from Canned Heat (1967), Boogie with Canned Heat (1968), Living the Blues (1968), Hallelujah (1969), Future Blues (1970), and Canned Heat '70 Concert Live in Europe (1970). That's a rich well to draw from. And most of that is on disc one.
The first disc includes such nuggets as “Help Me,” Wilson’s 1966 debut as a singer. From Boogie with Canned Heat, we get “An Owl Song,” the band’s first recording with horns demonstrating they could shuffle as well as boogie. Known for being shy and awkward, Wilson's lyrics reflected his fears as in "My Mistake," a down and dirty guitar showpiece with shifting melody sections. Likewise, "Change My Ways" was a percussive rocking number, a perfectly typical '60s California jam. Also reflecting the times, "Get Off My Back" was another shuffle with a hot guitar solo bouncing around the speakers. The band got soulful with "Time Was" from Hallelujah, released just weeks before Woodstock. They got downright psychedelic with the experimental "Nebulosity / Rollin’ & Tumblin’ / Five Owls" suite, of which only portions are edited here.