Mose Allison Influenced A Generation Of Rockers



moseallisonMose Allison, who passed away this week at the age of 82, was a living embodiment of the mongrel roots of contemporary music. After more than 60 years of recording and performing, the music industry still couldn’t decide if Allison was a bluesy jazzman or a jazzy bluesman. Either way, his hybrid style was a huge influence on many first generation Rockers who were busy building their own Frankenstein from elements of of blues, rockabilly, soul, folk, pop and R&B.

Allison was a Mississippi Delta boy who learned piano at age 5 and as a teen played in bands emulating the style of rhythm and blues pioneer Louis Jordan. In the mid-fifties he moved to New York and ended up playing piano in successful standard jazz combos. But at the same time he was writing his own material and developing his own sound that included vocals.

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His first albums released in the late-1950s were groundbreaking achievements. Here was a guy singing 12-bar blues numbers, but arranging them with jazz instrumentation plus an energy that was not out of place among the piano-based rock & roll numbers. His understated, laid back vocal style became a new tool in the Rock singer’s kitbag, and guys like Ray Davies, Colin Blunstone of the Zombies and even Lou Reed were clearly influenced by Mose Allison’s singing.

He was also known as a clever and sharp-edged songwriter, and this too had appeal to the first generation Rockers. Nate Chinen of the New York Times described Allison’s lyrics as typically expressing “wry amusement or exasperated skepticism”, and what Rocker hasn’t wanted to express those particular sentiments?

Listen to “Young Man Blues” and try to imagine how the lyrical theme must have excited a teenage Pete Townshend. It apparently inspired him to write “My Generation”, and of course the Who would give “Young Man Blues” its own legendary treatment a few years later.

Of course we know how the stories of Rock pioneers usually end – drifting off into obscurity – and Mose Allison is no different. We also know that he wasn’t even considered a Rock artist, and his crossover tendencies actually ended up limiting his success in the jazz and blues worlds, too. Just more evidence of the industry’s counterproductive need to put labels on everything. Some artists you just cannot put into one box.

Over the past 40 years the Clash put a really great Allison cover on the Sandinista album, and Van Morrison recorded an album of Allison covers in 1996. And Allison himself has been churning albums out every few years in his own distinct style that some say has gotten even better over the years. They are worth looking into. But right now, let’s make sure to remember this true original, another one gone. Thanks for the muse, Mose.

Photo credit: By Mattb4310 (en.wp user) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

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