One of the Mississippi Delta’s great musicians died a few days ago, the incredible pianist, Mose Allison.
Mose grew up in the small Delta community of Tippo. Mose created a different style of music that combined blues and jazz mixed with a playful vocal melody on top. All of this was then fueled with boogie-woogie piano playing. Mose’s music touched many. Iconic musicians that ranged from Pete Townsend of The Who to Jimi Hendrix, covered his songs. Other bands such as The Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, The Clash, Bonnie Raitt, Leon Russell, Van Morrison and The Yardbirds were greatly influenced by his songwriting.
In my town of Cleveland, Mose had a connection as the late Charlie Jacobs from here, who was one of the founders and members of the popular 1980s band, The Tangents, was once Mose’s son-in-law.
Mose grew up on his grandfather’s cotton farm in Tippo, and he was introduced to the piano in grammar school. He briefly attended Ole Miss before serving in the military, then on to LSU. After graduation, he moved to New York where he bumped into several musical greats of the ’50s and ’60s, such as Stan Getz. Through those connections, Mose met other prominent New York musicians and record company heads which ultimately led him to receiving his own recording contract. By the late 1950s, Mose had released his first record and while his songs were not landing at the top of the charts, he was becoming a hit with the New York press. As Mose made records, his popularity increased and he began to build an audience around the world. In my view, his best song was “Parchman Farm.”
I visited with Mose many times during my years at Ole Miss and shortly after. However, twenty-five years passed before I had the opportunity to speak with him again.
Ed Meek from Oxford called one day a few years ago and said he was organizing a Mose Allison tribute day or something to that effect in Tippo and in Charleston. Ed asked if I could help with the publicity surrounding the event, and I was delighted to pitch in. On that special day in Tippo, thirty of us gathered inside of a small cinderblock store in Tippo to salute Mose. Everyone was seated in metal chairs waiting for the speaker to say a few nice things about Mose. I stood with several others next to a wall about twenty feet from Mose and his family, who were seated in the front row. Moments before the event started, Mose saw me. He stood and walked straight to me.
“I sure like your magazine,” he said as she shook my hand. He was referring to Delta Magazine. I told him I appreciated that, then I was in the middle of my next sentence when he gave a slight smile, turned and walked back to his seat. I really didn’t know if he remembered me from the past or just recognized me from my photo in the magazine. Either way, I was very honored Mose had singled me out of the crowd and made a point of speaking.
Mose touched many across the planet with the 30 albums he recorded during his life, and his music will never be forgotten.
The Delta has lost so many iconic figures over the past few years. Mose is certainly one of these.
Scott Coopwood is a seventh-generation Deltan who lives in Cleveland, Mississippi with his wife Cindy and their three children. Scott is the publisher and owner of Delta Magazine, one of the South’s leading lifestyle publications, the Delta Business Journal, the first business publication in the Mississippi Delta; and Cleveland’s weekly newspaper, The Cleveland Current.