Soul Fixin' Man
Steaming guitar, tough vocals. Produced in Memphis by Jim Gaines. "Raw vitality and flamboyance...blues at its best (****)"-CD REVIEW "A burning re-entry into his native land"-MUSICIAN
All songs Eyeball Music, BMI, except as noted
Luther Allison, Guitar and Vocals
James Solberg, Guitars
Ernest Williamson, Keyboards
Dave Smith, Bass
James Robinson, Drums
The Memphis Horns:
Wayne Jackson, Trumpet and Trombone
Andrew Love, Sax
Jacquelyn Reddick and Jacqueline Johnson, Background Vocals
Kpe Lee, African Rhythm Instruments on Freedom
Another Blessed Creation Choir:
Directed by Darrell Lee Bonner,
Voices on Freedom
Produced by Jim Gaines
Arranged by Luther Allison and James Solberg
Recorded at Ardent Studios, Memphis, TN
Engineered by Niko Lyras and Jeff Powell
Assisted by Erik Flettrich and Jeffrey Reed
Mixed by Jim Gaines and John Hampton
Executive Producer: Thomas Ruf
Photos by Patrice Battioni
Cover concept by Elke Post, Design by Matt Minde
Special thanks to Bernard Allison, Peter Giron, Michel Carras, Sulaiman Hakim, Stephane Guillaume, Dom Doucet, Davyd Johnson, Gerald Draper, Susan Allred, Brad Webb, Barb Bogdanowicz, Joanna Connor, City of Memphis, Ardent Studios and GaryLevinson/Blade Guitars.
Luther Allison has come a long way from Chicago's West Side, where he emerged from the same mean streets that produced fellow guitar legends Magic Sam, Freddie King and Otis Rush. Living in Paris for the last 10 years, he has thrilled the Continent's discriminating blues audiences with his razor-sharp guitar work, emotionally-charged vocals and galvanizing live performances at countless major blues and jazz festivals, concert halls and nightclubs. His recordings for a variety of European record labels have drawn raves from critics. In his native U.S., though, it's a slightly different story. Luther's scene-stealing star turns at such major music festivals as the first three Ann Arbor Blues Festivals in 1969, 1970 and 1972, transformed him from a relative unknown to a major blues-rock attraction virtually overnight. Renowned in the '70s for his high-energy live shows and marathon-length performances -- not to mention his penchant for wearing rock 'n' roll-style headbands and leather -- Luther appeared destined to become the blues' Next Big Thing. As the New York Times put it, Luther's pungent guitar "cuts into the depth of your soul."
Unfortunately, audiences can have short memories, and during his extended absences from his native country a long string of other Next Big Things have come and gone.
With his first album recorded in the U.S. in nearly 20 years, Soul Fixin' Man, Luther serves notice that he intends to reclaim his rightful place in the hearts of American blues fans.
Recorded in Memphis with producer Jim Gaines, whose credits include Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert Collins, and featuring some brassy assistance from the Memphis Horns, the album is classic Allison from start to finish.
"This is the album that I always wanted to make," says Luther. "We had the right amount of time, the right producer, the right musicians and the right atmosphere in the studio. I hope it will open up the eyes and ears of people who know my music but may not have heard me in a while."
Ranging stylistically from classic Chicago blues to deep Memphis soul, contemporary blues-rock, world beat and gutbucket blues, it's all pure Luther Allison. And regardless of the style, it's his blistering guitar work -- still redolent of the West Side after all these years -- that remains his musical signature.
Born in Mayflower, Arkansas in 1939 as the fourteenth of fifteen children, Luther moved with his family to Chicago's South Side when he was 13. Initially learning the shoemaking and repairing trade -- the inspiration for the title song -- he soon found music to be a more alluring vocation. Moving to the city's West Side when he was 17 and influenced by his guitar-playing brother Ollie, Luther bought an acoustic guitar, pickup and amplifier at a neighborhood pawn shop.
While most of his contemporaries were digging R&B groups like The Platters and Moonglows, Luther was sneaking into area nightspots to soak up the swaggering electric blues sounds of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter. Eventually Luther began sitting in with people like Magic Sam, Mighty Joe Young, Elmore James and Sunnyland Slim and formed his first band in 1957. Along the way Luther became good friends with several of the West Side guitar kingpins.
"Freddie King, Magic Sam, Hubert Sumlin and I used to hang out at backyard barbecues together on the West Side," Luther recalls. "We'd get out our guitars and play together. We'd show each other little riffs and grooves, so we could all play together at the same time and not get in each other's way."
King, in fact, bequeathed his band and his regular gig at the famed Walton's Corner on the West Side to Luther, who kept the gig -- and the band -- from 1959 to 1964. Luther made his first appearance on record on Delmark Records' influential 1967 anthology, Sweet Home Chicago. Two years later Delmark released his first full-fledged album, Love Me Mama , to widespread critical acclaim.
That album launched Luther as a major blues star, one who supercharged his traditional Chicago blues roots with a rock-influenced energy to create a cutting-edge style that electrified college audiences and rock fans in particular. His knockout first appearance at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival received widespread press notice, as did later gigs at the Berkeley Jazz Festival and Philadelphia Folk Festival. Signed as Motown Records' first blues artist, he released a trio of soul-blues albums in the'70s that further increased his reputation.
At the same time he became in great demand in Europe, headlining festivals in Holland, France, Switzerland, Denmark and Germany and recording for a variety of European labels in the '70s and '80s. Eventually Luther moved his base of operations to Paris, from where he continues to tour the Continent nonstop.
But what of the States? Luther freely admits that his move to Europe virtually halted his career momentum back home. With his strongest musical statement yet in Soul Fixin' Man and an increased touring presence in the U.S., he vows to re-establish himself on the homefront.
"I want people to know that I'm the same Luther Allison that I was when I left for Paris -- only better," says Luther. "I have the same musical menu: I'm just looking for some more people who will let me cook up my blues and serve it to them."
-- Dan Kening
Dan Kening is a Chicago-based writer who regularly writes about music for the Chicago Tribune and Chicago magazine. His articles have also appeared in Rolling Stone, Down Beat and Guitar World.