The song was based on an old blues tune called “Bull Doze Blues,” which was recorded in 1928 by Texas bluesman Henry Thomas. Thomas would sometimes accompany himself on quills, a Afro-American wind instrument that sounded like panpipes. Canned Heat band member Alan Wilson gave the song a new blue-rock arrangement, rewrote the lyrics to have a back-to-nature message, and sang it in a countertenor style. Jim Horn plays the quills part on the flute. The song was released on Canned Heat’s 1968 album Living the Blues. Then it was released as a single, backed with “One Kind Favor.” It went to #11 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and was an international charting success.
Canned Heat performed “Going Up the Country” at the 1969 Woodstock festival, where it became an “unofficial anthem” of the festival. The song appears in the 1970 film Woodstock.
“Going Up the Country” has also been featured on a number of Canned Heat compilation albums, including Canned Heat Cookbook, Let’s Work Together: The Best of Canned Heat, and Uncanned! The Best of Canned Heat.
Canned Heat formed in Los Angeles around 1965. They were very interested in the blues and its original artists. Blues enthusiasts Alan Wilson and Bob Hite named the band after blues musician Tommy Johnson’s “Canned Heat Blues.” The song was about a desperate alcoholic who was drinking Sterno, which was a called “canned heat.” The lineup of personnel for the band has gone through many twists and turns — and sadness. The “classic” lineup was Bob “The Bear” Hite, Alan “Blind Owl” Wlson, Henry “Sunflower” Vestine (and later Harvey “The Snake” Mandel, Larry “The Mole” Taylor, and Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra. Wilson died of a drug overdose in 1970. Hite died of a heart attack in 1981. Vestine died of heart failure in 1997. A version of the band has continued to tour and perform for many decades.