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.