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The Blues: Luther Allison

Updated on November 6, 2015

Luther Allison, The New King Of The Blues

Luther Allison was an American Blues musician from Arkansas. His family moved to Chicago in 1951, and that led inexorably to his rendition of the soulful blues of the west side of the city. His guitar skills were self-taught, and reflect the fact that he spent most of his time listening to the Blues and only the Blues.

Allison's family migrated to Chicago in 1951, and Luther began hanging around Blues clubs and soaking in the sounds of Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Robert Nighthawk. He was classmates with Muddy Waters' son Big Bill Morganfileld, and occasionally dropped by the Waters' house to watch Muddy rehearse. In this, he shared a path taken by many aspiring Blues musicians, including the legendary Buddy Guy.

By 1957, Allison had dropped out of school and formed a band called The Rolling Stones, a name they didn't like much, so they changed their name to "The Four Jivers" and played all over the West Sideof Chicago. It wasn't long before Luther was jamming with Chicago's best, including Magic Sam, Otis Rush, and Freddie King, who encouraged him to sing.

The Early Years

Luther Allison's big break came in 1957, when Howlin' Wolf invited him to the stage. This led to Freddie King's taking Allison under his wing. When King got his big record deal, Allison took over King's house band gig on Chicago's west side, and worked the club circuit throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s.

He recorded his first single in 1965. Allison was signed to the Delmark Records label in 1967 and released his debut album Love Me Mama the following year. He toured nationwide and, in 1972, was signed to Motown Records, the first to do so. By the mid 1970s he began touring Europe and moved to France in 1977.

"I have as much input to the blues; I just never got the chance, the opportunity or maybe the respect." (Luther Allison)

Love Me Mama - 1969

Allison was signed to the Delmark label in 1967 and released his debut album Love Me Mama in 1968.

"I got the bad news this morning..."

Bad News is Coming - Live in Montreux

Allison's second album, Bad News is Coming was released on the Motown/Gordy label in 1972.

Bad News is Coming

I got the bad news this morning...

I think I'm gonna have to leave right away...

Oh Lord, I think I'm gonna have to leave right away



Luther's Blues - From the soundtrack of "Cooley High," 1975

Well, my mama called me Luther, and my daddy calls me son

Yes, my mother called me Luther, and my daddy calls me son

Yes, you know my woman called me a fool, and you know she's the only one

Yes, I don't know why she treat me so bad, you know I've been so sweet and kind

Yeah, I don't know why you wanna treat me so bad, baby, you know I've been so sweet and kind

Luther's Blues

Luther's Blues
Luther's Blues

Audio CD - [Extra Tracks, Original Recording Remastered]

 

Last night, I lost the best friend I ever had...

Last Night

From Luther Allison's fifth album, Love me papa, released on the Black & Blue label in 1979. "Last Night" is a laid back, mellow kind of song, well suited to what I used to call "Stand up necking."

"You know she gone away and left me, and make me feel kinda bad..."

The Thrill is Gone

"The Thrill Is Gone" was written by Rick Darnell and Roy Hawkins in 1951- Luther's version is my favorite, BB King's version was a smash hit, and led to covers by such notables as Aretha Franklin, Luther Allison, Manhattan Transfer, Jerry Garcia and David Grisman and the great Willie Nelson.

I've added BB King's rendition below, along with the awesome duet with BB King and Tracy Chapman. I leave it to you as to which one you prefer. Me? I like Luther Allison's and the Tracy Chapman duet the best.

Serious - 1984

From the album Life is a Bitch, which was retitled Serious for its 1987 American debut.

Serious - 1987

"As bluesmen go, Luther Allison rocked, especially on Serious and subsequent recordings. This recording marked the beginning of a more rock-oriented approach for Allison, which certainly contributed to his rise in prominence, a climb that continued until his death in 1997. Serious is a bundle of barely restrained energy..."(Genevieve Williams, Blues Review)

With Live In Chicago, Allison lives on, as he tears through the songs with the single-minded desire to give everything he has to his audience. (Alligator Records)

Soul Fixin' Man - 1999

Soul Fixin' Man, from my first Luther Allison album, Live in Chicago, released on the Alligator label.

Once in a great while, a Blues musician is presented with a rare opportunity to radically expand his scope -- the chance to reach hundreds of thousands of listeners in a single swoop. Such was the case for Allison on June 3, 1995. During the previous 12 years, he had made himself into a European star while living as an American expatriot in Paris.The price he paid was giving up a careen in his homeland. The Chicago Blues Fest presented him with a golden opportunity to reestablish himself in the States, and that opportunity didn't go to waste.

Soul Fixin' Man

Cherry Red Wine - Live in Chicago

Cherry Red Wine was Allison's second number at the Chicago Blues Fest. It was a moving condemnation of a hard-drinking friend, and is an awesome display of Allison's talent.

If you listen to no other Allison hit, you MUST listen to this one. Allison's awesome talent is laid out in unmistakable mastery.

This song just sticks to one's soul. It burrows in and takes up residence.

Cherry Red Wine

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"Throughout it all, Allison delivered one show-stopping performance after another." (Ruf Records)

You've got to have the love for it... - ...to stick with it all these years...

"I'm a fighter, and I feel like I've been fighting for my life as a musician. So many people have come up to me all excited and said, 'The Blues are back!' What can I say to that except, 'Back for who?' I never stopped doing it, never changed a thing. A lot of great musicians, young and old, have come and gone, and I'm still here. And as long as I am, I'm not going to stop."

He couldn't have known that soon after he said this, he would be gone. That he died on the doorstep of schieving the domestic recognition that he so longed for is a tragedy that one could spend a lifetime pondering without ever making sense of. (Liner notes, Live in Chicago)

Rest in Peace

At the time of his unexpected death from cancer on August 12, 1997, Luther Allison had finally reached the mainstream popularity he had always wanted. He began his American comeback when he signed with Alligator in 1994, after 12 years of living and performing in Europe, where he had grown from a club artist to a Blues headliner. With the Grammy-nominated Reckless in 1997, Allison soared, and went on to win eight W.C. Handy Awards, Entertainer Of The Year and 15 Living Blues Awards. He was featured on the covers of the three major national blues publications and enjoyed numerous broadcast media appearances. Wherever he played, he left his audience open-mouthed in amazement. In just three years, he had gone from the latest rediscovery to, as Blues Revue magazine wrote, "The New King Of The Blues."

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    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      Thanks for bringing this man to me, my life is enriched. Angel Blessed!

    • Countryluthier profile image

      E L Seaton 5 years ago from Virginia

      Thanks for sharing. I wish I had had the opportunity to have heard him long ago on a stage up in the Mississippi Delta at the Blues Festival. Great lens!