Mose's better blues

A trip to Long Island reveals an Allison wonderland

Allison swims, but only "when the wind is southerly, one hour past high tide--that's the best swimming in the Long Island Sound." His jogging regimen is down to two miles now that he's 70. "You can't do any bad stuff if you run. 'When did a runner ever smoke a cigar?'" he says, which is a line of his own he inserted into a recent John D. Loudermilk tune he debuted, "You Call it Joggin'." Mose does several songs by John D. Loudermilk, the wandering songwriter responsible for classics like "Tobacco Road" and "Windy and Warm."

"I think he's written 500 songs," Allison says of Loudermilk. "He's got a trunkful of songs, a lot unrecorded. A friend told me that line, 'You call it joggin', I call it runnin' around.' I said, 'Man, I gotta have that.' I wish I'd a written that myself. I played at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, and he came in one night. He's one of these songwriters that knows all the songwriters--he knew Johnny Mercer and people like that. I hear that he spends most of his time just traveling, doesn't have a home."

Mose himself averages 130 road dates a year--"That's comfortable; that's enough." In the 1970s he was doing 200 nights a year; most were one-night stands, which can drain a man. "I try to limit the one-nighters now and try to get as many weekend or three-night clubs," he says. And being a musician's musician, Allison has always relied on other musicians to spread his gospel. "Other musicians have helped me to survive. The rock and rollers who've done my stuff over the years have brought in new audiences."

He claims to have never heard of the Cactus or Johnny Winter versions of "Parchman Farm," perhaps his most covered song. The Who did "Young Man Blues" on 1970's Live At Leeds, something you imagine made Mose Allison hold his ears in horror--yet it was impossible not to appreciate the recognition and the initial $7,000 royalty check. Edgar Winter's debut album from 1971, Entrance, had uncanny Mose Allison-like vocals. And artists from the Kingston Trio ("Parchman Farm") to the Clash ("Look Here") have covered his songs, though not always giving him the credit--or the money--owed him.

"People are always tellin' me, you know, so-and-so did such-and-such," he says. "I'm the last person to find out about it. I always say, 'Man, I don't care what you do with my material, just as long as you give me credit.'"

Audre Allison stands at the kitchen sink, insisting her husband is a good cook. "Honey, what's your favorite?" she asks him. "Healthy food, and maybe a little Southern. It might be a big pot of beans. He likes to cook one-dish meals that have balance. He's in really good shape, he's always been a real healthy guy. All the while I worked for 20 years, he cooked when he was home. And not only did he cook, but he cleaned up after, did the dishes singing. It was lovely."

That's another factor making this musician's career long and stable--being married to a high school English teacher. Perhaps as a result, Audre offers, he was always very "steady, responsible, reliable" with their children. And he never strayed too far down the road: Even when on tour, he would always tell his wife where he would be, what he would be doing, and when he would be home. "That keeps you sane, right?" she asks.

"To a certain extent," Mose replies. Yet he has also written his share of don't-tread-on-me songs, and insult songs, like the classic "Your Mind Is on Vacation," and more recently "You Can't Push People Around," "Somebody Gonna Have To Move," and "MJA, Jr." So who's been pushing this man around, who seemingly has a charmed life?

"It's temperament," Allison says. "When I was younger, I considered myself an example of what might be called the resistant strain. Between teenage years and middle-aged, I resisted being told what to do. Usually the prevailing social mores wherever I was living, I sort of went against everything."

He was once angered by a British interviewer's question about how he "stole the blues." Then he got hip to the blues police, and wrote the lead-off song on My Backyard, "Ever Since I Stole the Blues."

"I'm not even concerned with that anymore," he shrugs. "I just do my work. I don't care what people call what I do, if they don't wanna call it blues or jazz. My whole thing is gettin' to the gig, playin' the gig, and gettin' home."

Mose Allison performs at Poor David's on October 16 and 17.

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