Mose Allison Dies at Age 89
Mose Allison, a singer-songwriter and pianist whose wryly erudite lyrics and blues-inflected style of jazz earned him consistent acclaim and inspired generations of rock artists, has died at the age of 89.
Born Nov. 11, 1927, in Tippo, Miss., Allison played piano and trumpet from a young age and made his first forays into songwriting while still a teen, but took a somewhat circuitous route to life as a professional musician. After starting out in pursuit of a chemical engineering degree at the University of Mississippi, he joined the U.S. Army in 1946, serving a two-year tour of duty that included a tenure in the Ground Forces Band; upon his return, he completed his studies, graduating in 1952 with degrees in English and philosophy.
After migrating to New York in the mid-'50s, Allison found steady work in the city's jazz scene, working alongside a list of artists that included Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan, and signed his first deal with the Prestige label, releasing his debut LP, Back Country Suite, in 1957. The record established what would become more or less a career-long pattern for Allison, garnering critical praise without making an overly large dent in the charts — and featuring songs that would later end up on albums by other artists.
In the case of Back Country Suite, the fateful track was a portion of the titular suite titled simply "Blues" — or, as Allison later told audiences, "Young Man's Blues," which eventually inspired the Who's "My Generation" and was ultimately covered on the band's Live at Leeds LP.
"Young Man Blues" was just one early example in a long series of Allison compositions to be covered by rock artists. Acts as varied as Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, Van Morrison (who cut an entire album of his songs) and the Clash drew from his songbook over the years, and as his career evolved, so did his sound; by the early '60s, his audience had grown from an enlightened cult to a widening circle of listeners who'd come to depend on his records to provide musical and lyrical flashes of sardonic insight.
By the late '90s, Allison had settled into retirement as a recording artist, although he continued to perform — and was lured back into the studio one last time by producer and recording artist Joe Henry for what would prove to be his swan song, 2010's The Way of the World LP. In the liner notes for the album, Henry described Allison's music as encompassing "Mark Twain straight through to Willie Dixon, with Chico Marx barking directions from the backseat, James Stewart at the wheel."
Allison had a more self-effacing perspective on his work. "I’ve been happy with my career. I just keep doing what I like," he said in a 2010 interview. "It’s a challenge every night. You never know how it’s going to go or how you’re going to feel. Every night is a new thing."
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