“LUTHER ALLISON come into the picture about the middle of 1957. I needed a bass player and I met Luther Allison walkin’ on Ogden Avenue there strummin’ his big body type guitar, you know, and I asked him was he interested in learning to play and said, ‘Yes.’ So I told him I needed a bass player and he said, ‘OK,’ you know. ‘Cause he couldn’t play the guitar and he wanted to try and learn it.
“So he played bass for me for a few months but then he wanted to play guitar. One record that really got him on, B.B. King played a thing ‘I Got A Whole Lot Of Lovin’ For You’ and he wanted to learn how to play that lead part. So we got a record and I showed him how you should do it by listenin’ to the record. So he went on. He studied for weeks and weeks until he got that. That’s what started him with the guitar and made me lose a bass player.”
– Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins
In a certain sense, the first two Ann Arbor Blues Festivals were Luther Allison Festivals. One of the central figures in the inception of that festival was Carey Gordon, who now works for Detroit rock promoter Bob Bageris. Gordon had heard Allison earlier in 1969 and bringing him to Ann Arbor and seeing that this youngest, brilliant bluesman got the credit he deserved was a large part of the rationale behind the first festival. (Coupled with an equally strong desire to bring Son House to the midwest before he died. Successful on both counts.)
Allison tore up the first Ann Arbor Festival, with both his playing and singing. He can’t be much more than 30 now, and both his youth and his energy made him an attractive popular hero. By the time the second blues festival arrived, Allison’s set was an expected high point, and he lived up to his reputation that night too. Appearing in a Bobby Seale t-shirt (almost a mark of his youth), Allison smoked his way through an incredible set, then brought Texas whiz Johnny Winter on stage with him for an inter-racial jam that delighted everyone present, no matter how purist their tastes. Luther proceeded to cook up a storm throughout the weekend, playing everywhere there was a hole in the program, not out of some mad exhibitionist desire for ego gratification but rather for the joy of it – or so it seemed.
Allison moved to Chicago from Arkansas when he was quite young, and spent his time hanging around the neighborhood bars listening to the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, until he was old enough to get the Dawkins job referred to above. He was 17. By the time he was 19, Luther had taken over Freddie King’s old band, then gigged at the Peppermint Lounge and Figaro’s when the cops still should have been bouncing him for lack of ID. In his spare time he could be found jamming all around the Windy City scene with the late great Magic Sam and Mighty Joe Young. Both of his Delmark albums are fine examples of his ability but you haven’t really seen the spirit and joie de vivre Luther Allison can impart to the blues until you’ve seen him live. If it isn’t heresy to say so, Luther Allison rocks the house.
© Dave Marsh, Creem, November 1972