-by Denise Sullivan
Jazz-blues singer-songwriter Mose Allison is yet another extraordinary example of the ways in which the best (and by that I mean, the only good) American popular music made by white people borrows, steals, and is inspired by music that is tied to a root of African or African-American origin. American music is, as the narrative goes, where “the races meet;” the space where we walk right in, set right down and let it all hang out. While that is often the case, Black, Latino, other non-white, female, LGBTQ, and disabled musicians will tell you a different story; the contradictions are a part of the story too and must be aired out consistently to get the full picture. This is perhaps related or not to how Allison, a Mississippi-born white man came to sing cotton-picking songs on the piano and inspired a generation of rock musicians to look back and discover Bukka White, Sonny Boy Williamson and Willie Dixon. When Allison opened his mouth to accompany his piano songs in 1963, he reached The Who, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, the Clash and the Pixies… and that's only a fraction of the artists he touched.
I saw Allison play on just two occasions: Once at Kimball's in San Francisco and another time at the Jazz Bakery in Culver City (which I realize distinguishes me as a person from a bygone era). At both performances, I was struck by the vivacity of a man whose age hovered between that of my parents and grandparents. The economy of the lyrics, the direct hit of the melodies, the impeccable piano-style, and the brilliance of the combinations were plainly hip (for the origins of hip, fellow white people, you're on your own). The audience, for what it's worth, was composed of people across a spectrum of ages and races. Here are a couple of articles, one from a paper in Charleston and an interview with the World Socialist Web Site. Both portray a musician toward the end of his life who's still fed up with imperialism, capitalism, colonialism and racism. Allison died of natural causes this week in Hilton Heads, South Carolina, a few days after his 89th birthday.
Denise Sullivan reports on arts, culture and gentrification issues for Down With Tyranny!
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis