Luther Allison

I have notes for a post about the great musicians I had the privilege to hear/see when they were alive – one of the benefits of getting old. I decided this guy deserves his own.

Luther Allison was born in Widener, Arkansas on August 17, 1939 and died in Madison, WI on August 12, 1997 – 25 years ago today. He moved to Chicago in 1951 and studied at the feet of the masters. When the “blues revival” hit white college kids in the 1960s, Luther was one of the younger players who introduced us to the older generation.

Madison, WI is only three hours from Chicago and Luther made the trip frequently. Madison became a second home. He used a long guitar cord so he could wander into the audience (and he did his share of flirting during those forays). When he released his debut album “Love Me Mama” for Delmark Records in 1969, we knew he was a force to be reckoned with.

Luther signed to Motown Records and put out three albums on that label in the 1970s and then disappeared from view in the US, living in France where American Blues Masters had a more appreciative audience. He burst back onto the US scene with “Soul Fixin’ Man” released on Alligator Records in 1994. For casual fan in the US, Luther was back.

Luther was a player who understood that it’s not how many notes you play, it’s how you play those notes…and how you play the silences in between. After signing with Alligator, Luther divided his time between North America and Europe. His last recorded performance was in Montreal on July 6, 1997. He played a couple more shows, checked into a hospital in Madison WI, and died of lung cancer that had metastasized to his brain. You can see and hear that he still had it with five weeks to live.

And finally, the music didn’t die completely with his death. Here is his son, Bernard Allison, born in 1965. I have not yet seen/heard him in person.

Is it a coincidence that so many of these are Elmore James songs?

This is a bonus post, pre-written for the occasion. For those of you champing at the bit, the regular post will follow in one minute. It will be a musical day in half-fast land.

Madison Blues

A Republican governor once called Madison, WI “30 square miles surrounded by reality”. Thirty five years later the mayor proposed that as the city’s motto, updated to “77 square miles” because the city had grown. The city council rejected it by a single vote.

The council did, however, adopt the plastic pink flamingo as the official city bird in 2009. The pink flamingo became important to the city thanks to the Pail and Shovel Party, which ran for, and took over, the student government at the University of Wisconsin in 1978. The party got its name from a campaign promise. The student government controlled a large chunk of student fees. They promised to turn those fees into pennies and dump them into a campus fountain. Each student would be issued a pail and shovel and be welcome to whatever segment of those fees they could get into their pail. They failed to keep that promise, though they did keep their promise to bring the Statue of Liberty to Madison. Unfortunately, it sunk. (Image from They also placed 1008 plastic pink flamingos on Bascom Hill one night.

Morning of September 4, 1979 at Bascom Hall, 1979
Photo by Michael Kienitz

San Francisco has its 49 Mile Scenic Drive (which fits with their 49er theme). I decided it was time for a 77 Mile Square – 77 miles of that “reality” that surrounds Madison. The plan was to start at my front door (which is why I won’t share the route, in its entirety, with you), and then get quickly out of town and ride a (more or less) square route in the reality surrounding it.

The first iteration failed to get me completely out of town. The west side has grown tremendously and I found myself riding on the very unpleasant Pleasant View Road. The route needed some tweaking. Pleasant View was a nice road back in 1978 when the motto was “30 square miles surrounded by reality”; not anymore. The second attempt was a good ride, but too short. For the third version, I’m including an outline of the route as a loop – you can essentially start anywhere, and then I don’t show you my house. The length varies depending on how long it takes you to get to the loop. Don’t drive…that would miss the point. Here is a map approximation. Cue sheet on request. So far, mileages are not recorded. Maybe I’ll bring a pencil next time and write them in. Not quite a square; but then again, the city isn’t, either – being oriented northeast to southwest along an isthmus. The bulge in the northeast corner is to get around a shopping mall, an airport, and a marsh. Maybe it still needs work. Oh well, I’ll have to ride some more..;)

(Part of) Epic Systems from Northern Lights Road

Dancing at Lughnasa

We generally acknowledge 7 of the 8 major solar holidays. The current one gets short shrift. Since today’s ride is in celebration of the holiday, the midpoint of summer, it gets a little ink.
Autumnal Equinox – when day and night are of equal length
Samhain/Hallowe’en/Day of the Dead/All Saints Day – halfway to the winter solstice
Winter Solstice/Christmas – Shortest day of the year
Imbolc/Groundhog Day/Candlemas – halfway to vernal equinox
Vernal Equinox/St. Patrick’s Day/Ostara/Easter – day and night are of equal length
Beltane/Mayday – halfway to the summer solstice
Summer Solstice/Midsummer’s Night – longest day of the year
Lughnasa – halfway to autumnal equinox (Why this is not called midsummer’s night I don’t understand, as it comes in the middle of summer. “Midsummer’s Night” is at the beginning of summer.) I only learned the name of this holiday from the play “Dancing at Lughnasa”.

For the Lughnasa ride, the temperature was ~60 degrees (16 Celsius). The sun peeked out for a few minutes around 11:30 AM. Riding in a long-sleeved jersey and knee warmers did not seem like the middle of summer.