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Luther Allison (1939-1997)

Luther Allison

"The blues always been there with me."

Born in Widener, Arkansas in 1939, Luther Allison (the 14th of 15 musically gifted children) first connected to the blues at age ten, when he began playing the diddley bow (a wire attached by nails to a wall with rocks for bridges and a bottle to fret the wire). His family migrated to Chicago in 1951, and Luther Allison began soaking in the sounds of Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Robert Nighthawk. He was classmates with Muddy Waters' son and occasionally stopped in the Waters' house to watch the master rehearse. It wasn't until Luther Allison was 18 already in Chicago for seven years that Luther began playing blues on a real guitar and jamming with his brother Ollie's band. By 1957, Luther Allison had dropped out of school and formed a band called The Rolling Stones. Unhappy with the name, they became The Four Jivers, gigging all over the West Side of Chicago. Before long, Luther Allison was jamming with the West Side's best, including Magic Sam, Otis Rush, and Freddie King, who encouraged Luther Allison to sing. "That," said Luther Allison, "was my school." When Freddie King began to tour nationally in the early 1960s, Luther Allison took over Freddie King's band as well as his weekly gigs at Walton's Corner and became one of the hottest acts on the West Side. For five years, Luther Allison honed his craft. He moved to California for a year and cut sides with fellow Chicagoans Shakey Jake Harris and Sunnyland Slim. He cut his first two songs as a leader on the now-classic Delmark anthology, Sweet Home Chicago, before releasing his first solo album (also on Delmark), Love Me Mama, a record of hard-hitting blues that spoke to the growing rock audience. But even before his debut album came out, Luther Allison landed a headlining spot at the influential Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969, and went from relative unknown to major blues-rock attraction. Luther Allison signed with Motown Records in 1972 as the label's only blues act. His three records for the Gordy subsidiary led to numerous concert dates and both national and international festival appearances, but domestically, interest in the blues was fading. After finding instant acceptance in Europe, he was convinced that Paris was the place to be. While he gained superstar status in Europe and released a dozen European records, his presence in the American music scene diminished. With the release of Soul Fixin' Man in 1994, Luther Allison's first domestic album in 20 years, he announced his return. Continued touring brought Luther Allison before raving fans around the world, as he brought his band from the San Francisco Blues Festival to New York's Central Park Summerstage, with all stops in between. With Reckless, Luther Allison reached even greater heights. Throughout it all, Luther Allison delivered one show-stopping performance after another. His boundless energy and fierce guitar attack combined to make him a blues superstar who reached rock fans like no bluesmen since Freddie King and Albert Collins. When the news broke that Luther Allison had been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in July of 1997, the blues world was shocked. When he died just four weeks later on August 12, 1997, they were devastated. Without a doubt, Luther Allison's death robbed music fans of one of the most exciting and popular blues performers ever.

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Luther Allison Videos

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