Friday, December 26, 2014

Liberty Records: Going Up The Country

It’s day six of our look at Liberty Records and we turn to Canned Heat’s highest charting single, “Going up the Country.” Credited to Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, it was far from being an original tune. As with a number of the artists recording blues songs in the late 60s and early 70s, “Going up the Country” is an example of overt plagiarism – but, let’s call it what it is was – pure unadulterated theft.

“Going up the Country” is nearly note for note a copy of Henry Thomas’ 1927 recording of “Bull Doze Blues.” Although the melody is the same, the clincher is session musician Jim Horn’s flute parts. They are note-for-note identical to Thomas’ original accompaniment and lead. While Horn used a flute, Henry Thomas played the quills – an African version of the pan pipes. I would imagine that he had the quills attached to a rack so he could accompany himself while playing a guitar.

The similarities are so evident, the stars and the planets would have to be aligned just right and the odds of a billion to one would have to be stacked in Canned Heat’s favor to create this song without influence from Thomas’ original. On the surface, it appears that Wilson, who sang the song as well, just borrowed the tune from Thomas and created the lyrics.

Well, that’s partially true as he did write the lyrics, but he had some inspirational help from Johnny Miller who wrote “Up the Country ” in 1927 for Wingy Manone who recorded it twice: once in 1927 as “Up the Country” and then later in 1930 as “Up the Country Blues.” Wilson’s lyrical content is original, but it is obvious that he heard Manone’s recordings and borrowed the idea for the title and the hook lyric.

Recorded for Canned Heat’s “Living the Blues” album in 1968, the single was released in late November 1968 and charted in 1969 at #11. The band performed “Going up the Country” at Woodstock. In the film, the studio version was used while the actual Woodstock performance was included on the soundtrack album.

Henry Thomas’ “Bull Doze Blues”


Check out the musical similarities between Canned Heat’s hit and this 1927 recording. Despite that the label says whistling, Thomas was actually playing the quills. 

Wingy Manone “Up the Country”


Not the original US 1927 release, but a later UK reissue.

The title and hook lyric were “borrowed” from this 1927 recording. Manone’s unusual nickname came about because he lost an arm in a streetcar mishap.

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