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'A Tribute To Mose Allison' Celebrates The Music Of An Exciting Jazz Master

Dec 1, 2019

Mose Allison, who died three years ago, influenced artists from The Who to The Rolling Stones to Jimi Hendrix to Bonnie Raitt.

Raitt contributed to a new album, If You're Going To The City: A Tribute To Mose Allison, which celebrates the late singer and pianist, who famously blended the rough-edged blues of the Mississippi Delta with the 1950s jazz of New York City.

NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Bonnie Raitt about her friendship with the Mose Allison. They're also joined by Amy Allison — his daughter, who executive produced the album — about selecting an unexpected list of artists to contribute songs to the album. Listen in the audio player above.

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Mose Allison grew up in the South. By the time he moved north to make it as a pianist and songwriter in the mid-1950s, he'd taken the rough-edge blues of the Mississippi Delta, smoothed it out with New York City jazz and added some potent lyrics.


MOSE ALLISON: (Singing) You're sitting there yakkin' right in my face. I guess I'm gonna have to put you in your place. You know, if silence was golden, you couldn't raise a dime because a man is on vacation. And your mouth is working overtime.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mose Allison, who died three years ago, was an influence on artists from The Who to the Rolling Stones to Jimi Hendrix to Bonnie Raitt. In fact, she's contributed to the new album "If You're Going To The City: A Tribute To Mose Allison." It also features Jackson Browne, Taj Mahal, Chrissie Hynde and Elvis Costello, among many others. And Bonnie Raitt joins us now from member station KQED in San Francisco.


BONNIE RAITT: Hi, Lulu. How are you?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm great. And we're also joined by Mose Allison's daughter, singer Amy Allison, who is the executive producer of the album. Welcome to you, too.

AMY ALLISON: Oh, thank you, Lulu. Thanks for having me along with Bonnie (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. It's great to have you both. And I'm going to start with you, Bonnie. What drew you to this project?

RAITT: Well, I have been such a fan of Mose since my older brother turned me onto his records when I was about 16. And I never heard anything as cool as that even though I used to listen to jazz radio in LA. When I was supposed to be asleep, I'd turn my little transistor on.


RAITT: And he - you know, I love the blues. I loved his laid-back delivery. And I've been a fan ever since the first note I heard him sing. And we met backstage. I went to see him at jazz clubs when I was in college. And I'd go to Greenwich Village. And then we had the opportunity to do some shows together. In the early '70s, mid-'70s, we did some touring together. And we were friends - lifelong friends - and one of my great heroes, personally and musically.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Let's listen to "Everybody's Cryin' Mercy." That was recorded in 2017 in Ontario.


RAITT: (Singing) Well, I don't believe the things I'm seeing. I'm wondering about the things I've heard. Everybody is cryin' mercy. But they don't know the meaning of the word.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I understand you've included "Everybody's Cryin' Mercy" in your live show for years. How come?

RAITT: Oh, you can't get any better than that tune.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I got to tell you it gives me chills listening to it (laughter).

RAITT: Oh, thank you. Well, I cut it back in 1973 when I was just starting out on my third album. And, for me, you know, a lot of political music is so pedantic and corny and too on the nose. And this is - the thing about Mose that's so great is he can make social commentary, and it's not really satirical at all. It's - I mean, there's humorous songs, as well. But this is as biting and as sardonic and incisive a point of view about, you know, the lack of empathy and the hypocrisy in the world. And it unfortunately has - ringing true when the shows that I sing today as much as it was when he first recorded it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Amy Allison, why this album now? And why these particular songs?

A ALLISON: Oh, boy. Well, I knew there were a lot of people that you might not really think of that were fans but are, you know? I think it is true that a lot of people across all genres were into him. So - and the song choices - you know, we let the artists choose the song.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your song "Monsters Of The Id," in which you share vocals with Elvis Costello with your dad actually on piano.


A ALLISON: (Singing) Monsters of the Id no longer staying hid. And terrors of the night are out in broad daylight.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Bonnie, clearly, he touched such a broad range of musicians. I mean here's someone who was sort of nonchalant with his style with mellow, witty vocals. But he influenced punk godfather Iggy Pop.


IGGY POP: (Singing) If you're going to the city, you better bolt your door. If you going to the city, you better bolt your door. They'll take all you got and come back for more.

RAITT: We can start conversations when we're at a party or backstage at an awards show or, you know, meeting people that you have never met. And one thing you can have in common is Mose Allison, the coolest guy of anybody I've met in my just-turned-70 life. I mean, the guy was just nonstop. And anytime I think about hanging up my high heels, I go, what would Mose have done, you know?


M ALLISON: (Singing) When you get up to the city, you better lock your door. You know, they'll take what you got, boy. And they'll ask for more.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Amy, what was it like growing up - him as your dad?

A ALLISON: Oh, gosh. Oh, boy. It was great. I mean, you know, he was on the road. But when he was home, he was home, you know? And he - you know, he listened to weird music. And he would (laughter) just - sofa on the side. But he was really funny, too (laugher).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Bonnie and Amy, if you were talking to a young, aspiring songwriter, what Mose Allison song would you suggest they listen to, and why?

RAITT: Oh, my gosh. That's so hard to pick - which one. For me, the one Chrissie chose - "Stop This World" is just - well, it's a jazz song. It's a masterpiece.


CHRISSIE HYNDE: (Singing) Stop this world. Let me off. There's just too many pigs in the same trough. There's too many buzzards sitting on a fence. Stop this world. It's not making sense.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Amy Allison and Bonnie Raitt talking to us about the new collection "If You're Going To The City: A Tribute To Mose Allison." Thank you both very much.

A ALLISON: Thank you.

RAITT: Thank you, Lulu, for having us. I hope everybody...


RAITT: ...Gets this record for Christmas.

A ALLISON: Bonnie, thank you. And thank you. And thank you for actually saying all that because it's, like, you've promoted the record much better than I could have.

RAITT: Oh, I'm so glad we finally had a chance to meet, even if it's from three cities. But what a cool...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, wait a second. Wait a second. You've not met?

RAITT: Well, we met backstage when she was a wee little thing. Yeah.

A ALLISON: When I was a teenager and I was just dumbstruck - and I was like - my dad had opened for her. And I was like, holy...

RAITT: (Laughter).

A ALLISON: You know, I better not say that. But anyway - but I'm - but, you know, this is an honor. And...

RAITT: This is the first time we've had a chance to talk. I've talked to her mom before, and I've stayed in touch with her dad.


RAITT: And I feel like I've known your family all my...


RAITT: ...Adult life. So I'm so honored to be part of this project, as we all are. And long live the incredible legacy of Mose Allison, one of the greatest artists of all time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Thank you both again. Bye.

RAITT: Bye, Amy. Bye, Lulu.

A ALLISON: Bye, Bonnie. Thank you so much.


M ALLISON: (Singing) Well, I got too smart for my own good. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.