On a Tuesday afternoon in September, national and international recording artist Bernard Allison was kind enough to come into the KFAI studio on Riverside Avenue for a visit
with the Rollin & Tumblin audience. He talked about his music and about growing up with Luther Allison, his father. Bernard shared his stories and some insights into the
European blues scene. He also gave us blues dreamers a glimpse into what we believe is the "glamorous" life for blues performers. Bernard was very easy to talk to and to
laugh with. The time went by so fast, we didn't realize he had been on the show for over an hour!
(Opening the interview with music from Keepin the Blue Alive, a Cannonball Records CD, song choice: "Baby Chile")
Jacquie: Joining me live in the studio Bernard Allison. Thanks for coming in, Bernard!
Bernard: Thank you for the invitation!
Jacquie: You're very welcome. On the ride into town, we talked a little bit about you growing up in Europe.
Bernard: That was a little bit different experience there. I think at the time when I moved in '89 to join my father, I actually went over there to record his live album, "Live in Berlin '89." I was supposed to return but he asked me to become his band leader after that and I got stuck there...kinda led into my first record which he provided the finance
to go in and record "The Next Generation," which is my first album and kinda took step by step from there.
Jacquie: So in '89 you weren't very old.
Bernard: I'm not very old now (giggle, giggle).
Jacquie: (Laughing) I wasn't gonna mention that.
Bernard: A lot of people think I'm a lot younger than I am but, that's a good thing, I think.
Jacquie: Yea, it is.
Bernard: My birthday's coming up very soon.
Jacquie: But you're over 30, we'll just say that.
Bernard: I'm not ashamed of my age. I'm 34, I'll be 35 November 26th.
Jacquie: Right on. So, you've been playing a long time.
Bernard: Yea, I actually started playing at age 10, just listening to my Dad's records and practicing with him, cause I can't read music or anything but I can pretty much play anything I hear. I played 3 years before actually tellin' him I was playing.
Jacquie: You didn't want him to know for 3 years?
Bernard: I just wanted to make sure I had it where I was ok with it, get as close as possible to it and...I knew I couldn't do the bends...I didn't have the strength in my
fingers at the time, but I wanted to play the songs down. So that morning, he woke up and looked at my Mom and said "That sounds like my very first record. Do we still have a
copy of it?' She said: "Yea, that's it. Go downstairs and turn it off for me." I was playing along with it and he's like, "Whoa...ok, you just didn't just start playing like that.
Well, you come with me tonight and I'm gonna put you on my new album" Which is a live album recorded in '79 called "Gonna Be A Live One Here Tonight" recorded live in
Peoria, Illinois. So, that was my first actual recording at age 12 and a half or something like that.
Jacquie: Excellent story. Thanks, Bernard. For those of you who are just joining the show, you are listening to Rollin & Tumblin with me, Jacquie Maddix. Joining me live in
the studio, Bernard Allison, son of Luther Allison. He's the next generation, keeping the blues alive. Bernard's been on the road. We tried to have a telephone interview last
week. Didn't work. He had a cell phone going through the mountains and it just wouldn't work out. So he was gracious enough to come into the studio live today to talk with all of us and to share his blues stories with all of you.
Bernard: Exactly! Thanks you, guys for listening and supporting the blues. We need it. It's just a big pleasure for me to continue my father's legacy, but you know I don't go out and try to be Luther Allison. I just go and do what I've learned from my Dad and the likes of Koko Taylor, or Stevie Ray Vaughn or Albert King. So, I'm trying to keep
the blues alive Bernard Allison style.
Jacquie: And you're doing a good job of it, too.
Bernard: Thank you very much.
Jacquie: I understand you used to be the music director or lead musician with Koko Taylor's Blues Machine.
Bernard: Exactly. That was another big surprise.
Jacquie: You had to be a baby doing that!
Bernard: I graduated from high school in '83 and 3 days later Koko called me and was like "Would you like to become a member of the Blues Machine." I didn't believe it
at first because I knew there were other guitar players out there that were more qualified than myself at the time. But Koko and my Dad were really...they're like sisters and brothers and she said whenever he gets out of school, I'm going get him in my band.
Jacquie: And then she kept her word.
Bernard: I think that was the greatest experience for me on the musician side.
Jacquie: What a way to mature as a musician, playing with Koko.
Bernard: Yea, because I learned to be a rhythm guitar player rather than like now. I'm the soloist, the front man but I think without that experience I wouldn't be in the
position that I am today because I wouldn't have the knowledge of knowing how to follow someone, especially a singer…a female vocalist. We mentioned that as well. When a lot of people record songs, especially female voices, sometimes they tend to undermix the voice. That's why I learned to kinda back off and the voice is highlighted here. There will be a time for a keyboard solo or a guitar solo but my job was to back Koko Taylor.
Jacquie: What did she have to say ....?
Bernard: Koko's great and actually this year was our first time actually playing together...her first time seeing me with my own band!
Jacquie: Oh, yea...?
Bernard: She was on the side of the stage all the night before her show...we opened up for her...she was dancing and singing along. So, she's very supportive.
Jacquie: She's got to be a like an Auntie by now.
Bernard: She's my godmother. I was underage at that time, when I joined Koko...so her husband Pops Taylor at the time and Koko were my godparents. So when I played in
bars and things...she's like "Now, I don't want to see you drinkin' or anything." Which, I was well taught! I was just there to give her all the respect, like I do my mother.
Jacquie: And you know that's right!
Bernard: (laughing) 'Cause otherwise she probably would've went upside my head or something (laughing. My mom gave her permission! (Laughing)
Jacquie: That could be a blues tune right there "Koko Taylor Goin' Upside My Head". (more giggling)
Bernard: Nice idea!
Jacquie: One other thing we talked about in the car coming this way...I don't know if many folks realize this but Bernard speaks French. He had to learn it.
Bernard: Yea, I had to learn it. When I first moved in '89, I had no idea I that I was staying, so.....
Jacquie: When you first moved to Paris....?
Bernard: Yea...in '89, I was illiterate to the language and I just gradually picked it up because a lot of my Dad's musicians at the time were French musicians. So on the road,
we spoke both English and French and they would teach me certain words Actually, I learned more by just watching television in France and listenin' to people talk, you
know. I found it very similar to English and you just have to swap the verb in the other direction and you can kinda semi-understand it and it took me about a good 4 years where
I was comfortable enough to speak it. I understand everything, you know. I wouldn't say I'm perfect speaking ...but I can speak.
Jacquie: You understand when they start taking about money and paying your musicians.
Bernard: Definitely! Exactly...
Jacquie: Well, you gotta get that down pat. We also talked a little bit about something I was totally unaware of...that they use television more in Europe than radio to advertise blues gigs and also over in Europe they don't think of it as blues ..its just music.
Bernard: Exactly. You have your purists, now, but in general…and I'm speaking for Luther Allison or Bernard Allison per se. It was more televised than anything. Like
you'd have a show on a Friday night. If it was a festival or a club date, you saw it...there was a spot running on the television that maybe showed a Luther Allison clip or
something. And it runs simultaneously through the day. So everyone's like... "Wow...blues...that's blues!"
Jacquie: That's cool...
Bernard: I think it gives the kids the chance to actually watch it on TV...where I find it reverse in the states, like I told you before. Like when I was growing up...I had to stay
up until 1 or 2 am in CHICAGO to hear a blues station. And on the nights that I had to go to school and wanted to watch it, you know I can't do that so a lot of kids here in the states are basically illiterate to blues, you know. And like what you're doing here is perfect, because it's the perfect time. Now, they're out of school and if they turn that dial and hear something...it's like what's that, you know they might call you and say play that again and have no idea what the blues is. So, you're giving them a great opportunity as well, you know. But, back to Europe... they do utilize the television and they treat the blues music like if it was the Rollin Stones for example. We play minimum 1000 seat venues in Europe and bigger, so it's not your, say blues crowd...they're music lovers.
Jacquie: And also the translations for the lyrics...for the blues lyrics...goes across the television...
Bernard: Yea...they use footnotes...subtitles in French or if its German...it'll be German. But, we're still singing English ...you can still hear the words.
Jacquie: That's supporting the blues alright...that's supporting the music.
Bernard: Exactly...it's also educational as well because they hear us speaking and now they're actually reading it in their language. I have many blues musician friends that are Parisian and they can sing these songs, but they can't speak English, which I find very bizarre, you know.
Jacquie: So, you're saying that they can sing the words in English but they don't really understand what it is they're singing.
Bernard: Exactly! I asked my Dad the first time I went over. I said...well, these guys are great, they're singing...they know more words than me from the actual original recording. So, after the show we go and talk to them and we're like "Hello" and they're all like "Bon Jour"(Laughing)
Jacquie: (giggling) Now you know why they knew more words...they learned it exact from the record .....
Bernard: And that's what they do. They sound exactly like the records. But you tell the accent and things like that. But, I think its great you know that they can actually pick
it up. So I encouraged them. I said, if you can learn that song, you can speak English. They're like, Oh no...I don't speak good English. But, I'm like...now that was English
what you just said, so don't tell me you can't.
Jacquie: That's as good as anybody here speaks it.
Jacquie: Let's take a jump back to the states and talk about your 3 recordings I have here by you. They're all three on different labels. The first one that we played "Keepin the Blues Alive" is on Cannonball, then "The Times are Changing" is on Ruf Records. Now, you're on Tone Cool Records.
Bernard: OK...well I have a total of 7 albums. My first album is called "The Next Generation," my second album was "Hang On," third album was a live album in Europe called "No Mercy" which was on Ruf Records.
Jacquie: Oh, Roof Records...I said Rough ....sorry!
Bernard: We call 'em rough anyway (hahahahaha) After that, was an album called "Funk If I Know" which is also on Ruf. And "Keepin the Blues Alive" basically was distributed by Cannonball but is actually a Ruf Recording. And we did this album for my comeback to the States...my introduction back to the States. And my Dad said that I should probably keep it more rooted to get my foot in the door rather than do what I had been doing for years, which I travel with an 8 piece band with a horn section and we play all sorts of blues, different styles, heavy funk influence.
Jacquie: What your Dad means by more rooted is more rooted in Chicago blues...or
blues that American audiences know as blues?
Bernard: Exactly...what I was raised up on more or less in the house. He said go for that first...get your foot in the door and then that's gonna allow the people to see who you
are and what you're capable of , not knowing everything you're capable of , because for me...I was on vacation when they recorded this album. They called me and said would you like to record with Buddy Guy's rhythm section? I'm like, yes, but it has to go through my record company first…Ruf Records. I had no guitars...no equipment. I was at home visiting my family, you know. I had no intention of even playing anywhere. So my friend, Ronnie Baker Brooks, he brought one of his guitars and some local musicians brought some amps and we went in and recorded it. It turned out to be a really good album and now we're doing other things. Things are getting better for us and we followed that up with "Times Are Changing" which is more Bernard Allison....of what Bernard Allison's been doing the last five years per se. And, that was a Ruf Recording and now the new album, Across the Water is on Tone-Cool Records, which is an up coming
great label, great people to work with. And we're showing another side of Bernard Allison, and my Dad said "You're going to go a long way because one album can't tell
the public what you're all about. So, we're doing it step by step, and people who heard Bernard Allison recordings, they kinda say, well he's not giving everything.... he
knows a little bit more than that. And that is true, you know. I play every instrument and I have yet to do that on an album and that's probably what we're going to do, if not the
next album, then the follow up. You'll probably hear Bernard Allison play some harp or play some Hammond B3 or play some bass guitar, you know.....
Jacquie: Get outta here! You play some drums, too?
Bernard: Yea, a little bit. Actually, I play drums on my very first album..
Jacquie: I didn't know that....I'm gonna have to track some of these LP's down...or CD's I suppose they are.
Bernard: Well, we can arrange that for you!
Jacquie: Right on. That's very cool. Now let's talk a little bit about this brand new "Across the Water" CD, cause you brought up exactly what it was I was gonna start talking about...the evolution. Because, you could tell with the first one "Keepin the Blues Alive" that you're more blues-based. And then it starts to mutate or evolve from there and it goes into funk, rock, soul, a little gospel-thing you got going on. But this one, "Across the Water" seems to be more rock and roll based.
Bernard: For me, everything is rooted blues and my concept of recording tunes is ....it all comes back to how I was raised in the household. I'm the baby of 9, so all of my
older brothers and sisters and my Mom and Dad...they all had their record collections which consists of gospel, blues, jazz, funk, rock. And I remember all of these
influences, so that's what we do...on every album. All my albums are very similar to "Across the Water" except I have to say "Keepin The Blues Alive" is not ...for the fact that it was not my band. It wasn't my equipment. It wasn't my guitar. And Cannonball, they wanted a straight ahead blues album. I could've did "Times Are Changing" at that time, but they wanted that so we went ahead and did that. And "Across the Water" is just another edge where we're trying to reach a younger listener and try to have a couple crossover tunes that can be played anywhere. I think this album can be played on any radio station because you have two die-hard blues...gut-bucket blues songs on it. You have two funky tunes. You got two R & B-type tunes, and then you got the rock. So, why not let the people know what Bernard Allison is capable of rather than stick to one
style? I could easily go out every night and play 12 bar blues, easy, not a problem. But how much farther can I go with it because everything on a 12 bar base has been done
before. Only thing we can do is create new lyrics for it, you know. For me, that becomes a little bit monotonous, where I know I have capabilities of maybe, using a funk
influence or a rock or gospel influence.
Jacquie: I have some musicians friends and I cant remember which one said this to me, but he said that people talk about the blues and try to stay as a purist, but if Muddy
Waters was alive today or Howlin Wolf or any of the old great Chess masters...especially with the new equipment that's out now...we have no idea where they would have
taken it from where they were.
Bernard: Exactly...cause I always get the question of how are you different than your father...for people that really haven't followed me. They know that I'm the son of Luther Allison and I tell them that we're very similar guitar players. We're totally two different singers. But my advantage on my father is that.....all the technology that we have. Cause when he learned guitar he had a board on the side of his house with one wire and he'd make music outta that. Where, I walked into amplifiers and digital material. So,
if my Daddy had what I had to start with, it'd be scary. I always say look at Jimi Hendricks for example. Imagine what this man would be doing today. Or like you say, what would Muddy Waters or Willie Dixon be doing today. They had so many ideas that never really got across...they ran out of time. So now Muddy's son is out there taking
over...Big Bill Morganfield. Or like Johnny Copeland...Shemekia Copeland. Now, we have to continue the tradition, but we have to do it in the way that we know how to do it. We can't go out there and try to be Dad or Mom. We can only use what we learned from them.
Jacquie: Even Muddy. He was taking what he learned from Son House and moved on with it. I mean, that's how it got electrified in the first place...somebody was experimenting. And it turned into something we love but, maybe that wasn't what they were intending at all...who knows? Let's hear a tune from that new CD called "Across the Water" on the Tone Cool Records. This song is called "I Want to Get You Back". Can you tell me a little something about this before I hit the button.
Bernard: Well, this is one of the songs that was presented to us through Susan Tedeschi's drummer, Tom Hambridge actually wrote the song, and we were looking for a
bluesy type of, soft type of.....rock tune to play and when they played it to me, I was like "Man that's pretty cool". It reminded me a lot of Tina Turner. But I said let's
change the rhythm a little bit and swamp it up a little bit and see what we come up with. And I think it's one of my favorite tunes on the album.
Jacquie: Alright, let's check it out.....
(Music playing: "I Want To Get You Back" from Across the Water on Tone Cool)
Jacquie: Good tune, Bernard. I see why you like that one...and that's the bluesier one, huh?
Bernard: It gets more bluesy but I think that song had a great hook with the background vocals...(sings "I wanna get you back...). When I first heard the song I heard Tina Turner all the way and I said well I wonder how my voice is going to fit the song. We dropped the key like way down so I could use my natural talking voice on it and it's
really comfortable and we get great response from the tune when we play live as well.
Jacquie: I like that swamp feel. Now, that's not Tina Turner.
Bernard: That's what I mean. I wanted to swamp it up myself. I had a sound I was messing around with and Jim Gaines (producer)....he's like stop there, I like that. Now,
try to play the song with that sound! So you got this kinda floating guitar going on almost like swamp Cajun thing.
Jacquie: Great for dancing. .makes you bounce. You told me you spent so much time over in Europe that you're only now doing a lot of touring here in the United States in the last year and a half...two years or so. I looked at your
tour schedule...its grueling. How do you guys get around and do all that stuff?
Bernard: We have to go out...I love to play. As long as the Lord gives me strength to do it. I love to play live and this tour here, we started 2 months ago almost and we're gonna finish on the 14th of November. Like this past week, we've been opening up for Mr. George Thorogood out in California the full week. Now, I'm home for two days, then fly down to Arkansas and North Carolina to play some blues festivals there. Then, we're out with Jonny Lang for two weeks in September. So, I need to be seen. I want to expose my music to as many people as I can. I just love playing.
Jacquie: I can tell. You just got back from Canada...was it?
Bernard: California, flew in last night.
Jacquie: And you're here today. I have a weird question for you. How do you ever know what time it is?
Bernard: I don't.
Jacquie: Cause you gotta be going across all these time lines...from Norway to Germany. And, now.....
Bernard: When you're out there, you really don't think about it. We're basically playing every day. So, I could see if we had to play one night, then had two nights off . That would destroy me because my body would semi get adjusted to the time difference. We'll fly in, we'll have a couple hours to relax before going to the sound check and then a couple more before actually doing the show. So, if only that clock keeps ticking! The closer it gets to show time, the more excited I get and if I am tired or sleepy, it all disappears right away. My Dad was the same way. People said, how can you tour that much and you play 4 hour shows every night. I love it.
Jacquie: Then pack up turn around, get ready and go to the next gig is the way you guys got this thing set up. You never have time to settle.
Bernard: We like to play one nighters and keep moving. That's the system that I'm used to and that's what we've done in Europe for the last ten years. We basically tour
Europe January through March, take 4 weeks off. Do another tour in another country for 4 weeks, maximum 5. Take a break. So it's pretty systematic. In November-December, it's my time. That's my off time where I actually put all of my ideas together and get ready for a new record and visit my family as well.
Jacquie: And stop and eat too! (hahahahaha)
Bernard: I eat a lot. But, I burn it all off on stage. My Dad was the same way. We can go through some food but we're just so active with energy. If you see the full show...you'd be like whoa! How can you do it that long?
Jacquie: You play 2 hour sets?
Bernard: 2 and a half to 3...could go longer.
Jacquie: Just like Luther. How do you guys keep the energy up that long.?
Bernard: I think it was training for me under...playing with my Dad. Cause with Koko, we would do 2 shows. But when I moved to Europe, it was 3 and a half to 4. And there
was some nights literally you'd see people laying out and my Dad would be the only one playing and you have to unplug him to get him to stop.
Jacquie: Get Outta here! Well the fans love that kinda stuff, I have to say…being a fan myself and all.
Bernard: For the musician, as well. If you love to play and the venue is gonna allow you to play...play! I don't care if the contract says 60 minutes...if I feel like playing 3 hours and you say its ok...I'm gonna do that. You don't have to pay me anymore. I'm there and I'm not ready to stop, so.....
Jacquie: Right on. It's gotta be a good gig to watch you play.
Bernard: I think people like us because we're a show. We'll come out and our first five songs, there's no breaks. There's a lot of interluding and dynamics. And people are
like, Wow! What is he gonna do next? Then it comes down and How you doing? Now, it's time. Because I feel you paid money to see someone perform. I know myself
personally, I want to hear a lot of music. I don't want to hear jokes. I don't want to hear a lot of talking, "This song was written by this person". We block all of that out and
treat our show as if we're the Rolling Stones.
Bernard: It's a show. It's not like looking at a cinema. If you notice like...let's say a Prince for example. Minneapolis is used to Prince. If you've ever been to a Prince show, you notice there's interludes to songs. It's so dynamic and dramatic. We just do that with the blues and its very rare to see that with the blues. I think that's how we kinda separate ourselves from the typical Chicago or Texas blues band. I don't use the title "blues" in our name. We're the Bernard Allison Group. For the fact that if I put blues, everyone's gonna expect me to play 12 bar blues and when I do anything else outside of that, they're gonna criticize me for it, like they did my father. Growing up, he said what ever you do, don't let them label you. Only cause they labeled him "West Side Chicago" blues. And when he recorded some of his European albums, they're like...Urghgh! We don't like that...that's not Luther Allison. But they didn't give him a chance to show you what Luther Allison was about. You picked things you liked of Luther Allison and you called him that. And then he was never able to shake that shadow.
Jacquie: Well, I'm gonna put you on the spot right now, since we're talking about this kind of thing. You grew up listening to folks like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Johnny Winter. What do you say to folks that want to say that white guys cannot play the blues.
Bernard: Blues have no color. Anybody can play...if you're green or purple. You can do anything you put your mind to, first of all. One thing I can say about blues music, I don't think you can put a sheet of paper with notes on it....ok it's possible to do it. But for me, it's not blues. Blues is a feeling music. A lot of the notes that we play don't exist on the charts.
Jacquie: (hahahahaha) ..and I've heard some of those! And they weren't on purpose, either.
Bernard: (hahaha) Like a lot of youngsters come up and say you're a great guitar player and I have to tell where I learned my guitar playing from...from listening to everybody. From T-Bone Walker to Lightnin' Hopkins to Luther Allison to Magic Sam, Freddie King, BB King, Albert King! Now, you move to the next generation...Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray Vaughan. Now, you got Jonny Lang, Susan Tedeschi, Kenny Wayne. I listen to all of that and still I listen to all the older things as well. As well as all other styles of music. I like some rap. I like some reggae. I allow myself to learn from other influences as well.
Jacquie: And pull it all in.....
Bernard: And pull it all in! And see how I can utilize it in my style of playing.
Jacquie: You're synthesizing it.
Jacquie: I'm gonna put you on the spot again. Of all the young turks out there, all the young guitar slingers, male and female...who do you like?
Bernard: (hahahah).....Hummm! I like Lucky Peterson. If you guys are familiar with Lucky Peterson.
Jacquie: Yes, they are...
Bernard: This guy is amazing! I've know Lucky...he's 2 years older than I. We tour a lot together over in Europe and people compare us a lot. Lucky started playing Hammond B3 at 3 years old. His father is James Peterson and his father brought him on the Dick Cavett Show at 3 years old and he comes out and rips this B3 up. And now he plays guitar. He's just as dangerous on that. He's very similar to myself because he uses his influences as well. He spent time with Bobby "Blue" Bland. He spent a lot of time
with Little Milton. And now he's out doing his thing ..the Lucky Peterson Show, now. Another good show to catch, where he does the same concept as me. We're big Prince fans, so we say we wanna go out and do a show like Prince does, but doing it our way, with our blues.
Jacquie: You guys aren't gonna change your names to symbols are you (hahahahaha)?
Bernard: (haha) No, I can go for "BA". A lot of people, all my friends call me "BA". My Mama calls me Bernard. I ain't gonna change it, believe me.
Jacquie: Got another question for you. What do you look for in musicians on stage with you?
Bernard: I want someone that loves to do what they do. I'm a very easy boss. I'm very easy to get along with and I have a good group that really respects how important every
night is to go out and give 110 percent. Make yourself also available to talk to your public. That's one thing that people have been saying about Bernard Allison, is that he
goes out and talks to the public. And the band. They joke around, we like to have a good time and we can only reach so many from the stage. There's a point in my show where I'll go out to them playing my guitar with a wireless unit and let some of them actually play the guitar. Then I have a chance to say "Ok, don't go anywhere after the show. We're all gonna go to another place and hang out. Where's a good place to hang out tonight, where we can have a beer or something after our show? And this way, we
open ourselves up to the public and it makes them feel even more relaxed rather than looking at us and saying "Wow, they're big stars!" Regardless of how successful I get,
I'm still gonna be down to earth. I think my public is the most important thing that keeps me going.
Jacquie: That's the same whether is the European or American audiences?
Bernard: Doesn't matter. We've been all over the world. This year, we've been to Japan, Australia, Norway, and about to go to some other countries that we've never been too before. Just for them to give me the invitation....that's great. You better believe I'm gonna go over there and give them 150 percent because I want to come back. And anyplace that I've been, I don't think anyone has said "No, we don't want Bernard Allison back".
Jacquie: I know that's right. Especially with those size venues that you draw. Because they wouldn't have those venues if you couldn't attract that kinda crowd.
Bernard: Right, a promoter wont take the risk and say no, I already know he's only gonna bring in 300 people. Why put him in a 1500 seat venue? And that's what we're
going through the states these last 2 years. When I first came I did a lot of the traditional blues clubs, 150 to 200 people. Now, we're moving up and those people say "Bernard, if you ever want to came back! We understand you gotta go, we want to see you go." But I say, never outrule that I won't come back to you. You gave me my chance. They're very supportive. Everywhere we go in the States now...and with the help of all the blues
societies...and people talk to me on the web site and leave messages on my web site. That's a great feeling. You get off your show and you go to the hotel and you look on your web site and you see the people, what they said about the night. And it's like "Wow...I did that!" (hahahaha) I think that's great!
Jacquie: So, what I'm also understanding is that you're an American artist…an African-American artist...who went to Europe and now you're coming back to the States and you're now finally getting the recognition...back in the States...after it was just prevalent for you over there in Europe.
Bernard: Exactly, it follows suit to my Daddy. The same what we were discussing earlier. He had to go to Europe because he became frustrated with playing the same places. The money got no better. No one really tried to say "Give Luther Allison that push". So, he went searching. He went over to Europe and was treated like a king. He said Ok...this is where I'm gonna be a star. He had it set in his mind what he went over there to do. He said "I'm a Chicago player but now, I'm fixin' to give it to this people
until they want me back." Those were his exact words, then. The same for me. I can't really say I'm coming back from not having a good start in the States because this is
actually the first time for me in the States. Although previously I was with Koko Taylor, I was a side man. But now, I'm a front man. Whole different ball game.
Jacquie: Now the stress is on you.
Bernard: Exactly, and I don't like to be stressed out, so I don't put myself in that position.
Jacquie: Sounds like you don't need to. Sounds like with all the support you get through the record label, the management company and so forth, you don't need to stress
Bernard: I got a beautiful organization, Blue Sky Management here that does Jonny Lang, Susan Tedeschi, myself. They did my father before he passed away. And Tone Cool Records. Another sweetheart group of guys. Monterey Talent. I'm like on Cloud 9 because I didn't really expect things to happen the way they happened so quickly for me.
But, I'm very happy at the pace it's going because I'm working for it and I can say I worked hard for my position. I can't say that everything was given to me for the fact that
I'm Luther Allison's son and I told everybody I said don't give me that break. Make me work for it. That's why I'm here. Let me prove myself.
Jacquie: Right on. Well, anybody who can pick up the guitar at 10 and start playing it and then have evolved through the different instruments that you have with proficiency, I have to say this is your own thing. This isn't something someone's given you. You did work at it cause proficiency doesn't come just because you're anybody's son. It comes cause you did the work.
Bernard: People said "Ok, I'll give you a gig because you're Luther Allison's son". But I said no, give me a gig to see who Bernard Allison is and it took a couple years just
to shake that. People would actually come up to me and say "Hey, you're the son of Luther Allison". And I say no, I'm Bernard. True, that's my Daddy, but I'm Bernard
Allison. And now, people can recognize the difference.
Jacquie: Let's go back to your home life a little bit, cause you're the youngest of 9 kids? That had to be a hard house to live in?
Bernard: I was a spoiled little brat...hahahahaha. I was my Mama's baby chile, for real. That's how I kinda wrote the song. But my sisters and brothers, we all grew up in the
church. So, they're all capable of singing. And one of my older sisters, Juliet, in fact, used to tour with my father in the '70's and sing backup vocals with him. But, I'm the only one that pursued it professionally.
Jacquie: Out of 9 kids...you're the only one? That's interesting!
Bernard: Everyone has beautiful voices but no instruments. I'm the only one.
Jacquie: Not even gospel? Growing up in the church, no one went gospel?
Bernard: Not professionally. A lot of them are still in the church, singing with the choir, but not professionally. I recorded "Funk If I Know", a European album. During the
process of recording this album, my grandmother on my mother's side passed away, and I said Ok...I can't go to the funeral cause I'm stuck in the studio. So, I wrote a song called "Family Affair" and we recorded it and everything and I got the tapes and brought 'em back to Chicago. And I got all of my sisters and brothers and nieces and nephews and my daughter and they sang this song. I told them I could do it myself, but I think it should come from all of us in support of my mother. She was there when we were singing the song and we were crying, there was tears flowing, but we got it done. Now they can say, yes we're professionals. We're on my uncle's or my brother's CD.
Jacquie: That was a nice thing that you did. Now tell me something about the song we have cued up from the "Times Are Changing" CD..."I Can't get You Out of My Mind!"
Bernard: I co-wrote this song with my trumpet player...his name is Dan "Boney" Fields and he's been around for a while. He's played with James Cotton for many years and a
lot of the older blues guys and he moved to Paris. Actually, I moved him to Paris, because he's a tremendous player and showman and he's like a big brother to me.
So, we decided to write something together. He said, well, first we need to think of why we want to write. What's the title and how we want the lyrics to flow. Well, let's
tell the woman that regardless of what she does to me or what happens to us, she'll always be there in my mind. Whatever. If I'm eating or sleeping or if we're millions of
miles away, she'll know that I'm thinking about her.
(Music from the Times are Changing CD on Ruf Records, "I Can't Get You Out Of My Mind")
Jacquie: I just got a phone call from someone who wanted to know if I was talking to Luther Allison in the studio!
Bernard: Well, I do have an older brother named Luther Jr., but he's not musically inclined.
Jacquie: I just can't imagine that out of 9 kids in the family, you're the only one. Maybe it's cause you're the youngest one and it all just trickled down.
Bernard: I always wanted to be like Dad, you know. He used to take us to the festivals when we were kids and I was like Wow! Maybe one day I could be up there doing
something that I love, giving it to the people, putting a smile on everybody's face.
Jacquie: And sweating like crazy! You have all these huge venues that you play, what's the first thing you think when you get on that stage and you look out and see that audience out there and its just thousands of people. What do you think?
Bernard: I can't wait till the point of the show where I can actually go down there. I'm just getting through the song and like my Daddy's back here, I can see 'em and he's like,
yea, just nail 'em real hard, real good and when you get out there, everything's gonna be alright.
Jacquie: Yea, so you're a people person, huh?
Bernard: Definitely! My Daddy used to say, the first hour of his show was for him. All the rest was for the people. Where I'm very similar to that. That's how I like to run my
songs. In probably about an hour. I could easily say that that first hour is for me and the after that, it's all for the people.
Jacquie: I hear you, but it'll be a lot more difficult doing that with a drum set, though Guitar gives you a lot more mobility.(giggles)
Bernard: (Laughing) Yea, soon they'll probably have portable drums where you can kinda strap around your neck and technology is moving so fast, you never know.
Jacquie: Give us some dates in Minnesota that you'll be playing. I think I saw something for the 17th of September in Rochester?
Bernard: Yea, I think we're at the Mayo Civic Center and then we're gonna be at the Minnesota Music Cafe. It's gonna be the last date of the tour, which will be November
11th. And I'm really looking forward to playing in Minneapolis again and we'll be actually touring for "Across the Water". Anybody out there listening that's never seen
Bernard Allison or that has seen Bernard Allison, please come out there and support the blues and have a good time. Be prepared to come have a good time with us and that's what we're all about. We don't want you guys to come in there like you're at a movie cinema because we're not that type of band. We don't give that type of vibe. You'll
notice my band, they joke around. Everyone's always smiling from beginning to end. So, we're kinda unpredictable. A lot of people like to use that word about Bernard Allison,
which is true because half the time I don't know what I'm going to do next.
Jacquie: That's what creativity is all about. What's your stage set up like. Obviously you on guitar, vocals...
Bernard: Yea, myself guitar, vocals,. I have James Knowles on drums. James is a former member of Art Kelly's band; Willie "Vamp" Samuels, the bass player. He was before
with Otis Rush and Jr. Wells. And Mike Vlahakis on Hammond B3 and piano, who was a former member of my Daddy's band.
Jacquie: Well, you're sure keeping it alive. But then, when you go to the larger set up in Europe, what instruments are you adding? Horns?
Bernard: 3 horns...trumpet, tenor and trombone.
Jacquie: So, you just scaled down a little bit to come into the States. Well, you know we like horn bands here too, you know?
Bernard: Yea, I love' em too. I actually brought 'em to my second tour of the States. People loved 'em, so when I didn't bring 'em out, people were like, where's the
horns...where's the horns? Where I felt I wanted to go out and just have the rhythm section do the job. A lot of people would say with the horns, it's good. We like it but you
don't play as much. Which is true. I like to fall back and turn the solos over. I'm enjoying the quartet right now. There'll be a time, if it's needed, where if I want the horns, I can
have 'em back. But right now, we're happy with our system we got going.
Jacquie: Five years from now, what do you see yourself doing?
Bernard: Hopefully, I'd like to record one day with a choir backing, using strings.
Jacquie: That's that church background coming back out.
Bernard: And I'll have this super big band! Maybe just for an album and one tour. I know financially I could never afford to do it. But, an album…I could pull it off. And to
continue touring. I'm not gonna change my schedule. (hahahaha)
Jacquie: (hahahaha) No, I suppose, not in five years. You'll be just be getting paid what you want to get paid. In conclusion, Bernard, I want to thank you for coming in. You
just happen to be taking a few days off to get some much needed rest, I think. When do you ever fit rest in?
Bernard: I get plenty of rest. There's points of the day, even when we're on tour, that I have to, you know. I'm singing every night. I have to take care of myself and things like that. I play a lot of basketball, so I'm in good shape and I rest when I can. But most of the time, if there's some music around me, I want to be there, because I wanna hear what that next person has to offer. Because when I give advice to any upcoming musician, it's "You listen to all styles of music, regardless if you want to be a blues guitar player. Listen to everything that you can. You never get too old to stop learning.
Jacquie: Taj Mahal's philosophy is, not only do you listen to every instrument but listen to all kinds of music, even international music. That's what he does and he pulls is all
Bernard: We were just with Taj in Norway and we do quite a few shows with Taj and we always sit down and talk to the kids and just let 'em know how we got to the position
we are. We allowed our ears to hear every style of music. As well as go to different countries and if you don't know the language, then at least try to speak to those people. Like for me, I was illiterate to French, but I stayed there 10 years and I can speak a little bit and can understand everything they say now. That's really important to me now cause I can talk to my French public in French. If I feel like singing a couple lines in French, I
can do that too(laughter).
Jacquie: For the guitar heads out there...everyone's dying to know. What are you playing?
Bernard: I'm endorsed by Gibson. I have a custom Gibson 336 & 346. If you're familiar with BB King's guitar "Lucille", that's like a 335. It's pretty much the same just a little bit smaller body. And they inlaid my name, Bernard Allison, on the neck.
Jacquie: Nice, nice...what kinda amplifier?
Bernard: I use Mesa Boogie speakers and power amp. I endorse a German-made pre-amp made in West Germany called a Stevens Radio Activator, which is very similar to the Howard Dumbel. Really powerful if you need it. You don't have to play so loud because it's really clean. Clean distortion, clean, clean. Jim Gaines, our producer, loves my rig when we go into the studio to record. He's been trying to buy it from me, actually. And I have a prototype of the Number 2 that was made and also I have the Number 1, which my Daddy played on like 5 years before coming to the States. I still own both of those.
Jacquie: Got another weird question for you as we close the interview. There's a lot of musicians out there listening...guitar players, horn players, harmonica players and so forth. A lot of the local guys, although I like to say homegrown and not local guys. They're excellent musicians. All they need is greater exposure. They're just sitting
there with all this talent and all this energy and all this skill and yet they can't go on to the next level. What is it? What should they do? Aside from running out and getting a fancy manager and agent and all that stuff...these are blues guys, they can't afford to do that. How do they reach out, how do they let somebody know they're there?
Bernard: What I'd do is every chance I go to the clubs. I go and support the music I want to listen to and I try to talk to them. I don't go up and say "Hey man, I play this...can I play with you!" If you be seen and go to the jam sessions, that's the best thing. You go hit all those jams sessions and don't become frustrated. It takes a while.
Jacquie: A lot of these guys are the jam session. That's who I'm taking about. The guys who run these sessions and have been doing it for years. There's several that are on
many CD's. We get them out there to other parts of the country, but still they just can't ...get that thing....you know!
Bernard: Just got to keep knocking on the door. That's what my Daddy always told me. He said, they can't refuse you forever. They can only refuse you for so long. If you
work at it, now. And if you go about it right. And also just keep banging it out and let people know what you're about. Say "Hey, Man, this is what I do. Here's some of my work, listen to this". That's what I did. I sent cassettes to everybody...of just me...not even a professional quality tape. Just a 4-track recorder with bass, drums and guitar. And I'm sending this before I had an agent and before I had a manager. I started booking myself. I'm the agent, the booking agent. I'm not making the money to pay them, so I have to say, if I want it I got to go get it. Don't wait for the next person to do it for me.
Jacquie: Just gotta push that envelope. And another thing I'd like to add, with your confirmation is...don't' let 'em box you in.
Bernard: Don't let 'em label you or box you into one thing. And don't let someone encourage you that you can't do it, because if you did it this far...you can go much
Jacquie: There's a lot of guys out there with more than one skill, too. There's one guy who's just an awesome guitar player. Then, he turns around and can play drums like a
dream. Jeremy Johnson. He can do both these things. So, should he concentrate more on his guitar work or his drum work?
Bernard: Both! And learn something else if he could!
Jacquie Ok...that's keeping him from getting boxed in?
Bernard: : That's gonna keep him cause they're gonna say, Jeremy, you're a guitar player. And then people that don't know he plays drums are gonna say he needs to be playing guitar. But, make it a little bit equal. Maybe, he may be stronger on one than the other, but if you got it, you got it. Put the same amount of time into one as you do
the other. And like I said, don't let anyone say you're better at this or you're better at that. Tell 'em "I'm ok and I'm learning on both of them and maybe the next time you see me,
I'm gonna do something even different."
Jacquie: Pull out a harmonica or something on 'em. Thank you, Bernard for coming into the studio.
Bernard: Thank you once again for inviting me and coming to get me and things like that. If we can come in and do it again, I'd love to . Maybe next time, I can bring the
guitar in and actually play something for you guys.
Jacquie: Oh, I'd love for you to do that. I kinda had hoped you would, but your equipment didn't catch up with you.
Bernard: No, we flew out from Los Angeles yesterday and our vehicle drove out yesterday. So, he'll get here probably Friday, when I fly back out (hahahaha).
Jacquie: And I didn't get a call out to anyone to bring a guitar into the studio, cause someone would have brought one in, I'm sure, so, you could have played.
Bernard: I promise you, the next time I'm in town, I'll bring it in and sit and sing some down home blues for you.
Jacquie: Anything you like...could be country! I like Junior Brown too.
Bernard: You never know!
Jacquie: The tune we have cued up to close the interview is called "Love is Free".
Bernard: Yes, it's a song that my Dad recorded on one of his European albums and I just fell in love with the song. My mom said every album I record, I use at least one or two
of my Dad's songs. And with this album, it was hard because my Dad had a lot of similar tunes. But we wanted to get something with words that really sounded like Luther Allison. It wasn't like he had to go in the studio and had to do this song. He really spent time with the song. I think it's a gorgeous song and everybody can relate to it.
Jacquie: I want to thank you for spending some time with us.
Bernard: No problem. Anytime!
(Closing the interview with music from the Across the Water CD on Tone Cool Records: "Love is Free")
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This interview is copyright © 2000 by Jacquie Maddix, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.