Yours truly träffade Luther Allison på Notodden Blues Festival i augusti 1996. En improviserad press-konferens skulle ges efter showen på Notodden Teater. Luther tog emot en handfull pressfolk i logen, men troligen tappade han en del av sin inspiration inför ett par journalisters idiotiska frågor som: ”Why do you play the blues”? och ”Can white people play the Blues”?
Luther skulle ge en andra konsert på Tapperiet, senare samma kväll ochgenast efter ta flyget till USA. Därför avtalade vi om en telefon-intervju, vid ett senare tillfälle. En dag i september ringde Thomas Ruf från Tyskland; -”Jag har Luther Allison i min lägenhet. Ska jag gå och väcka honom”? Det passade perfekt för mitt radioprogram, ”Blå Måndag”, på Radio Vestland i Norge.
Eftersom 1996 är Luthers år, blev Scott Baretta intresserad av att publicera den i Jefferson. Jag föreslog att återge intervjuen i sin råa form med Luthers egen dialekt, utan översättning. Alla Jeffersons läsare hänger säkert med, när Luther rappar sin blues.
Introduktionen handlar om när Luther får bandet att sluta kompa, monterar en sändare på gitarren och vandrar ut bland publiken. Sjungande a capella får han alla 500 i salen att stå upp och jubla.
My attitude is, if the people is for an artist, the artist should be able to read that. And if the artist is doing what the people want to hear, he shows the audience. He’s just showing the people he’s trying. I think this is what every artist really been needed and need to their life. It’s support, it’s people who care. Luther Allison give 100% everytime, if I got the chance to give that. But we won’t be able to give so much in 15-20 minutes. That’s for sure. If we can get one and a half – two hours, we got a chance to show people that it’s hard to beat Luther Allison, at that kind of pace.
Did you try that one before? I mean, to walk among the crowd?
Oh, for many, many years. I’m pretty much after people like J.B. Lenoir, Howlin’ Wolf, you know. There was a few other people who could do that. Buddy Guy and I have continued and Albert Collins, down the stretch. And many people don’t like the idea, you know. They say; -”That’s not the Blues, this is a clown”.
No, people need you to receive. To go out and try to find. Especially nowadays, when the Blues takes over a little more people. It means a bigger venue. Sometimes people wanna be close to the Blues. And I swear, I saw these great guys, Howlin’ Wolf, J.B. Lenoir do this stuff. I’m gonna continue to do it, I like the idea. If somebody that wanna write about it, don’t like the idea, that’s their problem. You understand what I mean. The audience love it.
And what we try to let the audience know, it might be you next time. We go over and kiss and touch and what not. You can’t do it to everybody this time. But the next time, maybe it’s you. Then you, and you. And you tell your chosen, your friends, your people, that never know about the Blues, how much fun you had. Everybody don’t do it now. A few people around the world still can try to do this. Because some people don’t have the nerve to do it, number one. Especially if you’re what we call a superstar, right. I don’t feel like I’m Michael Jackson, that the kids are gonna be tearing my clothes off, and all that stuff. So, I don’t worry about that, I go for it. I go on top of them, from here to where you are. If the whilers will hook, no problem.
You’ve been going on for many years, now.
Yes, yes. I enjoy what I’m doing. I’m so proud that people like you is telling the world about Luther Allison. You, know, winning the W.C. Handy Awards, for me, was very, very special. Because I had gotten to a point, I had no idea that I had anything left in me to the listening people.
If you listen to, go back to Luther Allison, from the last time with you in Norway, up til, until now. Ah, how could you say Luther Allison is not qualified for this and not qualified for that. Because, what you saw in Norway is what I do all the time. And I can do it, all the time. Except, we can’t say the songs we wrote in 1995, 1996, we wrote in 1967, you know. You can’t say that. But so is B.B., so is John Lee Hooker, so is Robert Cray and you name it. These things happen. If people began to think about; -”Well, wait a minute. I ain’t heard everybody do this, I ain’t heard everybody do that. What is this with Cherry Red Wine? What is this talk? What is that The Same Thing and what is this Move away from the Hood? What is this Big City”stuff. I ain’t been listening to this”.
You know, it’s like people say; -”Come on baby, don.t you wanna go, back to that same old place, Sweet Home Chicago”. That was a classic. That’s what Robert Johnson was telling that woman, at that time. And here is Luther Allison says; -”Come on, get ready. You gotta get the hell out of Chicago. Now, we gotta get away from the hood”. All the damn then. Now, it’s another day. So, I’m trying to make sure people know, that I’m trying to write positively about what’s going on today. Not about then. A down and broken hearted old bluesman. A down and broken hearted wise, a wrong doing dog.
I’m talking about the real deal now. Young people gotta understand. -”Hey, this is real rock’n’roll, because this is where it’s coming from”.
You walked away with five awards, had six nominations, as well. Did you expect that?
I didn’t expect anything. No, I did not on this one. Because, you remember Soul Fixin’ man? I thought that was one of the ultimate best blues records, with a touch of soul, on the market. Comparing to all the other people that everybody was talking about. Like, on top at this time, you know, the return of Albert Collins, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, John Lee Hooker, etc.
I knew there was somebody down in Memphis, down in the States, or somewhere across the world, who knew about Luther Allison and love Luther enough. But not enough people who…who didn’t making excuses, saying; -”But you’ve been gone too long”. Well, I don’t believe in that, because all of them musicians, all the promoters knows about Luther Allison. They just say; -”Well, we ain’t ready for you . We got other people we got to love first”. To see if they control themselves and become worthy of another partner like I, Luther Allison. That’s the way I feel it. I didn’t expect anything.
But what I did expect, when I went to Memphis, and hooked up with the musicians that was so sweet, warm and kind, and needed a friend. Many of them like I, Luther Allison. I think that was that, I took on two times more grammy awards for myself, just to do that. These people reminded me of when I came up to Chicago. When I and Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Freddie King, Otis and Buddy, Magic Sam, and all of us. We all used to hang out together and have fun. You don’t see that too much no more. So, when I got to Memphis. I felt like I was in heaven all over again. Just to be there, just to be part of this stuff. And then, when the Handy’s came, I had nothing to say after two Handy’s. -”What am I doing, what’s happening”?
Soul Fixin’ Man and Bad Love, are they the same record, in two versions? One European and one American release. Is it the same situation with Blue Streak?
No. Release yes, label different. Recorded same place, Memphis, Ardient Studios. Like I always say, we have to…We have to… We deal with America and we deal with the European market. That’s world trade. My friend, Thomas Ruf of Ruf Records, we worked on Bad Love long before we got to the studio. Long before we pulled it off with Bruce Iglauer for Soul Fixin’ Man. So, we had sold a lot of records in Europe, before we even went to the studio. But Bruce didn’t like the title Bad Love, for some reason. Okay, you’re two companies dealing in two different countries. -”Do not put the musicians involved with this anymore, now. Because I get the feedback”.
Just like you and I is talking about that difference. Me, I like the Bad Love. Me, I lovedSoul Fixin’ Man, no problem. I wrote Soul Fixin’ Man” right on the spot, right in Memphis, Tennessee, no problem. But for you to , as the record companies, you’re supposed to compromise and get it together, in the best interest of your artist.Not your power to play to pull this, and pull that.
And, that’s the same thing happened with Cherry Red Wine. We pushed it for Watching You in Europe. Bruce didn’t like Watching You, and we couldn’t come up with anything else, that we gotta live with pretty much. And if you talk about what is happening in the record, Watching You stands up more. But Cherry Red Wine seem to have a better hook for people who understand english, to a point; -”Well, he’s talking about that stuff called…red wine”! As simple as that. So, they both works. But Cherry Red Wine is a little more powerful. But you didn’t Watching You, as another typical black Blues asset, to a Blues song. Watching You, Baby, it’s what?…That’s normal!
Cherry Red Wine was the Blues song of 1996, right?
Exactly, and unfortunately, it had to go that way. It had to be Cherry Red Wine and not ”Cherry Red Wine, Watching You”. With both, we get the same credit. Where the people would understand it’s the same song. And why it’s the same song. You know, you have to protect your artist. Don’t leave it for people with; -”You got to have a brain enough to figure this out”. No, because if we did, then we wouldn’t have 62 million thousand computers doing that with ya!
But you had another song nominated. You had ”Move away from the Hood”, along with James Solberg.
Oh yes. Well, James Solberg and I, we just go way, way back, for a long, long time. I think… about 1975. When I got the contract to work, from Bruce Iglauer, with Alligator. I just called him up and say; -”Do you want part of this”? Because we talked about this many years. He used to have a nightclub up in Wisconsin, and all that stuff. Me and Koko (Taylor), Otis Rush, all of us used to play there. He tried to make sure we had some jobs, as when he was doing it. At the same time, he gets something out of it to. He says yes, and so we went for it. Matter of fact, next week, this coming Friday, I would be headed back to the other side. Trying to make sure we’re starting all over again. To get ready for another record.
You’ve got a brand new CD out now. ”Where have you been?” – ”Live in Montreux”.
Well, that’s another of the things that we give the great Thomas Ruf credit for. He’s looking inside. He’s a young producer, a young record company. Trying to make sure he come up with the right kind of answer, for a lot of these people that like the Blues. And we’re taking each other to school, into the strip. And try to make sure that we can recapture some Luther Allison. That was never really put out there for the people who understand that Luther Allison had to be doing something to win five Handy awards, in 1996.
So this thing we decide, we gotta listen to these tapes, we got a chance to listen to these tapes. We’re gonna listen back, to clean up some of the stuff, if we can. And put it out there, because what we’re dealing with in Europe, is Luther Allison being lucky enough to say; -”I’ve been touring Europe for 20 years. Since 1976 to 1996”. And that’s a beautiful track record. So, we got a live release from the first place I ever played in Europe. It’s Montreux Jazz Festival, from 1976 to 1994. And bits and pieces of what Luther Allison had done then, all the way up until 1996, on records.
That’s where we’re coming from, and we hope so many people will buy this record and go back and understand, I still can do probably everything that’s on this new record. And I love to go back to do some of that. But in the meantime, we’re just gonna go forward. And try to hope that maybe somebody in Memphis, down at the Handys, will take a look at this record. As a foreign release, or what now. And give us credit for it. And give us another shot at five, or six, or ten more Handys next year.
You told me at Notodden Blues Festival, that what’s left for you to do, is something for the young people. What precisely would you try to do?
Well, number one…When I was back in Chicago at Buddy Guy’s club… I have nephews and nieces and stuff. Everyone at that scale is young, got different music appears, living in the hood. Saying; -”Uncle, can you help us? We got a great group. But uncle, as you know, we have no money. We have no management, we have no gigs. We have no way out, we have no place to play really”. And I said, -”If I get to it this year, for sure, I will find a couple of days to come down, and try to show you guys how to get out of that. But in the meantime, what I’m trying to do, is to hook you up with some of the major bluesclubs, that I play. Where you’ll be able to experiment your music to this kind of audience, that I deal with”.
Because, on the other side…Now you gotta look at the fact, not even in the states…There’s a few black musicians today, that’s Blues. That do not have that black audience, which so many people in Europe would figure we would have, because we’re black. Well, we don’t have it. BB King has it now, to a point, he’s had it all his life. I would even say Buddy Guy got it. Or, as a total, because it’s just not there. We have to reprogram, we have to make sure a record company’s going down and buy black ghetto time, at any rate. And we got one thing working for us. They cannot discriminate against us.
So what we gotta do is take our material there and say we want it played on our black station, to our black people as well. And we all know, black and whites do fall apart, on certain areas. Some of them become superstars, but then again, they’re trying to come together. But, we don’t have to wait that long, matter of fact. We ain’t got that long to wait. These youngsters is growing up and they’re growing up with a mind that nobody cares.
It’s like rap music. People come to me every day. -”What do you think about rap music”? I love the idea because they got somebody to communicate with. Just like they did up in the early days with rock’n’roll. The young people are the ones who’s interested. It’s not the old people. The young people, they can rap and everybody in the world jump on it. Black, white, purple, you name it. All I say is clean up the words, you don’t have to be violent. But you do need communication.
Now, if you talk rap, you listen to the old DJ’s of rock’n’roll, blues, that had those rock’n’roll when it first came in. Soul music, folk music, you’re talking rap music right on that because that’s what they DJ’s did. They come in; -”Good morning love, it’s time to work, get up out of (JAMP?)”. They’ve been doing this, so what’s wrong with rap music? Nothing. Just change the words. Because, even in blues there was dirty words. You just can’t be accepted in the United States to say dirty words. Mick Jagger said dirty words for a whole lot of years, even in U.S.A. And he loved it. -”Oh, it’s okay because he’s from England. He’s doing this here”. But he made name, he made money. We’re gonna try to go out there and save some of this energy and stop being greedy and selfish. And really focus a lot more on younger people comin’ up the stretch, white, black, blue or purple, you name it. And see if we can get some response from radio stations and stars. And we can play for instance on the radio station, saying; -”I’m gonna play a bluessong, I’m gonna play a rocksong, I’m gonna play a soulsong, I’m gonna play a folksong, I’m gonna play a jazzsong”.
I don’t care if I’m right with what children just can hear. What difference? Well, let them be the judge. If you call it out, you ain’t got a chance, because they’re gonna listen to that one program corner. If it’s blues they like, it’s blues they like. If they don’t like it, they may go down and listen to that programmed thing, where everybody’ll be. You don’t wanna be at a party, when there ain’t nobody there but you. You gotta go where the party is, man.
I guess you have a representative in your family. Your son Bernard is keepin’ up for the new generation.
– Hey man… He can always go back to what we call Chicago Blues. He knows that stuff, he grew up with that stuff. And you practice that stuff every day, you write a new song. Because it’s what kind of music it is. Bernards new record, I love the record, I like everything he’d done. He just needs more people to know about him. Because he’s another hard one to stop. You can hardly beat him, he’s so good of a guitar player. He’s so good of a good songwriter. And he’s gonna go out there and do just like his dad do. He’s gonna go out and make really knock the peoples socks off, if he gets a chance.
Do you sit in with each other?
Yeah, we always do that. Matter of fact, we where just together in Chicago at Buddy Guys place. He sat in a little bit, Buddy Guy sat in for 5 minutes and Phil Guy sat in for half an hour. And normally when I go down there, we got people like this. Luther Johnson – who ever it might be, Johnny Dollar – who ever it could be, you know.
And that’s what home Chicago is all about. But it doesn’t happen so often until Luther Allison get down there. Buddy Guy just doesn’t have time to deal with that. He’s a big star now, you see. And something happens. If it’s not him and Junior Wells to pull it off, what people really expect. It’s really hard for him to get up when there’s a local guy, pretty much basically. Unless, big names come into town.
It’s a big weaseling after a whole lotta big money, where his time is very valuable. For anybody, of course. So, if he can promote a show like that, as Clapton walks in and get these people up in there, and maybe there’s two or three people’re gonna say; -”Hey man, I gotta get there, this is more encouragement to get there”. So, he’s doing his job, right on.
I guess you’re pretty busy. What’s another day for Luther Allison?
I’m in a studio with some friends, try to make sure they come up. They’re gonna do one of my songs, or whatever. And we’re gonna tie it down and keep on doing it from that East Germany way. Through these years I’ve been over there, they have tried. They have that thing on their side that we’ve done great together and it’s part of the future. And I didn’t have any days off to do this. I did Belgium Saturday night. I rehearsed with some more musicians last night, I gotta do this today, then I’m in Paris for 3 days, starting tomorrow. Doing a nightclub that I’ve chosen. And then on Friday I’m right back to the States. So, I’ve been over here for one week tomorrow, and I haven’t stopped. Makes me keep talking, I might wind up in Norway, before this is over with.
You’re coming back here, though?
Well, you know, I love it. But next time I come, it definitely can’t be like this time. Because I came from South Dakota to Norway, from Norway to Duluth, Minnesota, all in two days.It’s just too much, and I got lucky enough to get through it. So next time I come there, I want the freedom, like where I’m able to mellow out. Really be a part of the people and all of the shows that’s possible. And then we’ll kick, then we can kick, you know.
Please pick another song from your new live album, to take it home with.
To take it home? Let’s see….the live record …. let’s say….I hate to….ai, ai, ai, ai….how about….Bad news are coming?. Ha, ha, -”I think I’m gonna have to leave right away”. It makes sense, doesn’t it? I love the song, and in the future, if you don’t mind, any chance you get, That same thing by Muddy Waters. I love the song. Tell the people about it. Tell the people I love the song. And Back down South.
Anything additional you wanna say?
Yes, I would just like to say to everybody who was involved with having Luther Allison. And the fellows there (at Notodden Blues Festival). We survived a beautiful trip, it’s a great place and we hope to see everybody again next years. On a better up date level, on a better scale. But we hope the show can be fifty thousand times, a million times better than it was. But it’s hard to beat what we’ve done. I know that. But you had a lot of other great groups there, especially Mississippi Heat. Thanks so much, okay. And we hope to see everybody, and get behind Thomas Ruf and Ruf Records, Alligator and Bruce Iglauer. And let’s hope that we can continue to keep Luther Allison up where everybody will gonna know who he is.