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Notable Canadians: Houston Wells

December 28, 2009

Houston Wells was the singer of a few Joe Meek-produced fake country records in the early sixties. On his most-remembered songs, Only the Heartaches and North Wind (the latter was actually a b-side), Wells does a halfconvincingly country-cracked croon that adorns Meek’s fabricated Western soundspaces.

The man who Meek transformed into Houston Wells was actually a chap from the Northumbria called Andrew Smith, who was at that point working as a lorry-driver in Essex, which is fairly typical of Meek’s resourcefulness as a producer of music and a producer of personae. However, I suppose that Andrew Smith lent himself well to this transformation due to the fact that he’d arrived in Essex via Canada, where he’d lived for several years in the late-fifties working as a logger north of Vancouver (only the slightest pinch of authenticity is needed as seasoning) and exposing himself to American country music. I’d argue that the Houston Wells persona is a product of Canada, albeit a brilliantly inauthentic and imprecise one (he sings about vaguely imagined Western things like six-guns and gold-miners.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. May 12, 2010 10:31 pm

    Dear sir,
    you stand to be corrected, Andrew Smith ak Houston Wells was in fact born in Northumberland in the UK not Canada, he only worked there for a time.
    As for making fake country records, that may have been Joe Meeks tag, but I can assure you there was nothing fake about Houstons voice, who happens to be still alive and kicking!
    Yours respectfully
    Rob Smith

    • May 12, 2010 11:01 pm

      Yes, you are quite write about the birthplace. I call Houston Wells “Canadian” in a loose sense – in a young country like this most “Canadians” weren’t actually born here, but also Canada was maybe where the Houston Wells identity was “born”, so to speak.
      I should clarify that I mean nothing negative when I use the word “fake” – I’m really interested in how in music there is never a pure authenticity, and all singing voices and personae are, to some extent, knowingly shaped and refined. I suppose I was getting at how Houston arrived at an imagined American west from Northumberland via Canada. I love his records and voice and I’m glad to hear he’s still going strong!

  2. Richard permalink
    June 7, 2010 3:00 am

    Maybe I should ask Houston himself what he thinks of being referred to as having his identity as being “Canadian Born”, He may find this thread rather amusing – as I’m sure Rob above is also having a good chuckle 🙂

    • June 7, 2010 3:14 am

      The key word in my comment above, of course, being “maybe”. I’m dandling ideas that might suggest a way of finding the narrow space between myth and personality in popular song — perhaps.

      What’s interesting about these comments (and I do welcome comments, as much as I welcome laughter!) is that the uncertain and mostly meaningless notion of authenticity in music seems to be so valued that any suggestion of inauthenticity provokes defensive responses — but wait — my point is that inauthenticity is good!

  3. June 7, 2010 4:08 am

    Hi Ross,
    interesting logo you have there sheep! we here in New Zealand see many many sheep!
    You mention calling Houston Canadian in a loose sense!
    Well I can tell a woman I love her in a loose sense, but that don’t make her my wife!
    Are you saying you have to be a pioneer to be augthentic of a certain kind of music?
    Because in my opinion a lot of the inaugthentics today, are way better than their predecessors, but not all of course!
    Rob Smith

    • June 7, 2010 4:30 am

      I guess what I’m really saying is whenever you investigate too thoroughly (especially in the age of recorded music where musicians have made a decision about each performance) then authenticity doesn’t really exist. So I’m interested in pointing out the ways in which certain artists are “inauthentic” in interesting, creative ways — in trying to imitate a style, they arrive at a version of it that’s similar, but also recognisably something else. The failure to be exactly similar isn’t in fact a failure at all, because it makes for interesting art. And as you say, the so-called imitation might end up being more interesting than the original reference point.

      Of course I don’t know anything about Mr. Wells as a person, as others here do, but I enjoy his records and tried to sketch a little response to them.

      The only reason I made such a point about the “Canadian” thing is that I happen to be living in Canada right now, and I was thinking of various musicians etc. who weren’t born here but absorbed a bit of the country at some point. I intended to do a whole series of examples but I ran out of steam.

      Regards!

    • June 7, 2010 4:36 am

      The other thing I should say is that when I write this stuff I’m often being a bit daft, and I’m certainly not pretending to be an authority on any of this!

      • Richard permalink
        June 7, 2010 4:52 am

        well my thoughts are that if anyone is going to pay homeage by recording a cover or something similar – then being similar is fine, but to be a direct carbon copy (or blatant rip off ie: Oasis) doesn’t really serve too much of a purpose at all.

      • Richard permalink
        June 7, 2010 4:56 am

        Im sure theres nothing negative about being called Canadian (i have Canadian roots myself) so i don’t think Houston would take it as an insult. And as you had elluded, we do happen to know the man himself. I won’t speak for him wholeheartedly but I think I can safely say that he was inspired by some pretty interesting folks who he actually happened to work with (Jim Reeves, Hank Locklin) and even in latter years has in turned opened himself up to being inspired by some music you may not associate him with (Gary Moore for instance – although Houston always did love his Irish music – he did live there for a period after leaving England)

        regards
        Richard

  4. Richard permalink
    June 7, 2010 4:39 am

    The only time when its not authentic is when its mimicry. All good ideas have to come from somewhere and music has to and does evolve – and the only way for that to happen is in the words of BB King “we all steal from somewhere”

    (interesting note: one of the biggest selling rock albums of alltime actually knicked from the bible – that didn’t make it any less rocking to my ears – sorry they’re not Canadian either LOL)

  5. June 7, 2010 5:57 am

    if I may add, one of the most authentic (got the spelling right) pop/rock singers of all time Bryan Adams was born in Lisbon, but calls himeself a Canadian because he grew up there, he now lives in the UK.
    Like most people musical, I’m sure he has musicians that have come before him that he aspires to! but he would not want to copy them, whats the point?
    New Zealand is a young country like Canada, but Houston still calls himself a brit, perhaps you might consider changing your heading there Ross??
    Rob Smith

  6. Maggie permalink
    October 1, 2010 2:19 am

    I met Houston Wells in Wickford, Essex late 50’s/early 60’s (lived near my relative & I got his autograph. Always wondered about him. Is this the same man?

  7. November 15, 2011 8:44 pm

    Hi Maggie, I haven’t been back to this site for some time, but thought I’d reply to your post! Yes Houston lived in Wickford in the time you stated, his musical career really took off while he was living there. if you’d like to drop him a line e-mail me at robertsmith@xtra.co.nz Cheers Rob.

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