the transfiguration of young man mose allison

Estimated reading time is 11 minutes.

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.

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

The Transfiguration Of Young Man Mose Allison: August 1967 issue of Hit Parader magazine.
Above are three teenybopper magazines — 16 (1965), Tiger Beat (1966), and Hit Parader (1967)—that many of us “serious” rock fans were “forced ” to turn to for any kind of information on some of our favorite artists.

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.

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.
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.
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 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: Mose's first Prestige album of BACK COUNTRY SUITE in 1957.
Mose’s first album for Prestige was titled on the front cover as Back Country Suite For Piano, Bass And Drums.

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. 

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 album THE TRANSFIGURATION OF HIRAM BROWN for Columbia in 1960.
Mose’s first album for Columbia was The Transfiguration Of Hiram Brown, perhaps his best-known album.

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

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.

 

AllisonMose IDontWorry LP
Mose’s first album for Atlantic, I Don’t Worry About A Thing, has him looking more like a conservative college professor than a rhythm & blues singer.

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.

The 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.

 

AllisonMose header

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 republishing 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 to 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.

 


 

3 thoughts on “the transfiguration of young man mose allison”

  1. 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!

    Reply

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