Mose Allison: Back in the (Studio) Saddle
"I don't know who adapted to who," Mose said of the studio experience. "I let Joe Henry call the tunes and tell me how long the tunes would be and so forth. I did some new material that I had around for a while. I think most of 'em I'd done before or copyrighted them years ago. Some of them are tunes I haven't done much. Actually, I don't think I've done some of them ever." He added, "They sent me some stuff. They sent me the Roosevelt Sykes number ["Some Right, Some Wrong"] and I liked that. I wanted to do a Loudon Wainwright thing ["I'm Alright"]. He's one of my favorites."
Always humble about his own accomplishments, Allison quipped wryly about the recording, "I have no idea how it went. I don't like to listen to myself. I haven't really listened that much to the new record, so I don't know." Nonetheless, he adds, "I think it came out all right. I was a little surprised at first at some of the things. The slide guitarist, specifically, played good. I didn't figure on doin' that, but it worked out okay."
That could be construed as strong endorsement because it comes from someone who doesn't like to assess his own work. He prefers to move forward with his career, working in the here and now and letting others judge.
Allison is still as hip as ever. At a gig at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in October 2009, a few months after the recording sessions, he delighted the audience at the small but packed venue, playing with just a bassist, frequent collaborator Rich Syracuse. He went through a bevy of his great original tunes. Some songs by others have his personal stamp and are an indelible part of his arsenal, in many cases preferable to any other versions. His piano playing is strong. That night, it was augmented superbly by fluid and ever-creative statements from Syracuse's bass.
Allison remains active. "The traveling is getting to be more and more of a drag," he says. "The playin' is the same. It's the same challenge night after night. You have to make the music happen. That's just like it was the first night I played."
That beginning would be 1950 in Lake Charles, Louisiana, his first six-night gig. He eventually went from the Mississippi Delta to the west and southwest with a bassist, Taylor LaFargue, finding musicians in each town to round out the band. In 1956, he decided that if he was going to really make it, he had to move to New York. After a slow start there, he caught on, getting some playing time, Stan Getz, Al Cohn and others. But he kept up his own thing, singing all the while, and it caught on to the point where sideman gigs weren't necessary. His vocals just came naturally, as did his humorous point of view.
In 1957, Back Country Suite on Prestige Records hit it big and everything went up from there. His sarcastic take in his songs on issues or mores of the day caused the media to call him a philosopher, a cynic, or both. But Allison remained, and remains, unflappable and unconcerned with those appraisals.
"I've been doin' the same material for 50 years," he says. "People's reactions have changed. 'Monsters of the Id,' which I wrote 40 years ago, is hot right now. Everybody chuckles when I play that now. They used to think I was a cynic; now I'm a comedian."
Allison is pleased with the work he gets each year. While some musicians find it tough getting gigs, he moves along at a steady pace, traveling by himself. Everywhere he goes, he has drummers and bassists to call on. Saxophone is also used on some gigs. "I'm pretty well satisfied the way things are goin,' as long as I can keep playin' 100 nights a year, 120. That's good with me," he says.
He says he doesn't expect to be going into the studio again soon, preferring to see how things go in the fast-changing recording industry. A lot of what he hears on record these days, he adds, doesn't impress him much. "Everythin' I hear sounds the same. You can make anybody a star if they have the right promotion. So it's a weird situation."
Weird, perhaps, but for Allison it is not a concern. His audiences steady, his level of performance high, expect to see him carrying on. Business as usual. Musical as ever. And fun.
Mose Allison, The Way of the World, (Anti-, 2010)
Mose Allison, Mose Allison Sings (Prestige, 2006)
Mose Allison, The Mose Allison Chronicles: Live in London, Vol. 2 (Blue Note, 2002)
Mose Allison, The Mose Allison Chronicles: Live in London, Vol. 1 (Blue Note, 2002)
Mose Allison, Allison Wonderland: The Mose Allison Anthology (Atlantic, 1994)
Mose Allison, The Earth Wants You (Blue Note, 1994)
Mose Allison, My Back Yard (Blue Note, 1990)
Mose Allison, Your Mind's On Vacation (Atlantic, 1976)
Mose Allison, Creek Bank (Prestige/Fantasy, 1975)
Mose Allison, Western Man (Atlantic, 1971)
Mose Allison, Hello There, Universe (Atlantic, 1970)
Mose Allison, I've Been Doin' Some Thinkin' (Atlantic, 1968)
Mose Allison, Wild Man on the Loose (Atlantic, 1965)
Mose Allison, Mose Alive! (Atlantic, 1965)
Mose Allison, The Word from Mose Allison (Atlantic, 1964)
Mose Allison, Swingin' Machine (Atlantic, 1962)
Mose Allison, Autumn Song (OJC, 1959)
Mose Allison, Back Country Suite (OJC, 1957)