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Mose Allison Came From The Rural South To Teach Sophistication To The City

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Mose Allison performing in Los Gatos, Calif., July, 2007.

At age 86, Tippo, Mississippi’s, Mose Allison has more life than many twenty-somethings. His piano playing is as adept as ever and his voice is still a true delight. Plus his recorded work is among the most valuable collections of uptown Blues to be found.

While Mose Allison played trumpet in high school band, he had already started on piano early in grammar school. He did a brief stint at the University of Mississippi but he left to enlist in the U.S. Army. After two years he mustered out to enroll in Louisiana State University. Four years after graduation, in 1956 Allison moved to New York City and started a career playing Jazz with people like Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, and Phil Woods. He recorded as a band leader the first time in 1957 with the album Back Country Suite and formed his own trio in 1958.


Mose recorded 13 albums before he was able to convince his label to allow him to record an all vocal album in 1963. That’s kind of amazing when you hear what a beautiful vocalist he is, but then his piano playing is also among the best, so I guess we can’t blame the label execs.

Allison has seen a bit of controversy as several of his songs dealt with cotton picking and the legacies of the Jim Crow South, although I hear no racism or condescension in any of his lyrics.

One song that does possibly cross a line is Parchman Farm, but only if you miss the tongue in cheek intention of the reference to “Never done no man no harm” followed by the explanation that the only reason he’s stuck in Parchman prison farm for the rest of his life is “…all I did was shoot my wife.” Some people can’t take a joke.


Mose Allison’s legacy can be calculated in the list of people who list him as a prime influence, a list that includes Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, The Yardbirds, John Mayall, J. J. Cale, The Who, The Clash, Elvis Costello, Leon Russell, Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, Georgie Fame and even The Pixies.

I have been able to identify more that 40 albums by Mose Allison and I’m sure I missed some somewhere, given the number of labels he’s released on over the years. With a portfolio like that it should come as no surprise that I was unable to limit myself to just one track by Mose on this week’s Nine O’clock Blues, so we’ll be hearing a whole set, and even that was very hard to trim down!

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