Pianist, singer and composer Mose Allison’s witty and often-acerbic lyrics — delivered with a distinctive Southern drawl — were favorites of jazz fans and the British rockers who covered his songs — from The Who to The Clash to Van Morrison.
Born in Tippo, Miss., Mose died Tuesday morning at his home in Hilton Head, S.C., after celebrating his 89th birthday last Friday. He died of natural causes.
Allison was inspired by the blues musicians he heard around him and by Nat King Cole. He combined those influences to create something distinctive.
He wound up in New York City. He played with jazz stars like Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan. When people heard him sing, they thought he was African-American.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white,” he said in response. “What matters is whether you’re good.”
Mose Allison, Iconic Blues and Jazz Pianist, Dead at 89
The Who, Yardbirds, Van Morrison, the Clash and Elvis Costello all covered musician’s prolific catalog
Influential blues and jazz pianist Mose Allison, whose songs were covered by an array of rock veterans, died Tuesday at the age of 89 of natural causes. Allison’s daughter, Amy, confirmed the musician’s death to Rolling Stone.
Though primarily known for his piano playing, Allison also garnered acclaim for his voice, crafting a repertoire that drew on Delta blues, bebop, early American pop and even European classical, per NPR. Consequently, Allison’s earliest labels struggled to find the best way to market him, with Prestige pushing him as a pop star and Columbia and Atlantic billing him as a blues artist.
But Allison ultimately defied such categorization, as his songs would go on to be covered by an extensive and diverse collection of artists including the Clash, the Who, Elvis Costello, the Gories, Van Morrison, Robert Palmer, Bonnie Raitt, Roy Rogers, Leon Russell, Hot Tuna, the Yardbirds and the Bangles.
Speaking to Rolling Stone before Allison’s death in an interview to be published on Wednesday, Townshend says, “Mose was a huge, huge crush of mine. I just loved him. I loved everything he did. I did exactly the same thing.”
“He was the thread that connected Willie Dixon and Mark Twain,” adds Joe Henry, the producer who worked with Allison on his 2010 album The Way of the World.
Born in the Mississippi Delta, Allison began playing the piano at age five and was soon recreating songs he heard on a local jukebox by ear. Spurred by his father, also a piano player, Allison continued to take lessons but also spent time working on his grandfather’s farm.
In the Forties, Allison went into the Army, playing with the Army Band, and spent some time touring the U.S. with a trio before ultimately graduating from Louisiana State University in 1952. In 1956, he moved to New York City to begin his professional career, inking a record deal with composer-saxophonist Al Cohn and releasing his first album, Back Country Suite in 1957.
The LP featured a handful of blues covers, but also numerous originals that comprised the titular suite, such as the first recording of a tune called “Blues.” The Who famously covered the song, later known as “Young Man Blues,” on Live at Leeds.