Luther Allison (August 17, 1939 – August 12, 1997) was an American blues guitarist. He was born in Widener, Arkansas, and moved with his family, at the age of twelve, to Chicago in 1951. He taught himself guitar and began listening to blues extensively. Three years later he began hanging outside blues nightclubs with the hopes of being invited to perform. He played with Howlin’ Wolf’s band and backed James Cotton.
Luther Allison Career
His big break came in 1957 when Howlin’ Wolf invited Allison to the stage. Freddie King took him under his wing and after King got his big record deal, Allison took over King’s house-band gig on Chicago’s west side.
He worked the club circuit throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s and recorded his first single in 1965. He was signed to the Delmark Records label in 1967 and released his debut album, Love Me Mama, the following year. A well-received set at the 1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival resulted in his being asked to perform there each of the next three years. He also toured nationwide and, in 1972, was signed to Motown Records, one of the few blues artists to do so. By the mid 1970s he began touring Europe and moved to France in 1977.
Allison was known for his powerful concert performances, lengthy soulful guitar solos and crowd walking with his Gibson Les Paul. Allison lived briefly during this period in Peoria, Illinois, where he signed briefly with Rumble Records, resulting in two live recordings, “Gonna Be a Live One in Here Tonight”, produced by Bill Knight, and “Power Wire Blues”, produced by George Faber and Jeffrey P. Hess. Allison played the “bar circuit” in the USA during this period, spending eight months per year in Europe at high-profile venues, including the Montreux Jazz Festival. In 1992, he played as a duo with legendary French rock’n’roll star Johnny Hallyday for 18 shows in Paris, also playing during the intermission. Allison’s manager, and European agent, Thomas Ruf, founded the label Ruf Records in 1994. Signing with Ruf Records, Allison launched a comeback in association with Alligator Records. Alligator founder Bruce Iglauer convinced Allison to return to the United States.
The album Soul Fixin’ Man was recorded and released in 1994, and Allison toured the U.S. and Canada. He won four W.C. Handy Awards in 1994. With the James Solberg Band backing him, non-stop touring and the release of Blue Streak (featuring song “Cherry Red Wine”), Allison continued to earn more Handys and gain wider recognition. He scored a host of Living Blues Awards and was featured on the cover pages of major blues publications.
In the middle of his summer of 1997 tour, Allison checked into a hospital for dizziness and loss of coordination. It was discovered that he had a tumor on his lung that had metastasized to his brain. In and out of a coma, Allison died on August 12, 1997, five days before his 58th birthday, in Madison, Wisconsin.
He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1998. In 2000, the Chicago Sun-Times called him “The Bruce Springsteen of the blues”. He was a chief influence on many young blues guitarists such as Chris Beard and Reggie Sears.
Allison is buried at Washington Memory Gardens Cemetery in Homewood, Illinois.