Friday, April 17, 2015

Ten Questions With........Bernard Allison

Bernard Allison grew up in a house filled with music......listening to his family's record collection and his father's (legendary blues guitarist Luther Allison) recordings, and later discovering the music of his own generation, too.  He has been active as a musician since the early 80's, beginning with a couple of appearances with his dad and enjoying a couple of stints with Koko Taylor and her Blues Machine, the first one beginning the week after he graduated from high school.  He later served as his father's European band leader and under his tutelage, was able to develop his own talents as a front man and guitarist.  Since the late 80's, the younger Allison has been recording and leading his own band.  His first few albums were recorded in Europe for European labels, but he really came into his own with his first U.S. release in 1997, Keepin' the Blues Alive, on Ron Levy's Cannonball Records label.

Since then, Allison has kept pretty busy performing and recording for several labels, most recently with the Jazzhaus label.  His latest release, In the Mix, is his first studio release in six years and is a change of pace from his previous efforts, focusing more on songs and grooves than than the guitar fireworks this time around (although he still offers plenty of those as well).  As we stated during last week's post, it's a great mix of original tunes and covers and to FBF's ears, it's his best release yet.

Though he has comfortably established his own position in today's Blues Scene, in many ways, Bernard Allison's career mirrors his father's.  Both migrated to France to enjoy the vibrant blues scene in the European countries, Luther Allison's brand of blues dipped heavily into the rock and soul music that he listened to growing up, while Bernard Allison's brand of blues encompasses the rock, soul, R&B, and funk that he grew up listening to.  Finally, Luther Allison was and Bernard Allison is an electrifying live performer.  I've been lucky enough to see Bernard Allison twice, once when he was backing Koko Taylor in the late 80's and then again at the BMA's in the late 90's, shortly after his father passed away, where he and Deborah Coleman played a scorching version of "Bad Love."  If you get the opportunity to see him, you must do so.  While you're waiting, check out In the Mix, then track down his earlier CDs and DVDs to see what all the fuss is all about.  You can thank me later.

Friday Blues Fix thanks Bernard for taking time out from his busy schedule to stop by and answer Ten Questions (give or take) for us.  We hope you enjoy.

Ten Questions With........Bernard Allison

Friday Blues Fix:  I know you’ve probably been asked this a million times, but what was it like growing up in Chicago with a blues guitarist father?  

Bernard Allison:  I was born in Chicago but did most of my growing up between Peoria, Illinois & Miami, Florida.  Lots of music in our household, all styles, so that's what I always refer to when preparing new recordings.

FBF:  When did you decide that you wanted to be a musician?  Was guitar your first instrument? 

BA:  I was 10 years old when I started messing around with my older brother’s guitar and just figured it out while playing along with my dad’s recordings.

FBF:  What blues artists did you like to listen to?  What other styles of music did you listen to and which artists? 

BA:  As far as blues, Albert and Freddie King, Tyrone Davis, Magic Sam, Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor, Hound Dog Taylor. Other than blues, lots of styles, the Isley Brothers, Parliament, Cameo, Jackson 5, AC/DC, Chuck Berry, etc….

FBF:  Did your dad try to steer you in one direction or the other as a musician, or did he want you to try and do something else?  

BA:  He just wanted me to finish high school and then it was my own decision, as far as what I wanted to do after.

FBF:  Besides your dad, who are your biggest influences as a guitarist? 

BA:  Albert King and Freddie King would be my picks prior to the next generation of players.

FBF:  How important was coming up through the ranks (playing with Koko Taylor, Willie Dixon, etc…) in helping to develop your musical career?   

BA:  Koko and her husband Pops Taylor taught me the rules of the road as well as learning how to play beside a vocalist; I credit them both for my sense of rhythm.

FBF:  What’s the best piece of advice you received from anyone when you were starting out? 

BA:  Listen to all styles of music and try and find yourself within and play what your heart feels, as opposed to copying someone else’s feel.

FBF:  In the Mix is your first studio album in six years and it’s different from your previous efforts with more of a soul/R&B influence….did you intend to go in a different direction from the beginning or did the changes take place as it progressed?  

BA:  I’ve always had it in me, just never had the chance to record it.  It's basically what I listened to growing up on a daily basis as well, as names like Tyrone Davis, Freddie King, Koko Taylor were longtime friends of the Allison family.

FBF:  Can you tell us about some of the original songs on In the Mix?  Some of the songs have a personal touch, like the one you wrote with your mother (“Call Me Momma”). 

BA:  My Momma really knows music….all styles.  She has helped me with lyrics on other recordings as well as my dad’s early recordings. I just wanted to tell the story about who you can call for positive advice without being sugar coated.  That's my Momma 100%.

FBF:  How did you decide on the cover tunes on In the Mix (Colin James’ “Five Long Years,” Tyrone Davis’ “I Had It All The Time,” Freddie King’s “I’d Rather Be Blind,” two from your father, (including “Move From The Hood”)?  I know you usually include one or two of your dad’s songs on your albums, and I really like how you always add your own personal touch to those songs.  I enjoyed your take on “Moving On Up” on this disc. 

BA:  Well, Colin James and I go back many years and were just recently reunited on the Blues Cruise, Colin is an amazing writer, guitarist, and singer I love his mix of different genres. Tyrone Davis, like I mentioned, was very close to my family, actually growing up with my mom. I was on the blues cruise with Tyrone shortly before his passing. We had talked about recording together for my upcoming CD, Chills & Thrills but due to his passing, that wasn't possible. So instead I wrote the song “Missing Tyrone,” which I wrote mostly for his wife Ann. Basically singing to her that he wants her to hold her head up high and keep on living life and that he is with her every day. Freddie King was always a favorite and I've always wanted to record “I’d Rather be Blind,” but first I needed to become a bit more stronger vocally as well as come up with a different feel to his original version. My dad’s songs that I select to record always goes through my momma, also I normally go back to my dad’s very early recordings for reference.  Yes, “Moving On Up” is one of my favorite songs, sits really well on this CD.

FBF:  You’ve lived in France for a number of years and record for European labels.  What in your opinion is the difference between the blues scene (fan base, gigs, pay, etc….) in the U.S. and the rest of the world?  What could be done in the U.S. to make things better?  

BA:  Yes, just like my dad, Europe just welcomed us both with open arms and allowed us to show our musical influences as opposed to putting a label on us… well as they real promote blues related music differently, especially with the younger age bracket.  Lots of blues in the schools there, as well…..concerts that kids can attend. Here in the states, when it comes to the kids we basically have to wait for festivals so they can attend. We have some blues in the schools here in the states….I think it could be more of it.  Also, media as far as radio, TV… they promote is a very different approach where I find it a bit limiting here in the states. Late night blues radio stations, lack of TV promotion…..we have mostly blue magazines and blues societies that keep things rolling and now more and more internet blues supporters bringing it to the public.

Selected Discography


The Next Generation (Celluloid Records)

Funkifino (Ruf Records)

Hang On! (Ruf Records)

No Mercy! (Live) (Inakustik Records)

Keepin' The Blues Alive (Cannonball Records)

Times Are Changing (Ruf Records)

Across the Water (Tone-Cool Records)

Storms of Life (Tone-Cool Records)

Kentucky Fried Blues (Live) (Ruf Records)

Higher Power (Ruf Records)

Triple Fret (with Larry McCray and Carl Weathersby) (JSP)

Energized:  Live in Europe (Ruf Records)

Chills & Thrills (CC Entertainment)

The River Is Rising (Compilation of Tone-Cool releases) (Blues Boulevard Records)

The Otherside (CC Entertainment)

Live At the Jazzhaus (Jazzhaus Records)

Allison Burnside Express (with Cedric Burnside) (1-2-3-4 GO Records)

Into the Mix (Jazzhaus Records)


Kentucky Fried Blues

Energized:  Live in Europe

Live at the Jazzhaus

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