Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Guitar Slinger: Bernard Allison

I took this photo of Bernard Allison at the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival May 19, where he and guitarist Lurrie Bell had been called to perform in place of Michael Burks, who had died on May 6. Allison and Bell played a set that was dubbed “A Tribute to Michael Burks,” who only two months earlier had spoken to this publication about his upcoming new album (you can catch the videotaped interview at )
Also managed to have the following conversation with Allison, in which he talked about his friendship with Burks and why being involved in a tribute to the late guitarist was so important to him. Allison also talked about his own plans for a new recording, as well as playing the blues with a certain superstar musician from Minneapolis who has a penchant for purple things.
The conversation started with him recalling the moment he received the news about Burks:
BBP: You got called for this at the last minute, right? It was unexpected?
Allison: Yeah. Exactly. Initially Lurrie and I were going to be guests of Michael. In fact, I was in the airport that Sunday because we were traveling and had like a six-hour layover. So it must have happened immediately after we left, because by the time I got home, I got the call. But me and Michael, we’ve been through a lot and played a lot together…I still don’t believe it. When they called me and asked me if I could replace him, I was like “sure, I’ll do anything that I can to not get it cancelled or anything like that,” because Michael wouldn’t have wanted that, first of all. And there are talks of me possibly doing other dates for him, you know, between my own dates.

BBP: Now how would you describe your style of guitar playing in contrast to his?
Allison: I think we had kind of the same influences growing up. You know being a guitar player and liking B.B. King and Lightnin Hopkins and the old school, my dad (the late guitarist Luther Allison). We all just had to put our own input into it, to try to turn it into us, as opposed to saying “he sounds like Freddy King” or “he sounds like Luther Allison.” I tried to combine everything that I learned …..
BBP: One of the things I was curious about you was your father. What was the biggest influence he had on you as a musician?
Allison: Well, basically I taught myself. He pretty much taught me the rules of the road, more or less, than anything musical. I played like three years before he even knew that I played. But he was like a big brother to me as much as a father…just wanted me to finish school, and the little warnings to get on the road and being careful with things like that. So that’s my biggest blessing.
BBP: Do you ever have a concern that when people listen to you, that they want to hear him initially?
Allison: When I first came back to the states from Paris, everybody…I’m sure they came to see how close I was to my dad. And I have a lot of him in me but I have a lot of others, too. So I just can only carry our family name the best that I can.
BBP: You’re in Minneapolis now, right?
Allison: Yes.
BBP: Do you ever see Prince?
Allison: I do a lot with Prince and Jellybean (Johnson, drummer and guitarist for the Time) and The Time and--Minneapolis is like a breeding ground for music. So, when everybody’s not touring, we have a little place in Minneapolis we all meet up and jam all night, so…
BBP: What’s it like to jam with him?
Allison: Prince likes to play the blues. So-- a lot of people don’t know it--but he’s a big fan of blues. And if you really listen to him, you’ll hear all of the Hendrix and B.B. and Albert King.
BBP: Does he ever ask you for advice?
Allison: His manager actually told me that he studies all of my CD’s and DVD’s every time he’s on the bus. (laughs) So that’s great that all of the genres can mix because we all come from the blues, you know. And Prince is a big name, and people don’t know him for that, but deep down inside, that’s where he gets it from.
BBP: And Jellybean, do you have any projects coming up with him anytime soon?
Allison: Well I just talked to ‘Bean---Jellybean works a lot with my little brother Ronnie Baker Brooks and I know that the Time are out touring right now, so the last time I saw Jellybean, probably about a month ago. I know they’re heading back to Minneapolis; I’m sure we’ll be hanging out.
BBP: I caught a show with you and Shemekia Copeland; this was maybe about two years ago? I guess it was the last performance of the Pocono Blues Festival…
Allison:…I remember it! It started raining! (laughs). I remember that!
BBP: …It was bad….
Allison: I talked to Shemekia too. Actually, we’re going to be doing some festivals this summer, so I’m looking forward to seeing everybody. That’s the fun thing about the festivals; you get a chance to actually spend some time with everyone.
BBP: Are you coming out with a new album anytime soon?
Allison: We’re actually going in the studio next month and try to have an October release.
BBP: Do you have a tentative title for it?
Allison: Not yet. They’re so many good songs and titles, take it one day at a time. It normally comes up in mid-album. You’ll say, “I like this, I like the hook of this…”
BBP: Can you tell me about some of the songs on it?
Allison: Well I write all through the year, we’re in Europe most of the time. So now like we’ve been off for a couple of months, I’ve been able to go back to all my tapes. (The new album will be) pretty similar to all of my other recordings: a little bit of R&B influence, funk, rock, blues. You know, just mix it up, and not focus so much on the guitar, but more or less good songs and my vocals and—it will be okay. It will represent (1) me (laughs).
BBP: There was an album you did, 2005, in Europe—(1) Energized….
Allison: We actually did a double live album earlier this year…also a DVD called (1) Live at the Jazzhaus, with the current lineup, and it’s pretty intense. I wanted to capture it live before moving on to my next project, so I think we nailed it.
BBP: Are there musicians that you haven’t played with yet, that you’d like to play with at some point?
Allison: I’ve pretty much played with everybody other than Clapton (laughs). I’d really like to—my dad had a chance to play with Clapton and hopefully one day I will too.
BBP: Can you send him a telegram? (laughs)
Allison: I’ve never personally met him. At the time that they did the Crossroads festival in Chicago, they were supposed to come down to Buddy’s (Buddy Guy’s Legends on Wabash Avenue) because I was playing there, but he didn’t come down. Buddy came, we played—it will happen. If it was meant to be it will happen. If not, I’ve played with a lot of the greats.
BBP: Your dad played with him on that album with Otis Rush.
Allison: Right. (1) Live at Montreux (1986). Yep, that’s great, man.

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