Tempo: Mose Allison

“BLUES IS A very limited thing to play. I have to keep adding things to it to keep it interesting. I keep striving for higher levels of performance. That’s the only way I can maintain the pace of going out and playing. It gets tiring going from California to Chicago. If you’re not interested in it, it can get to be like prison. Now B.B. King, he was never an improviser. He’s a blues guiiar player — a natural cat. He tries to get better doing his natural gig. I don’t think he consciously seeks new influences.

“I don’t go out and consciously look for something to stick in my playing. You’ve got to absorb it. When I run across something I’ve never heard before, like this Hungarian folk music, I listen a lot and absorb something from it. Somehow it blends in with what I’m doing. Blues is the basic thing. Good country blues is the basis of my thing and it always will be.

“When I was coming up in Mississippi, I jammed with a lot of blues guys. I sat in with B.B. King’s band a few times in Memphis. I knew Bill Harvey, who used to be B.B.’s tenor player. I used to hang out with him. There were a lot of great bands around then. Where I was raised in Tippo, Mississippi, there were just a few local guitar players.

“When I finally got on the road, I heard a lot of them. I played a lot of dates in Southern Louisiana, with my trio mostly. Mississippi was dry, and there was a lot of liquor and gambling in other places. There were a lot of nightclubs and gambling in Louisiana. In between I managed to finish college in Louisiana.

“I didn’t get any recognition or make records till I came to New York. Up to that point, I was just playing jobs and making $50 a week. I was brought up in a Mississippi cotton farming county on the Delta. It was a crossroads place. It had a service station, cotton gin and a general store. My mother was a grammar school teacher and my father owned the general store. He also farmed.

“I did all the things that you don’t want to do. I found out about work early. The truth about work. The truth about the fields. I got out of Mississippi when I joined the Army and I joined the Army band. We played a lot of dances and I met some good musicians. Then I went to the University of Mississippi mainly because they had a good band.

“Then, I went on the road and finished school in Louisiana State. Some of the other guys I played with once in a while were Joe Houston and his band, Gatemouth Brown. He had a good band. I used to listen to Bull Moose Jackson. I heard Percy Mayfield. I dug Charles Brown. I was pretty well saturated with it. I didn’t have to buy blues records because there was so much of it around in person. That’s about all I heard when I was growing up. The guitars were amplified then, but they were more subtle. All the groups had two or three horns and little ensemble things worked out. The lead singer would play the guitar.

“I really couldn’t say what the future of jazz is. I’d say it’s up to the media. Right now the media is keeping its hands off jazz. Right now there doesn’t seem to be any excitement about jazz. Nobody seems to know what direction it’s trying to go. Maybe the whole merchandising thing is going to have to change.

“I know new players are having a hard time trying to break ground. The groups that are working are doing okay.

“First of all, we have to redesign what jazz is. It’s very confusing. You always hear things about “jazz compositions,” but there’s no such thing. Maybe Ravi Shankar will bring back a new appreciation of Charlie Parker. Rock and roll is introducing everyone to the basics. Maybe we can grasp things further on through that.

“It’s time for something in-between far-out jazz and basic rock. After all these years of playing, when my time comes, I probably won’t be able to make it. I’ll probably be sick.”

© Jim DelehantHit Parader, January 1968

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