Luther Allison

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Luther Allison
Allison in 1996
Allison in 1996
Background information
Birth nameLuther Sylvester Allison
Born(1939-08-18)August 18, 1939
Widener, Arkansas, U.S.
DiedAugust 12, 1997(1997-08-12) (aged 57)
Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.
  • Vocals
  • guitar
Years active1957–1997

Luther Sylvester Allison[1] (August 17, 1939 – August 12, 1997)[2][3] was an American blues singer-songwriter and guitarist. He was born in Widener, Arkansas,[4] although some accounts suggest his actual place of birth was Mayflower, Arkansas.[1][5] Allison was interested in music as a child and during the late 1940s he toured in a family gospel group called The Southern Travellers.[1] He moved with his family to Chicago in 1951[6] and attended Farragut High School[1] where he was classmates with Muddy Waters' son.[4] He taught himself guitar and began listening to blues extensively. Three years later he dropped out of school[1] and began hanging around outside blues nightclubs with the hopes of being invited to perform. Allison played with the bands of Howlin' Wolf and Freddie King, taking over King's band when King toured nationally.[4][1] He worked with Jimmy Dawkins, Magic Sam and Otis Rush,[1][4] and also backed James Cotton. Chicago Reader has called him "the Jimi Hendrix of blues guitar".[7]


Early life[edit]

Luther Sylvester Allison was born on August 18, 1939, in Widener, Arkansas, the fourteenth of 15 children. His family moved to Chicago when he was 12, in search of better opportunities. Several of Allison's siblings sang in a gospel group called the Southern Travellers. One of his older brothers, Ollie, soon began working as a guitarist on Chicago's booming South Side blues scene. Seeking to emulate his brother, Luther took up the guitar himself. By the middle of his teens, Allison was good enough to sit in with his brother's band on club dates.[8]


From 1954, Allison jammed with his brother's band, the Ollie Lee Allison Band.[1][4] By 1957, he had formed a band with Ollie and another brother, Grant Allison, initially called The Rolling Stones, later changed to The Four Jivers, and they performed at clubs in Chicago.[4][1]

Luther Allison at the 1970 Ann Arbor Blues Festival. Photo by Jeff Titon.
Luther Allison at the 1970 Ann Arbor Blues Festival.

Allison's big break came in 1957, when Howlin' Wolf invited him to the stage. The same year he worked briefly with Jimmy Dawkins, playing in local clubs.[1] Freddie King took Allison under his wing, and after King got a record deal, Allison took over his gig in the house band of a club on Chicago's West Side.[4] He worked the club circuit in the late 1950s and early 1960s. During this period, Allison moved to California for a year where he worked with Shakey Jake Harris and Sunnyland Slim.[4] He recorded his first single in 1965. He signed a recording contract with Delmark Records in 1967 and released his debut album, Love Me Mama, the following year. He performed a well-received set at the 1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival and as a result was asked to perform there in each of the next three years.[6] He toured nationwide. In 1972, he signed with Motown Records, one of the few blues artists on that label.[4][9] In the mid-1970s he toured Europe. He moved to France in 1977.[9]

Allison was known for his powerful concert performances, lengthy soulful guitar solos and crowd walking with his Gibson Les Paul. He lived briefly during this period in Peoria, Illinois, where he signed with Rumble Records, releasing two live recordings, Gonna Be a Live One in Here Tonight!, produced by Bill Knight, and Power Wire Blues, produced by George Faber and Jeffrey P. Hess. Allison played the bar circuit in the United States during this period and spent eight months of the year in Europe at high-profile venues, including the Montreux Jazz Festival. In 1992, he performed with the French rock and roll star Johnny Hallyday in 18 shows in Paris, also playing during the intermission.

Allison's manager and European agent, Thomas Ruf, founded Ruf Records in 1994. Signing with Ruf Records, Allison launched a comeback in association with Alligator Records. Alligator founder Bruce Iglauer convinced Allison to return to the United States. The album Soul Fixin' Man was recorded and released in 1994, and Allison toured the United States and Canada. He won four W. C. Handy Awards in 1994. With the James Solberg Band backing him, nonstop touring and the release of Blue Streak (featuring the song "Cherry Red Wine"), Allison earned more Handy Awards and gained wider recognition. He won several Living Blues Awards and was featured on the covers of blues publications.

Illness and death[edit]

During his tour in the summer of 1997, Allison checked into a hospital on July 10, 1997 for dizziness and loss of coordination. It was discovered that he had a tumor on his lung that had metastasized to his brain.[10] He began radiation therapy on July 16, which lasted through August 1. In and out of a coma, Allison died at around 2:30 A.M. on August 12, 1997, five days before his 58th birthday, in Madison, Wisconsin.[6][11] His final album, Reckless, had just been released 5 months prior.

His son Bernard Allison, at one time a member of his band, is now a solo recording artist. Bernard, the youngest of nine siblings, was exposed to all kinds of music by his father. The younger Allison made his first venture into the music business at age 13, when he performed on a live album with his father.[12]

Allison was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1998. In 2000, the Chicago Sun-Times called him "the Bruce Springsteen of the blues".[13] He was a strong influence on many young blues guitarists, such as Chris Beard[14] and Reggie Sears.[15]

Allison is buried at Washington Memory Gardens Cemetery in Homewood, Illinois.


Studio and live albums[edit]

Year Title Label Number Notes
1969 Love Me Mama Delmark 625
1972 Bad News Is Coming Motown/Gordy 964
1974 Luther's Blues Motown/Gordy 967
1976 Night Life Motown/Gordy 974
1977 Love Me Papa Black & Blue 33.524 Reissued as Estudio Eldorado 524 (Brazil) and Evidence CD 26015 (U.S.)
1979 Gonna Be a Live One in Here Tonight! Rumble 1001 Recorded live in Peoria, Illinois, on April 18–19, 1979; reissued as South Side Safari, Red Lightnin' 0036
1979 Power Wire Blues Rumble 1004 Part 2 of the Peoria concert; reissued 1985 as Charly 1105
1979 Live in Paris Paris Album/Buda 2-28501 Recorded in Paris, La Chapelle Des Lombards, 1979; also issued as Ruf 1354, Free Bird 209/FLY06, Pläne 88295, Platinum 161354
1979 Live Blue Silver 3001/3321 Part 2 of the 1979 Paris concert; also on Blue Sky/Buda
1980 Time Paris Album/Buda 2-28505
1984 Let's Have a Natural Ball JSP 1077
1984 Life Is a Bitch Encore!/Melodie 131 Blind Pig 2287 (1987) in the U.S., retitled Serious
1985 Here I Come Encore!/Melodie 133
1987 Rich Man Ruf 8001 Also RFR 1005, Charly CRB 1227, Orbis BLU NC 044 (plus 3 bonus tracks)
1991 More from Berlin East West LACD 1991-2 Live, 1989
1992 Hand Me Down My Moonshine Inak/Ruf 1047 Acoustic
1992 Bercy 92 (Johnny Hallyday) Philips 514 400 Electric guitar on one title; recorded live at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy
1994 Soul Fixin' Man Alligator 4820 Ruf 1021 in Europe, retitled Bad Love
1995 Blue Streak Alligator 4834 Ruf 7712 in Europe
1996 Live ’89: Let's Try It Again Ruf 1028 Recorded in Berlin, May 1989
1996 Live in Montreux: Where Have You Been? Ruf 1008 Recorded 1976–1994
1997 Reckless Alligator 4849 Ruf 1012 in Europe
1999 Live in Chicago Alligator 4869 Ruf 1042 in Europe, recorded 1995–1997, 2-disc set
1999 Standing at the Crossroad Black & Blue 421.1 Recorded 1977 in Paris; also Night & Day 210, Blues Reference
2002 Pay It Forward Ruf 1060 Recorded 1984–1994
2007 Underground Ruf 1132 Recorded c. 1958
2009 Songs from the Road Ruf 1157 CD and DVD recorded in Montreal, 1997

[16] [17] [18] [19] [20]


Year Title Label Number Notes
1995 Sweet Home Chicago Charly BM-37
1996 The Motown Years, 1972–1976 Motown/Universal


Year Title Label Number Notes
1998 Live in Paradise Ruf VHS Recorded on La Reunion Island, April 1997; also released on DVD (2001)
2009 Songs from the Road Ruf 1157 CD and DVD recorded in Montreal, 1997

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Harris, Sheldon (1991). Blues who's who : a biographical dictionary of blues singers. New York, N.Y.: Da Capo Press. pp. 30–33. ISBN 0306801558.
  2. ^ Doc Rock. "The Dead Rock Stars Club: 1996–1997". Retrieved 2011-12-06.
  3. ^ "Luther Allison, 57, a Bluesman". New York Times. 1997-08-17. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "LUTHER ALLISON". Alligator Records. Retrieved 2020-08-03.
  5. ^ "Allison, Luther". Retrieved 2020-08-03.
  6. ^ a b c Skelly, Richard. "Luther Allison: Biography". Retrieved 2015-08-31.
  7. ^ Krakow, Steve (2 February 2016). "Luther Allison was the Jimi Hendrix of blues guitar". Chicago Reader. Retrieved November 4, 2022.
  8. ^ Unknown, Unknown. "Luther Allison Biography". Musician Guide. Retrieved November 4, 2022.
  9. ^ a b Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 88. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
  10. ^ "Cancer Strikes Blues Guitarist". St. Petersburg Times. Reuters. July 17, 1997. p. 2B. Retrieved June 24, 2009.[dead link]
  11. ^ Howell, Beverly. "Blues Access: Luther Allison Update". BluesAccess. Retrieved November 4, 2022.
  12. ^ Coleman, Wayne (2000-11-04). "Bernard Allison's Hybrid Blues: The Son of Legendary Blues Man Luther Allison, Bernard Allison Blends Rock, Jazz, Soul and His Father's Sound into a Different Musical Voice". Afro-American Red Star.
  13. ^ [1][dead link]
  14. ^ Rose, Billy. "Chris Beard Interview". Independent Midwest Interview. Archived from the original on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  15. ^ "Discographie". Petra Toppat. Retrieved December 29, 2009.
  16. ^ "Luther Allison: All Records". Ruf Records. Archived from the original on January 23, 2010. Retrieved December 29, 2009.
  17. ^ Heinlein, G.; Antonsson, Görgen; Ziegler, François (October 2003). "Bingow/Paris Album Records Checklist". jazzlabels. Retrieved December 29, 2009.
  18. ^ "Luther Allison: Discography". Retrieved December 29, 2009.
  19. ^ "Luther Allison: Discography". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on June 12, 2007. Retrieved December 29, 2009.

External links[edit]