Pianist, singer, songwriter, Mose Allison, who melded jazz with Delta blues, died on Tuesday, at his home in Hilton Head, South Carolina, just four days past his 89th birthday.
His death was confirmed by his daughter, country music artist, Amy Allison.
Born on his grandfather’s farm, just outside Tippo, Mississippi, Allison began taking piano lessons at the age of five. A service station across the road had a jukebox, from which he heard records by Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy, and Memphis Minnie. By the time he was thirteen, he had written his first song. It was a satirical jump blues piece called, “The 14-Day Palmolive Plan.” By the time he went to high school, he also learned to play trumpet. Before beginning his music career in earnest, he attended both the University of Mississippi and Louisiana State University, graduating with a BA in English. Between the two schools, he spent two years in the US Army.
He has been described, equally, in two ways. As a jazz pianist who sang blues, and as a blues artist who played jazz piano. He could not be put into a single category, musically, and that’s what made him, truly, something special. He launched his musical career in the mid-1950s in New York, playing jazz with a trio made up of bassist, Addison Farmer, and drummer, Nick Stabulas.
In 1963, Prestige Records released the album, Mose Allison Sings, which was a compilation of previously recorded cover songs, written or originally performed by his Delta brethren. Songs by artists such as Sonny Boy Williamson, Willie Dixon, and Jimmy Rogers were at the forefront, however, it was his original piece, “Parchman Farm,” a reworking of the Bukka White tune, that garnered the most attention. It became his most requested song, until he dropped it from his playlist in the 1980s. At that time, the song was being criticized as not politically correct.
The blues loving British rock bands of the 1960s idolized Allison, and covered many of his songs. “Parchman Farm,” for example, was covered by artists including John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Blue Cheer, and Blues Image. American artists, Rick Derringer, Johnny Winter, and even Charlie Daniels also recorded their versions of the hit.
Other songs written by Allison were covered by bands, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Clash, The Pixies and Paul Butterfield. The Who, based the music of their song, “My Generation,” on Allison’s “Young Man Blues,” as well as covering his original. Bonnie Raitt covered Allison’s “Everybody’s Crying Mercy,” on her 1973 album, Takin’ My Time, and Elvis Costello covered a few of Allison’s numbers, including, “Your Mind Is On Vacation,” combined with Sonny Boy Williamson’s, “Your Funeral My Trial.”
Allison recorded on several labels during his five decade career, including Prestige, Columbia and Atlantic. Although most labels wanted to market him as either a pop or rhythm & blues artist, he stuck to the jazz and blues combination that he knew and loved.
With a total of 32 solo album releases to his credit, his final offering came in 2015 with, Mose Allison American Legend, Live in California, which was recorded eight years earlier.
Allison had ceased touring and performing in his later years, however, he continued to be recognized. In 2012, a Mississippi Blues Trail, marker was established, honoring him in his hometown of Tippo. In 2013, he was accorded the highest honor a jazz musician can receive; the title of Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts.