Mose Allison

The songs of Mose Allison had already been running around my head in an
elegant and timely chorus for several days, when the news of his passing
arrived.

Indeed, his songs might have entirely scored this strange and melancholy
week, beginning with “Stop This World” or maybe that should be, “Ever
Since The World Ended”, not to mention, “Your Mind Is On Vacation (But
Your Mouth Is Working Overtime)”.

No matter what you wish for or what you believe, you may find either
solace or some dark and twisted glee in the lines,

“A bad enough situation
It's sure enough getting worse
Everybody cryin’ justice
Just as long as it's business first”

Or in that, “Everybody Cryin’ Mercy”, goes on to add…

“Straight ahead
Knock 'em dead
Pack your kit
Choose your hypocrite”

That choice is still entirely yours.

It was in this mournful shadow of a week that Mose Allison departed,
during the same seven days that cost us both the songwriter who gave us
the lines, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets
in” and the incredible pianist who once sang, “I love you in a place
where there is no space and time”.

To that list of indelible lines, I’d add these by Mose Allison;

“I can’t believe the things I’m seeing
I wonder ‘bout some things I’ve heard
Everybody cryin’ mercy
But they don’t know the meaning of the word”.

Mose Allison was and will always remain an artist of unique wit and
wisdom.

He was always right on time.

He could stand with the best, both as a songwriter and as a pianist, all
the more for the short, tart, perfectly swinging statements with which
he punctuated his philosophical bulletins.

In adulthood, it always felt accurate to describe Mose Allison as “One
of America’s Greatest Philosophers”, I can’t pretend that I understood
this when I was a child.

Like many English people my age, I first heard the “Mose Allison Style”
on the records of his most ardent British advocate, a 21-year old
Hammond organ player from Leigh in Lancashire called Georgie Fame.

It was Georgie’s records that short-circuited and, you might say,
educated, Beat Group fans like myself to the mysteries of Gene
McDaniels, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross and the calypso king, Lord
Kitchener.

I now know that, Track One, Side Two of Georgie’s E.P., “Fame At Last”
is a dead-on salute to the Mose Allison arrangement of Willie Dixon’s “I
Love The Life I Live” as recorded first by Muddy Waters but in 1965 it
sounded unlike anything I’d ever heard before.

At the age of ten, muddy waters were still something that I was being
advised to jump over, while “Willie Dixon” was a name that could have
been found on the left-wing at Preston North End.

My family lived a short walk from the Station Hotel in Richmond and just
around a bend in the river from the Eel Pie Island, where rhythm and
blues could be heard faintly rustling through the rushes but I was far
too young to be admitted into such ceremonies.

Luckily, it was also around this time that a bunch of ne’er do-wells
from Dartford turned up on the radio explaining the essential difference
between Slim Harpo and Slim Whitman.

Later still, Eel Pie Island graduates, The Who, made an anthem of Mose
Allison’s “Young Man Blues” and later again, Bonnie Raitt turned up on
the Warner Brothers record, “Takin’ My Time”, talking about how
everybody was crying mercy in a blue and irresistible voice.

Eventually, I would come to appreciate exactly how hip Mose’s
re-composition of “I Love The Life I Live” had been and probably why it
so fired Georgie Fame’s imagination, but this was long before I had any
idea what was meant by the lines,

“You see me rocking as I pass you by
Don’t talk about me, ‘cos I could be high”

I had to discover the swagger and threat of Muddy’s original version for
myself.

Mose Allison was always a voice on record to me, never finding
opportunity to see him perform in person. Still I found something of
real value on every album of his that I picked up over the years from
his early records on Prestige, through his classic sides for Atlantic to
an album like “Middle Class White Boy” that came out after I started
making records for myself and right up to the 2010 release, “The Way Of
The World”, which saw Mose become a labelmate of Tom Waits.

That record contained a song written by Mose’s daughter, Amy Allison,
herself a remarkable writer and singer; the composer of the beautiful
song, “Her Hair Was Red” and many others.

In 2009, Amy invited me to join her on a version of her father’s
“Monsters Of The Id” for her “Sheffield Streets” album. While Amy and I
sang together at adjacent microphones, her Dad’s contribution had to be
cut at a separate recording date. Still, it was a thrill to find myself
on a record that contained a solo with Mose Allison flying over the
keys.

I eventually met the man in 2010 at salute to him by the wonderful J.C.
Hopkins Biggish Band at the City Winery, NYC.

The first half of the concert featured a variety of young singers,
including the remarkable Jolie Holland, each artist performing new
renditions of songs from the Mose Allison songbook.

It seemed about right to open my short set with “Middle Class White Boy”
to which we added, “Your Molecular Structure”.

I also sang “I Love The Life I Live”, which I had first performed in a
London pub at the age of 20, “Your Mind Is On Vacation”, played on
Broadway in 1986 with The Confederates, featuring James Burton and
“Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy”, which I’d cut fifteen year later with a band
including, Marc Ribot, Pete Thomas, Larry Knechtel and Jerry Scheff.

We closed out my Biggish Band set with Amy and I sharing a live reprise
of “Monsters Of The Id”. During the break, she introduced me to her
father, who was sitting quietly watching most of this. I will always be
grateful to her for the chance to thank him personally for all of his
songs.

In the second half of the show, Mose put everyone in the shade, as he
held the room spellbound with just his piano, a bass player and an
apparently unending stack of wonderful songs.

In 2015, I shared a festival double-bill at the Royal Albert Hall with
Georgie Fame. It seemed only fitting we choose a Mose Allison
composition on which to share the spotlight.

I don’t think anyone will ever deliver that sermon with as much grace as
its author but Georgie and I divided the spoils of the verses the best
we could.

I know that the song we sang closes with lines that are as true today as
they have ever been…

“You don't have to go to off-Broadway
To see something plain absurd
Everybody Cryin’ Mercy
When they don't know the meaning of the word”