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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Mose Allison--An appreciation

"Your Mind Is on Vacation"

"Your mind is on vacation and your mouth is working overtime."

This line, from the titletrack of Mose Allison's 1976 album Your Mind is on Vacation, was repeated frequently yesterday following word of his death at 89.

The atypical blues-based pianist/singer-songwriter, whose lyrics earned him comparisons to William Faulkner, was hard to pigeonhole, and knew it.

“I guess I'm the man without a category,” the Tippo, Mississippi native told The Los Angeles Times. “People are always trying to categorize me as blues or jazz or folk. Some say I'm a jazz pianist that sings the blues.”

Whatever. The influential Allison's songs were covered by the likes of the Who, the Clash, Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Blue Cheer and the Yardbirds.

"Mose Allison was a white Mississippian steeped in blues and jazz," states veteran performing rights executive Jim Steinblatt. "He was soulful, witty and swinging, and had a deep impact on Van Morrison, Pete Townsend, the Rolling Stones and so many singers and songwriters of discernment."

Citing three classic Allison songs--all starting with the letter "Y"--in "Young Man Blues," "Your Mind Is on Vacation," and "Your Molecular Structure," Steinblatt notes that "this just scratches the surface. The sage of Tippo, Mississippi was truly a gift to American music. I saw a double bill of Mose Allison and Memphis Slim in the early '70s when I was too young to appreciate them. That chance won't ever come again."

Producer/executive vice president of jazz label Half Note Records Jeffrey Levenson sees Allison as a singular story-teller, "wry, observational, homespun, roots-ish, with a sardonic take on life--qualities he shared with Randy Newman. He was Mississippi-born: [Late pop and jazz record label luminary] Bruce Lundvall used to refer to him as jazz's William Faulkner."

Via Facebook post, Oscar-nominated singer-songwriter Ronee Blakley recalled how Allison was the headliner for her first major out-of-town club gig.

"He influenced my playing and writing and singing very early on," wrote Blakley. "We did not get paid by the club when we closed and Mose told me that happened sometimes, [which] kept me from getting angry, that the venue simply didn't have enough money. But we did get paid later, months later. Nobody was cooler than Mose, cool jazz, literate blues, reserved voice, reserved and cool and warm."

Allison's influence was felt by the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Miss., which called him "a jazz great with roots in the Delta Blues," also on Facebook.

Jazz-blues-rock artist Ben Sidran is prominent among those heavily influenced by Allison.

"Mose got me and a lot of people through a lot of hard times," says Sidran. "His music was healing and humorous--two things that don't always go together--and he had been very sick for a long time, so it was kind of a blessing in a way to know he is finally at rest."

Ben Sidran, Georgie Fame, Van Morrison and Mose Allison



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