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Oxford

Mose Allison Turns 85

Mose Allison
Mose Allison. Photo by Michael Wilson

Oxford’s Dick Waterman reflects on the Mississippi-bred jazz great.

By Dick Waterman
Editor’s Note: Jazz great Mose Allison grew up in Tippo, Mississippi, and enjoyed his 85th birthday on November 11, 2012. He is now semi-retired and living on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. His son John R. Allison is a writer, photographer and producer at HottyToddy.com.
I have known Mose Allison for a long time. Even before I came into the music business as an agent and manager, I was just a fan who went to hear him at the Jazz Workshop, Sandy’s Jazz Club and other music venues in the Boston area.
 The first mistake that people make around Mose is thinking that he is rude or aloof, when he is really simply concentrating on something else and doesn’t want to be distracted.
I’m sure that Mose has taken advice on frequent issues during his career, but he always carries himself as if he is guided by his own firm compass—a multipurpose tool that operates financially, morally and ethically and has proven to be infallible over the decades.

Dick Waterman and Bonnie Rait
Dick Waterman with Bonnie Raitt

While promoters and club owners wail that professionalism has all but disappeared over the years, Mose remains inflexible to a creed that he is hired to perform professional services and this is his sole obligation until it has been completed. I once hired Mose for a really important engagement at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts outside of Washington, D.C.. It was going to be filmed, bringing him additional revenue as well as the prestigious career credit of “In Performance at Wolf Trap.”
The sound check was called for 5 p.m. SHARP. His rhythm section was in place, while we nervously stared at the clock. It became 4:40 p.m., slowly moved ahead to 4:45, and then reached 4:50. No turning back now—either he was going to make it, or we had to cancel.
At 4:55, the back door opened, and Mose walked in. He didn’t greet anyone or shake hands as he strode purposefully to the piano. He put his jacket on the bench next to where he was sitting, nodding to his drummer and bassist. He brought his hands over the keys, spoke one word—“showtime”—and began to play.
I looked at my watch. It said 5 p.m. sharp.
We were living in Mose Allison’s world, and he was making it all happen on Mose Allison time.
Dick Waterman founded Avalon Productions, the first booking agency ever formed to represent blues artists, including Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, White, Skip James, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Arthur Crudup, Junior Wells and many others. In the late 1960s he met Bonnie Raitt and persuaded her to begin what has become a long, successful career. In the 1980s he moved to Oxford, Mississippi, and launched a second career publishing photographs of musicians he’d been taking since the early 1960s. In 2000, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame as one of the first non-performers to be so honored.

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