Reflections: A Few Words About My Dad, Mose Allison

I often get the question, what was Mose like at home? My answer to that is, the man you see performing and the man you hear singing those lyrics, that is the man he is was at home.

My dad had no hobbies, did not golf, did not play tennis and did not spend money on a single hobby that I can recall. He spent his time listening to music of all sorts, the stranger the better. He did some yoga stretching in the morning and some Tai Chi that sometimes embarrassed us kids when we had company over. He liked to run at the track in his younger days, then switched to swimming and actually had a schedule of high and low tides for the Long Island Sound; the beach was just a couple miles from home.

Other than that, in his free time, he liked to cook and read books – many books. He made lists of “to read” books on small pieces of paper. Mose read esoteric books with content about the cosmos and the human brain, books with titles like, “The Fabric of Reality,” “A Field Guide to the Invisible” and “The Nature of the Universe.” And yes, he did play the piano at home, but he only played repetitive hypnotic runs to keep his mind sharp and his fingers limber.

Mose was one of the least material persons I have ever known. He was not one to ever be seen shopping with the exception of grocery shopping. His entire wardrobe took up five feet of space in his closet, most clothing purchases being made by my mom. He called me long distance one time to tell me his luggage was missing and in his luggage contained his only belt. He described the belt to me in detail, hoping I could assist him in finding an exact replacement. I also recall the time my mom replaced our 20-year-old couch with a new one. My dad’s space in the den was at one end of this old couch. The new couch was placed in the den, and the old couch was placed in our foyer by the door awaiting a ride to the local thrift store. When I walked in the door, Dad was sitting on the old couch at his usual space reading his book. Mose eventually warmed to the new couch.

My dad never had much of a record collection. I started buying records when I was 9 years old. I could play a song over 40 times and each time feel a sense of elation. Dad was different, he listened to a song once and it made a connection in his brain, like a mathematical equation, and that was all he needed – that one time. That, to me, is very strange. To this day, I have many favorite songs I still play over and over. With Dad, one listen was all it took.

About receiving awards, I know Mose always has appreciated praise but never let it get to his head. He did not believe in the show off, “look at me,” “I’m great,” attitudes that run so prevalent through the entertainment world. I was with him in Sedona, Arizona when he received a beautiful Lifetime Achievement Award. He smiled and thanked those responsible then handed the award to me and said, “I am not carrying that on the plane.” When I asked him why he did not want to go to the Grammy Awards after he was nominated, he replied, “I don’t believe in renting shoes.” In reality, he may have already been booked at a small club in Des Moines, Ohio, and Mose, after 65 years of what he called, “On the Job Training,” never missed a single gig.

Mose preferred the setting and intimacy of a jazz club, and that is where he really earned a living. The record companies all tried to cash in and make Mose a commercial success. Mose wanted nothing to do with backup girl singers and A&R men arrangements. He wanted to sing his songs his way at the places he liked best. Atlantic tried to get him to Muscle Shoals, Mose declined. Burger King offered him a huge payday for one day’s work. He told me, “I ain’t singing about no hamburger.” Mom was not happy.

I knew a club owner and promoter that told me, “After 35 years of promoting shows, Mose was the only performer to ever to give me money back.” The promoter had paid Mose but lost money on the show. Dad gave him some money back. Why? Because Mose was also interested in keeping his club going so he could keep coming back to play.

In 1989, I accepted a Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame award on his behalf. Mose had a gig somewhere else that date, so Dad wrote a little something for me to read to the crowd after accepting his award. It read:

There are very few places in the world where a person could have heard as many different kinds of music as I was able to hear growing up in Tippo, Mississippi. Also, the aphorisms, the ironies, the speech patterns with their exaggerations and understatements have served me well and are still a part of my dialogues with myself.

If it takes a village to raise a child, then I was certainly raised by Tippo, Mississippi.

Ten years before Elvis got to Beale Street, Mose had already been there. Getting Zoot suites made for him and performing on keyboards with the BB King Orchestra at Mitchell’s Hotel, a black only club on Beale Street in 1947. Dad told me years ago that he first heard Rock’ n Roll on Beale Street in 1942 from the band Tuff Green and the Rockettes. Mose also remembered hearing a matinee solo performance at the Orpheum Theater by Harmonic legend Sonny Boy Williamson that made a huge impression on him.

Mose was in New York City in 1956 playing piano with the giants of jazz, Jerry Mulligan, Al Cohn, Zoot Simms, Stan Getz and others. After a short time, Mose presented a cassette tape to Prestige Records. The executives at Prestige loved what they heard and immediately had Mose in the studio recording. What Mose gave them was a suite of sketches, songs, evoking the atmosphere of his hometown – Tippo, Mississippi. Mose called it his Cotton Country Suite. The record company renamed it Back Country Suite. Songs from that era included: “Parchman Farm,” “Blues,” “One Room Country Shack,” “Highway 49,” “The Hills,” “Mojo Woman,” “Devil in the Cane Field” and “Creek Bank.”

From that first record, Mose was receiving critical acclaim from audiences and critics alike. Mose went on to record two more albums that same year. It was 1957. Today there are over 50 albums to choose from. My dad wrote over 220 songs. Most folks know four or five. My advice: listen to more Mose!

One of my favorites from Grammy Nominated Album on Blue Note Records, Ever Since The World Ended, is titled “Top Forty.” This song to me represents the way my dad looked at the business of the recording industry.

Top Forty
By Mose Allison

When I make my Top 40
Smash hit
Rock ‘n’ roll record
Everything is gonna be just fine
When I make my Top 40
Smash hit
Rock ‘n’ roll disc
I’ll be the record company’s valentine
No more philosophic melancholia
Eight hundred pounds of electric genitalia
When I make my Top 40
Smash hit
Rock ‘n’ roll record
Everything’s gonna be just fine
When I make my fuzz tone
Wah-wah
Synthesized record
Everything is gonna be just grand
When I make my fuzz tone
Wah-wah
Synthesized disc
I’ll have to get myself a moving van
Costume, hairdo, made up cute
A personal connection in a business suit
When I make my fuzz tone
Wah-wah
Synthesized record
Everything is gonna be just grand
When I make my dynamite
Heavy soul
Freaked out record
Everything is gonna be just swell
When I make my dynamite
Heavy soul
Freaked out disc
I’ll be living it up pell mell
Mountain top hide away
Three-car garage
Out there hustlin’ that sonic massage
When I make my Top 40
Big beat
Heavy soul
Freaked out
Solid gold
Synthesized
Rock ‘n’ roll record
Everything is gonna be just fine

When my dad passed, he was comfortable and with family. We each got to kiss him, tell him we love him and that it was okay to let go, go home. So he did. No one gets out alive. Dad was 89 and his was a life well lived. I only feel very fortunate and grateful to have had such a cool dad. I get to ride the turnrows of Mississippi and listen to Mose and I can do that till the day I “go home.”

Finally, a reporter once asked Dad, “You were socially relevant before Dylan, satirical before Newman and rude before Jagger. How come you are not a big star?” Dad simply and honestly replied, “Just lucky I guess.”

WAS
by Mose Allison

When I become was and we become were
Will there be any sign or a trace of the lovely contour of your face
And will there be someone around
With essentially my kinda sound
When am turns to was and now is back when
Will someone have moments like this
Moments of unspoken bliss
And will there be heroes and saints
Or just a dark new age of complaints
When I become was and we become were
Will there be any Susans and Ralphs
Lookin’ at old photographs
And wondering aloud to a friend
What was it like to be then


By John Allison


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1 COMMENT

  1. May we all live to live it up pell mell. What a masterfully lovely tribute to a nonpareil fellow. Thank you for sharing him with all of us

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