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the transfiguration of young man mose allison

DURING THE BRITISH INVASION of 1964-1966, ‘se­rious’ in­for­ma­tion on the British groups—in fact, on rock & roll artists in general—was very hard to come by for we Amer­ican fans. Fans had to turn to the teeny­bopper fan mags of the era for any trans­fig­u­ra­tion of their tastes from the or­di­nary to the ex­tra­or­di­nary.

The dearth of mean­ingful data was the op­po­site of the overkill of info that has been the hall­mark of pub­li­ca­tions in the cur­rent “celebrity cul­ture,” which has been made even worse by the In­ternet.

 

The im­por­tance of teeny­bopper mag­a­zines of the ’60s has been under-estimated by everyone.

 

Fifty years ago, there were the trade pub­li­ca­tions Bill­board, Cash Box, Record World, and Va­riety. While these were good for fol­lowing the charts and keeping up with new re­leases, they rarely ven­tured into artist pro­files, bios, or his­to­ries.

The most common source in the States for any per­sonal in­for­ma­tion was in the pages of teeny­bopper mag­a­zines! The big ones were Tiger Beat and 16, but others came and went, such as Flip, and other mag­a­zines fea­tured sim­ilar ar­ti­cles, such as Sev­en­teen.

 

The Transfiguration Of Young Man Mose Allison: July 1965 issue of 16 magazine.

1965. The cover of the July ’65 issue of 16 fea­tures David Mc­Callum, the Bea­tles, Her­man’s Her­mits, Chad & Je­remy, Bob Dylan, Petula Clark, the Dave Clark 5, Elvis, and Dino, Desi & Billy (among others). Strictly for the little girls; most guys wouldn’t even leaf through an issue at the news­stand if they thought they’d be seen!

The Transfiguration Of Young Man Mose Allison: February 1966 issue of Tiger Beat magazine.

1966. The cover of the Feb­ruary ’66 issue of Tiger Beat fea­tures Lloyd Thaxton, David Mc­Callum, the Rolling Stones, Sonny & Cher, the Beach Boys, the Bea­tles, Her­man’s Her­mits, Billy Joe Royal, Elvis, the Dave Clark 5, and Dino, Desi & Billy (among others). Like 16, guys risked their rep­u­ta­tions as guys if caught reading an issue of Tiger Beat!

The Transfiguration Of Young Man Mose Allison: August 1967 issue of Hit Parader magazine.

1967. The cover of the Au­gust ’67 issue of Hit Pa­rader fea­tures The Mon­kees, the Rolling Stones, The Who, Paul Re­vere & The Raiders, Otis Red­ding, Jef­ferson Air­plane, Spencer Davis, Donovan, the Tur­tles, and Paul Simon (among others). De­spite looking like Tiger Beat and 16, cov­ering the same artists, and having sim­ilar dopey ar­ti­cles, it was okay for guys to take a copy of Hit Pa­rader home and read it.

Cute lead singers sold magazines

The pub­lishers perceived—rightly or wrongly—that their base market con­sisted of fickle 12-year-old white girls who bought mag­a­zines and records (mostly 45s) based on the cute­ness of the singer!

Along with the cute guys (Herman and Mark and Paul), we got ar­ti­cles on many hot bands: the Kinks, the Yard­birds, the Byrds, and the Spoonful all had their day. Even a band with a lead singer with a mug like Eric Bur­don’s got play!

 

Tiger Beat, 16, and other mag­a­zines did have male readers, but we were usu­ally em­bar­rassed to be seen reading them.

 

But by the end of the decade, in the face of com­pe­ti­tion from the newer rock mag­a­zines, the teeny­booper ti­tles fo­cused more and more on artists like Bobby Sherman and Sajid Khan and then onto David Cas­sidy, Donny Os­mond, and Justin Beiber.

The best do­mestic mag­a­zine was the Hit Pa­rader. Orig­i­nally a place where fans could find the lyrics to cur­rent hit songs, it had been pub­lishing artist-based ar­ti­cles for decades. By the mid ’60s, it was sim­ilar to the teeny­bopper mag­a­zines in ap­pear­ance, struc­ture, and con­tent, but gen­er­ally more palat­able to male readers with a slightly more so­phis­ti­cated ap­proach.

The cap­sule record re­views of new al­bums that ap­peared in Hit Pa­rader have long been ig­nored by rock­writers. What a shame, as they were the only in­tel­li­gent re­views that fans had to read for years, at least until 1967. 1

So what could a poor boy do, ex­cept to read those inane pieces and hope for a smidgen of mean­ingful info?

 

The Transfiguration Of Young Man Mose Allison: October 1967 issue of Crawdaddy magazine.

1967. The Oc­tober ’67 issue of Craw­daddy was now “The Mag­a­zine of Rock” and cost a whop­ping 50¢! The cover fea­tures a re­verse image photo of Mick Jagger.

Magazines of rock ‘n’ roll

We had no idea that there was a thriving, com­pet­i­tive pop press in the UK. There were a host of weekly ti­tles, but the big four were prob­ably the New Mu­sical Ex­press (NME), Melody Maker, Disc/Echo, and Record Re­tailer. In their pages, in­tel­li­gent ar­ti­cles about rock mu­si­cians and the records they made were reg­u­larly pub­lished along­side the usual fan fodder.

There was the long-running Elvis Monthly (1960-2000), the only source for in­tel­li­gent ar­ti­cles on Pres­ley’s music and ca­reer until the better posthu­mously pub­lished books of the past thirty years. It was fol­lowed and em­u­lated by The Bea­tles Book (1963-1969), which often re­ferred to as “The Bea­tles Monthly.” 2

 

The record re­views in Hit Pa­rader were the only in­tel­li­gent re­views that we had until Craw­daddy reached the news­stands in early 1967.

 

Back in the USA, things changed in 1967: first, Paul Williams trans­formed Craw­daddy (“The mag­a­zine of rock ‘n’ roll”) from an am­a­teur fanzine into a news­stand mag­a­zine. Craw­daddy was the first mag­a­zine to treat the ‘new music’ with in­tel­li­gence and re­spect! Un­like the teeny­bopper ti­tles, there was no catering to ado­les­cent girls. Un­like the British week­lies, there was no need to pad the pages with fan fodder.

For sev­eral months, Williams and his writers were sit­ting on top of the world of rock jour­nalism! Then came Jann Wenner and Ralph Gleason and Rolling Stone mag­a­zine. Better fi­nanced and more widely dis­trib­uted and pro­moted, Rolling Stone be­came the focal point for rock and roll jour­nalism for years to come. 3

Creem fol­lowed in 1969, billing it­self as “Amer­i­ca’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Mag­a­zine.” It is best known for be­stowing (or cursing) the world with the ge­nius (or blath­ering) of Lester Bangs.

 

The Transfiguration Of Young Man Mose Allison: September 1968 issue of Rolling Stone magazine.

1968. The Sep­tember ’68 issue of Rolling Stone was de­voted to the un­der­ground comix phe­nom­enon that sprang from the psy­che­delic ball­room poster scene in San Fran­cisco. This was not a topic that the teeny­bopper mag­a­zines were cov­ering.

What’s your favorite color?

But until William and Wenner res­cued us, we had Hit Pa­rader and the teeny­bopper ti­tles. Be­cause of the target au­di­ence, in­ter­views often in­cluded a list of the singer or the band mem­bers’ faves! These lists were often set apart from the reg­ular ar­ticle by being placed in boxes in the middle of text. A typ­ical list might in­clude such im­por­tant info as:

Fa­vorite color.
Fa­vorite actor.
Fa­vorite ac­tress.
Fa­vorite food.
Fa­vorite ice cream.
Fa­vorite this.
Fa­vorite that.

The most im­por­tant ques­tion for fe­male readers was usu­ally, “What do you look for in a girl you want to date?”

Why?

A girl can dream, can’t she?

The most im­por­tant ques­tion for male readers was usu­ally, “Who is your fa­vorite recording artist?”

Why?

Be­cause knowing the tastes of a fa­vorite groups led many readers to listen to what the bands and singers lis­tened to!

 

“The Eng­lish rockers saved my life. They’ve made me ac­quainted with a younger au­di­ence, and kept me from falling into ob­scu­rity.”

 

The en­thu­siasm that the British groups—especially the widely quoted Bea­tles and Stones—showed for black Amer­ican artists stirred up a lot of in­terest in these artists in Amer­ican record buyers.

This in­cluded old blues-masters like Robert Johnson and Skip James; rhythm & blues artists such as John Lee Hooker, Muddy Wa­ters, and Howlin’ Wolf; and rock & rollers like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Larry Williams. These artists en­joyed a huge in­crease in sales of their old records, or were signed to new record deals, or found them­selves in de­mand for con­cert and club ap­pear­ances all over the country! There was, in fact, a mini-“black re­nais­sance” in the wake of the British In­va­sion. 4

 

The Transfiguration Of Young Man Mose Allison: the Decca pressing of The Who's LIVE AT LEEDS album of 1970.

On their 1970 album LIVE AT LEEDS, The Who recorded Young Man Blues, a Mose Al­lison track that had orig­i­nally been ti­tled as the “Blues” sec­tion of the Back Country Suite on Mose’s 1957 album BACK COUNTRY SUITE. This Who album played an im­por­tant role in the ca­reer of Mose Al­lison the song­writer (see below).

Who is your favorite singer?

So reading those in­ter­views could be en­light­ening, if you knew where to look. The British “pop stars” had much more in­ter­esting tastes than rock & roll de­trac­tors guessed, and an­swers to simple ques­tions often yielded sur­prising re­sults. For ex­ample, a name that kept pop­ping up when mem­bers of the Stones or An­i­mals or Yard­birds of Kinks were asked to name their fa­vorite singer was Mose Al­lison.

Huh?

Who?

I didn’t know he was, nor did any of my friends when I asked. The name sounded black, but I wasn’t mo­ti­vated to look him up until I’d seen it a few times. 

Mose Al­lison was hardly a house­hold name, even in the music busi­ness. His records ap­par­ently sold enough for sev­eral com­pa­nies to offer him con­tracts and keep him recording for decades. But he never got a Gold Record, and never had a hit of any kind.

 

“The only way I knew The Who did the Young Man Blues was by the check I got. It was much larger than the checks I’d been get­ting oth­er­wise.”

 

As for his liveli­hood, his sales mist have been typ­ical of jazz artists of the time, with al­bums selling in the tens of thou­sands, not the six and seven fig­ures that pop records sold. When he re­ceived his first writer’s roy­alty check from The Who’s recording Young Man Blues on their 1970 album LIVE AT LEEDS, it was $7,000.

“It was much larger than the checks I’d been get­ting oth­er­wise,” Al­lison said of the Who roy­al­ties. “You know, most of the time my checks were for $10 and $12.”

The like­li­hood of a typ­ical white teenager in Leave It To Beaver America ever hearing an artist like Al­lison on the radio was slim to nil. Un­less there was a daring family member who col­lected jazz records, we grew up obliv­ious of such artists.

Until the British in­va­sion and those silly teeny­bopper in­ter­views.

 

The Transfiguration Of Young Man Mose Allison" photo of Mose Allison live in 1976.

Mose Al­lison at the Bottom Line in 1976. Like many human be­ings, The Six­ties had trans­formed Mose—at least in ap­pear­ance. Did that pe­riod in time make any more fun­da­mental changes in Al­lison? We will need a se­rious bi­og­raphy to ad­dress that issue.

Transfiguration of Mose Allison

Born on a farm in the Mis­sis­sippi Delta in 1927, Mose John Al­lison Jr began playing piano by ear at age 5, aping pop­ular blues and boogie-woogie songs. By the time he was a teenager, he had dis­cov­ered Louis Arm­strong, Duke Ellington, Louis Jordan, Fats Waller, and es­pe­cially the King Cole Trio.

In the early ’50s, he worked in night­clubs in the South. In 1956, he moved to New York and hooked up with Al Cohn, who in­tro­duced him to Pres­tige Records. After sev­eral gigs as a sideman, he re­leased his first solo album, Back Country Suite, in ’57.

 

“I just re­member lis­tening to the jukebox at the ser­vice sta­tion, which mostly played country blues.”

 

He ab­sorbed the con­tem­po­rary jazz scene and his playing was in­flu­enced by such modern jazz artists as Al Haig, John Lewis, Th­elo­nious Monk, Bud Powell, and Lenny Tris­tano. His King Cole-style singing was in­flu­enced by the likes of Percy May­field and Charles Brown but what emerged was a dry, deadpan singing style that sounded so plainly re­laxed that anyone could do it!

Which of course, they couldn’t.

As a com­poser, Al­lison fused blues and jazz with country, rock & roll, and such clas­sical com­posers as Bartok, Hin­demith, and Ives.

His lyrics are often wryly hu­morous.

Over the years, his songs have been recorded by many artists, in­cluding such no­table Brits as the Clash, Elvis Costello, Georgie Fame, Man­fred Mann, John Mayall, Van Mor­rison, the Who, and the Yard­birds. Some of these record­ings made a big dif­fer­ence in Al­lison’s life: roy­alty checks as the writer of a song recorded on a hit album by The Who pro­vided more in­come than an album’s worth of his songs on jazz al­bums.

 

The Transfiguration Of Young Man Mose Allison: Mose's first Prestige album of BACK COUNTRY SUITE in 1957.

Mose’s first album for Pres­tige was prop­erly ti­tled on the front cover as “Back Country Suite For Piano, Bass And Drums.”

A brief discography

Al­lison was a reg­ular if not nec­es­sarily pro­lific recording artist: from 1957 through 1962, he re­leased ten al­bums. These are the al­bums that would have been avail­able in the UK, with the Pres­tige ti­tles is­sued on the British Es­quire im­print.

 

1957

Pres­tige PRLP-7091
Back Country Suite
In­cludes Back Country Suite: Blues, which The Who recorded as Young Man Blues on their 1970 album LIVE AT LEEDS.

Pres­tige PRLP-7121
Local Color
In­cludes Parchman Farm, which John Mayall and Eric Clapton recorded for the 1966 album BLUES BREAKERS.

1958

Pres­tige PRLP-7137
Young Man Mose

Pres­tige PRLP-7152
Creek Bank

1959

Pres­tige PRLP-7189
Au­tumn Song

 

The Transfiguration Of Young Man Mose Allison: Mose album THE TRANSFIGURATION OF HIRAM BROWN for Columbia in 1960.

Mose’s first album for a major record com­pany, Co­lumbia Records, was THE TRANSFIGURATION OF HIRAM BROWN. The cover photo is a very in­ti­mate close-up, the browns ac­cen­tu­ating the warmth of the photo. 5

1960

Co­lumbia CL-1444/CS-8240
The Trans­fig­u­ra­tion Of Hiram Brown
This was Al­lison’s first album with a major record com­pany and it sold con­sid­er­ably more copies than his Pres­tige ti­tles.

Co­lumbia CL-1565/CS-8365
I Love The Life I Live

1961

Epic LA-16031/BA-17031
Mose Al­lison Takes To The Hills
Epic Record’s jazz 16000/17000 se­ries didn’t last long, and 16031/17031 was reis­sued in 1966 as V-8 FORD BLUES (Epic LN-24183 and BN-26183).

1962

At­lantic 1389/SD-1389
I Don’t Worry About A Thing
After three al­bums with Columbia/Epic, Mose signed with At­lantic Records, where their R&B af­fected him as a singer.

Pres­tige PRLP-7215
Ram­blin’ With Mose
This was ac­tu­ally Mose’s fourth album, recorded in 1958 but un­re­leased.

 

Mose Al­lison re­mained with At­lantic into the mid-’70s, res­olutely his own man. At­lantic pro­duced Jerry Wexler thought Mose could have been even bigger:

“He wanted me to go down to Muscle Shoals and play with the bands that At­lantic Records had down there, and play more pop­ular stuff. I didn’t want to do it. My po­si­tion was, if it be­comes a hit, then I’ll have to do that all the time, over and over again. And if it was some­thing that I didn’t like playing the first time, well, I just didn’t want to do that.” (WSWS)

After fif­teen years with At­lantic (and no hits to worry about), the pace of his recording ca­reer ta­pered off. Al­lison con­tinued to re­lease studio and live al­bums for sev­eral im­prints. He recorded his last studio album in 2009 at the age of 82.

 

The Transfiguration Of Young Man Mose Allison: photo of Moses live in 2007.

Old man Mose Al­lison at age 80, playing at the New Or­leans Jazz & Her­itage Fes­tival on April 28, 2007.

A few final notes

The im­por­tance of the teeny­bopper mag­a­zines of the ’60s has prob­ably been un­der­es­ti­mated by those who have paid any at­ten­tion to them. For ex­ample, the “black re­nais­sance” of that decade may owe more to the in­flu­ence on readers of those trivial in­ter­views than has ever been acknowledged—especially by those of us who read them then for lack of any­thing else.

As Mose Al­lison has ac­knowl­edged, “The Eng­lish rockers saved my life.”

Mose Al­lison died a few weeks ago, on No­vember 15, 2016. I was in­spired to write this piece by the obit­uary that ap­peared on the Best Classic Bands web­site.

There is an of­fi­cial Mose Al­lison web­site, but the Wikipedia entry on Al­lison is a better in­tro­duc­tion to the man.

Quotes above are by Mose Al­lison and are from “The Eng­lish Rockers Saved My Life,” a 2010 in­ter­view with Will Welch. I took a few ed­i­to­rial lib­er­ties with the words, but not the words’ mean­ings.

 

The Transfiguration Of Young Man Mose Allison: photo of Moses in Atlantic's studio in 1962.

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was used for a pub­licity photo of Mose Al­lison for At­lantic Records in 1962.

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   There were other mag­a­zines in the pre-Crawdaddy/Rolling Stone years that did cap­sule re­views of al­bums, no­tably High Fi­delity and Stereo Re­view. But I don’t re­member if they cov­ered rock and re­lated music until the end of the decade.

2   In 1976, the mag­a­zine was re­vived by re­pub­lished all 77 orig­inal is­sues with a few pages of new ar­ti­cles and news. Sales jus­ti­fied con­tin­uing the mag­a­zine with all new con­tent into 2003!

3   While Rolling Stone stopped being of much con­se­quence in the world of pop music, it cur­rently boasts some of the finest po­lit­ical and cur­rent events jour­nal­ists in the country, no­tably Matt Taibi.

4   At­ten­tion being paid older black folk and blues artists—especially those who con­fined their music ac­com­pa­ni­ment of acoustic in­stru­ments such as the guitar and harmonica—had begun with the fold music move­ment of the late ’50s and early ’60s.

5   My Uncle Bill had been quite the swinger and had the req­ui­site stereo col­lec­tion to woo his dates, one of which was this album. After reading Al­lison’s name re­peat­edly in fan mag­a­zines, I bor­rowed this from his col­lec­tion and lis­tened to Mose for the first time.

 

The Transfiguration Of Young Man Mose Allison" Mose's first album for Atlantic I DON'T WORRY ABOUT A THING in 1962.

Mose’s first album for At­lantic Records was I DON’T WORRY ABOUT A THING. The cover photo and de­sign are rather bland for an At­lantic jacket, with Al­lison looking more like a con­ser­v­a­tive col­lege pro­fessor than a rhythm & blues singer.

 

 

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jerry

RIP Mose Al­lison

John Peipon

I saw and heard Mose Al­lison only once. In a smokey bar or coffee shop in Philadel­phia. Said that, one never forgot “the voice”. So re­laxed, it sounded like a do over; and his piano was supreme!
With no ac­com­pa­ni­ment but the rumble of the au­di­ence and traffic out­side, it made for a fine win­ters evening of en­ter­tain­ment. So much, that I got an album, as soon as I could. it was a long time ago, but I seem to re­member bug­ging my friends with even more ac­custic Music. From this dis­tance, it surves them right, but I’ll still dance to my own drummer.
Hope­fully, for a while longer!