Back Alley John

CBMA Blues Hall of Fame
Lifetime Achievement (2008)


One in a million musicians have the ability to leave the world a better place than he found it, and continue to challenge, inspire, and guide blossoming souls who follow behind him after he has moved on. Back Alley John is one of these greats. In 1955 John Carl David Wilson was born, and another deep shade of blue was added to the Delta Blues genre, and the world was simply different.

As to foreshadow the rest of his life, John became rebellious at a young age and got into trouble at school. John loved to play the harmonica and grew tired of hearing his strict military parents say, “You couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket”, so at just fourteen he migrated away from his home in Ottawa, and found his way to Venice Beach, California. Since he had stolen a truck (and siphoned the gas to get there), John had limited resources and no contacts. Needing money, John began busking on the streets with his harmonica. People in the area became mentors of John’s, taught him how to avoid being arrested, how to sing, play the guitar, jam, and to play in the back streets. John was not yet legal, and was always forced to play in the back alleys. Thus, the name he came to be known as, “Back Alley John” was created.

Right here in Calgary John recorded some of his prominent albums such as One Way Ticket To Palookaville, Out On The Highway, and More A Feeling Than A Living. For John, life was only about music. He was more than thrilled to share his knowledge, stories, and experience with those who chose him as a mentor. Music was a part of John every day, until the end, which came in the summer of 2006.

Six weeks prior to the passing of Back Alley John, he flat lined in an ambulance. The doctor said, as John was rolled into emergency, “Don’t worry about finding this one a bed, he won’t last the night.” John remembered thinking, “I resent that remark.” And he would be damned not to be at the Ambassador the very next night, playing a public gig and enjoying a beer with his niece, who had just turned eighteen, and came to see him perform as an adult for the first time. “Music is life”, he always said, and “anything less would be uncivilized.”

biography contributed by Nicole Wilson, Back Alley John's beloved niece.