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An American-born guitarist, singer, and songwriter who lived in France since 1980, Luther Allison was the man to book at blues festivals in the mid-'90s. Allison's comeback into the mainstream was ushered in by a recording contract with an American record company, Chicago-based Alligator Records. After he signed with Alligator in 1994, Allison's popularity grew exponentially and he worked steadily until his death in 1997.
|Luther Allison Fillmore West Concert 1970 Poster|
It was while living with his family on Chicago's West Side that he had his first awareness of wanting to become a full-time bluesman, and he played bass behind guitarist Jimmy Dawkins, who Allison grew up with. Also in Allison's neighborhood were established blues greats like Freddie King, Magic Sam, and Otis Rush. He distinctly remembers everyone talking about Buddy Guy when he came to town from his native Louisiana.
After the Allison household moved to the South Side, they lived a few blocks away from Muddy Waters, and Allison and Waters' son Charles became friends. When he was 18 years old, his brother showed him basic chords and notes on the guitar, and the super bright Allison made rapid progress after that. Allison went on to "blues college" by sitting in with some of the most legendary names in blues in Chicago's local venues: Muddy Waters, Elmore James, and Howlin' Wolf among them.
His first chance to record came with Bob Koester's then-tiny Delmark Record label, and his first album, Love Me Mama, was released in 1969. But like anyone else with a record out on a small label, it was up to him to go out and promote it, and he did, putting in stellar, show-stopping performances at the Ann Arbor Blues Festivals in 1969, 1970, and 1971. After that, people began to pay attention to Luther Allison, and in 1972 he signed with Motown Records. Meanwhile, a growing group of rock & roll fans began showing up at Allison's shows, because his style seemed so reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix and his live shows clocked in at just under four hours!
Although his Motown albums got him to places he'd never been before, like Japan and new venues in Europe, the recordings didn't sell well. He does have the distinction of being one of a few blues musicians to record for Motown. Allison stayed busy in Europe through the rest of the 1970s and 1980s, and recorded Love Me Papa for the French Black and Blue label in 1977. He followed with a number of live recordings from Paris, and, in 1984, he settled outside of Paris, since France and Germany were such major markets for him. At home in the U.S., Allison continued to perform sporadically, when knowledgeable blues festival organizers or blues societies would book him.
Chicago blues musician. He learned the blues long before he got to Chicago. What he did so successfully is take his base of Chicago blues and add touches of rock, soul, reggae, funk, and jazz. Allison's first two albums for Alligator, Soul Fixin' Man and Blue Streak, are arguably two of his strongest. His talents as a songwriter are fully developed, and he's well-recorded and well-produced, often with horns backing his band. Another one to look for is a 1992 reissue on Evidence, Love Me Papa. In 1996, Motown reissued some of the three albums worth of material he recorded for that label (between 1972 and 1976) on compact disc.
Well into his mid-50s, Allison continued to delight club and festival audiences around the world with his lengthy, sweat-drenched, high-energy shows, complete with dazzling guitar playing and inspired, soulful vocals. He continued to tour and record until July of 1997, when he was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Just over a month later, he died in a hospital in Madison, WI; a tragic end to one of the great blues comeback stories. 1998's posthumous Live in Paradise captured one of his final shows, recorded on La Reunion Island in April 1997. Thomas Ruf, who was inspired by and became a friend of Allison's shortly before the bluesman's death, issued Underground on Ruf Records in 2007.
Luther Allison (August 17, 1939 – August 12, 1997) was an American blues guitarist. He was born in Widener, Arkansas, and moved with his family, at the age of twelve, to Chicago in 1951. He taught himself guitar and began listening to blues extensively. Three years later he began hanging outside blues nightclubs with the hopes of being invited to perform. He played with Howlin' Wolf's band and backed James Cotton.
His big break came in 1957 when Howlin' Wolf invited Allison to the stage. Freddie King took him under his wing and after King got his big record deal, Allison took over King's house-band gig on Chicago's west side. He worked the club circuit throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s and recorded his first single in 1965. He was signed to the Delmark Records label in 1967 and released his debut album, Love Me Mama, the following year. A well-received set at the 1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival resulted in his being asked to perform there each of the next three years. He also toured nationwide and, in 1972, was signed to Motown Records, one of the few blues artists to do so. By the mid 1970s he began touring Europe and moved to France in 1977. Allison was known for his powerful concert performances, lengthy soulful guitar solos and crowd walking with his Gibson Les Paul. Allison lived briefly during this period in Peoria, Illinois, where he signed briefly with Rumble Records, resulting in two live recordings, "Gonna Be a Live One in Here Tonight", produced by Bill Knight, and "Power Wire Blues", produced by George Faber and Jeffrey P. Hess. Allison played the "bar circuit" in the USA during this period, spending eight months per year in Europe at high-profile venues, including the Montreux Jazz Festival. In 1992, he played as a duo with legendary French rock'n'roll star Johnny Hallyday for 18 shows in Paris, also playing during the intermission.
Allison's manager, and European agent, Thomas Ruf, founded the label Ruf Records in 1994. Signing with Ruf Records, Allison launched a comeback in association with Alligator Records. Alligator founder Bruce Iglauer convinced Allison to return to the United States. The album Soul Fixin' Man was recorded and released in 1994, and Allison toured the U.S. and Canada. He won four W.C. Handy Awards in 1994. With the James Solberg Band backing him, non-stop touring and the release of Blue Streak (featuring song "Cherry Red Wine"), Allison continued to earn more Handys and gain wider recognition. He scored a host of Living Blues Awards and was featured on the cover pages of major blues publications.
In the middle of his summer of 1997 tour, Allison checked into a hospital for dizziness and loss of coordination. It was discovered that he had a tumor on his lung that had metastasized to his brain. In and out of a coma, Allison died on August 12, 1997, five days before his 58th birthday, in Madison, Wisconsin. His album Reckless had just been released. His son Bernard Allison, at one time a member of his band, is now a solo recording artist.
He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1998. In 2000, the Chicago Sun-Times called him "The Bruce Springsteen of the blues". He was a chief influence on many young Blues guitarists such as Chris Beard and Reggie Sears.
Allison is buried at Washington Memory Gardens Cemetery in Homewood, Illinois.
LUTHER ALLISON AMAZINGRACE
EVANSTON ILLINOIS 1978-07-22
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02. Night Life
03. Messin' with the Kid
04. Ain't Nobody's Business
05. Look on Yonder's Wall
06. Star Spangled Banner > Auld Lang Syne
07. Mama's Little Baby
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