What’s your paradise? Maybe when you close your eyes you imagine yourself on a sandy beach, facing a deep blue ocean with a cloudless sky above. Or you are in a pub with rich leather stools, worn wooden walls and beautiful Jazz music coming from the stage. Or you are walking down a wooden path on a warm summer’s day. Lush trees tower above you with the sound of birds and rustling leaves surrounding you. There is some place, I imagine, that is perfect for you.
Adding new lyrics to an almost note by note cover of the 1928 Henry Thomas blues classic “Bull-Doze Blues,” Canned Heat imagined a paradise of their own in 1968 with their classic “Going Up The Country.” Canned Heat was a group of young, white blues aficionados from Southern California who formed in the late 1960’s and made their name performing at the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock, singing blues tinged rock and roll.
Henry Thomas’ original is what you think a great blues song might be. A gruff voice accompanied by a ragged guitar. The surprise here is with the sweet sound of the quill, an American folk instrument resembling a pan flute.
The contrast of the gruff voice with the sweet flute sound is great, but with their updated cover, Canned Heat matched the sound of the flute with the falsetto lead vocals of Alan Wilson. The high pitched voice, combined with the sound of the flute, combined with a gentle rhythm guitar, makes it easy for us to imagine a paradise of our won.
“I’m goin’ up the country, baby don’t you want to go?
I’m goin’ up the country, baby don’t you want to go?
I’m goin’ to some place, I’ve never been before”
The instrumentation is simple, and the images conjured by the music bounce through our heads. We’re heading up a narrow dirt road to the top of a tree covered hill? We’re navigating through a dense forest? What is waiting for us? The high-pitched cherubic singing continues.
“I’m goin’ I’m goin’ where the water tastes like wine
I’m goin’ where the water tastes like wine
We can jump in the water, stay drunk all the time”
The momentum of the song barely slows down as we jump into a cool stream on a hut summer’s day. The flute is playing and guitar continues its’ gentle strum. The bridge is short as our imagination continues.
“No use in your runnin’, or screamin’ and cryin’
‘Cause you got a home as long as I’ve got mine”
“Going Up The Country” is one of those rare recordings where everything fits. The guitar matches the flute, which matches the vocals, which matches the flute. The lyrics are in perfect sync with the optimistic message of our ongoing personal and communal search for a place where “the water tastes like wine.” A place we will never find. We will always be searching.
Canned Heat continues to perform to this day, but just like most bands from the 1960’s and 1970’s, the lineup has changed. Bob “The Bear” Hite died of a drug overdose in the 1970’s, and one member quit on stage during a show. People left, they came back, new people joined. I have never seen them perform myself, but my guess is if I did, I would get to see them sing this song. That might be enough. That might be paradise.
“Going Up the Country”
Written by Henry Thomas and Canned Heat
Recorded by Canned Heat
Released November 22, 1968