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Not unlike his namesake, Luther Allison, pianist Mose Allison has suffered from a "categorization problem," given his equally brilliant career. Although his boogie-woogie and bebop-laden piano style is innovative and fresh sounding when it comes to blues and jazz, it is as a songwriter that Allison really shines. Allison's songs have been recorded by the Who ("Young Man Blues"), Leon Russell ("I'm Smashed"), and Bonnie Raitt ("Everybody's Cryin' Mercy"). Other admirers include Tom Waits, John Mayall, Georgie Fame, the Rolling Stones, and Van Morrison. But because he's always played both blues and jazz, and not one to the exclusion of the other, his career has suffered. As he himself admits, he has a "category" problem that lingers to this day. "There's a lot of places I don't work because they're confused about what I do," he explained in a 1990 interview in Goldmine magazine. Despite the lingering confusion, Allison remains one of the finest songwriters in blues of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Born in Tippo, MS, on November 11, 1927, Allison's first exposure to blues on record was through Louis Jordan recordings, including "Outskirts of Town" and "Pinetop Blues." Allison credits Jordan as being a major influence on him, and also credits Nat "King" Cole, Louis Armstrong, and Fats Waller. He started out on trumpet but later switched to piano. In his youth, he had easy access, via the radio, to the music of Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, and Meade "Lux" Lewis. Allison also credits the songwriter Percy Mayfield, "the Poet Laureate of the Blues," as being a major inspiration on his songwriting.
After a stint in college and the Army, Allison's first professional gig was in Lake Charles, LA, in 1950. He returned to college to finish up at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he studied English and philosophy, a far cry from his initial path as a chemical engineering major.
Allison began his recording career with the Prestige label in 1956, shortly after he moved to New York City. He recorded an album with Al Cohn and Bobby Brookmeyer, and then in 1957 got his own record contract. A big break was the opportunity to play with Cohn and Zoot Sims shortly after his arrival in New York, but he later became more well known after playing with saxophonist Stan Getz. After leaving Prestige Records, where he recorded now classic albums like Back Country Suite (1957), Young Man Mose (1958), and Seventh Son (1958-1959), he moved to Columbia for two years before meeting up with Nesuhi Ertegun of Atlantic Records. He recalled that he signed his contract with Atlantic after about ten minutes in Nesuhi's office. Allison spent a big part of his recording career at Atlantic Records, where he became most friendly with Ertegun. After the company saw substantial growth and Allison was no longer working directly with him, he became discouraged and left. Allison has also recorded for Columbia (before he began his long relationship with Atlantic), and the Epic and Prestige labels.
Allison's discography is a lengthy one, and there are gems to be found on all of his albums, many of which can be found in vinyl shops. His output since 1957 averaged at least one album a year until 1976, when he finished up at Atlantic with the classic Your Mind Is on Vacation. There was a gap of six years before he recorded again, this time for Elektra's Musician subsidiary in 1982, when he recorded Middle Class White Boy. After 1987, he recorded with Blue Note/Capitol. His debut for that label was Ever Since the World Ended. Allison recorded some of the most creative material of his career with the Blue Note subsidiary of Capitol Records, including My Backyard (1992) and The Earth Wants You (1994), both produced by Ben Sidran. Also in 1994, Rhino Records released a box set, Allison Wonderland. Allison's first new studio album in some 12 years, the Joe Henry-produced The Way of the World, appeared from Anti early in 2010.
Mose John Allison, Jr. (born November 11, 1927) is an American jazz blues pianist and singer.
Allison was born in Tippo, Mississippi. He played piano in grammar school and trumpet in high school. He went to college at the University of Mississippi for a while, then enlisted in the U.S. Army for two years. Shortly after mustering out, he enrolled at Louisiana State University, from which he was graduated in 1952 with a BA in English with a minor in Philosophy. In 1956 he moved to New York City and launched his jazz career performing with artists such as Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, and Phil Woods. His debut album, Back Country Suite, was issued on the Prestige label in 1957. He formed his own trio in 1958.
It was not until 1963 that his record label allowed him to release an album entirely of vocals. Entitled Mose Allison Sings, it was an inspired collection of songs that paid tribute to artists of the Mojo Triangle: Sonny Boy Williamson ("Eyesight to the Blind"), Jimmy Rogers ("That's All Right") and Willie Dixon ("The Seventh Son"). However, it was an original composition in the album that brought him the most attention, "Parchman Farm." For more than two decades, "Parchman Farm" was his most requested song. He dropped it from his playlist in the 1980s because some critics felt it was politically incorrect. Explained Allison to Nine-O-One Network Magazine: "I don't do the cotton sack songs much anymore. You go to the Mississippi Delta and there are no cotton sacks. It's all machines and chemicals."
His music has influenced many blues and rock artists, including Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, The Yardbirds, John Mayall, J. J. Cale, The Who (who made "Young Man Blues" a staple of their live performances and used it to open their original Live at Leeds album), and Georgie Fame. Blue Cheer also recorded a version of his song "Parchman Farm" on their debut album, as well as the band Cactus, featuring Carmine Appice and Tim Bogert in the very early seventies. The Yardbirds and The Misunderstood both recorded versions of his song "I'm Not Talking".
His song "Look Here" was covered by The Clash on their album Sandinista!. Leon Russell covered Allison's song "Smashed!" on his album Stop All That Jazz. Van Morrison released an album of his songs entitled Tell Me Something: The Songs of Mose Allison, and Elvis Costello recorded "Everybody's Cryin' Mercy" on his album Kojak Variety and "Your Mind Is On Vacation" on King of America (Bonus Tracks). Dani Klein of Belgian music act Vaya Con Dios recorded Mind on Vacation on the album Roots and Wings.Frank Black of the Pixies claims that the song "Allison" from the album Bossanova is about Mose Allison. He also states this at the beginning of the video for the song. His song "Monsters of the Id" was recorded by Stan Ridgway on his 2004 album Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads And Fugitive Songs.
The film The Whole Nine Yards begins with Mose Allison's song "I Don't Worry About A Thing" during the opening credits. Americana singer-songwriter Greg Brown wrote and performed the song "Mose Allison Played Here" on his 1997 album, Slant 6 Mind.
Allison was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2006.
Allison has stated over the past few years that he would not be recording any new albums, but as of March 1, 2010, his website declared that his "new album, 'The Way of the World,' arrives March 23, 2010, marking his return to the recording studio after a 12-year absence."