Mose Allison Back Country Suite (1957) Esquire

Track Selection: In Salah (trans. “prayer”)


Mose Allison (p, vo) Taylor LaFargue (b) Frank Isola (d) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, March 7, 1957


At 83 Mose Allison is still rocking the piano. Back in the late fifties, when he recorded “Back Country Suite” for Prestige, the Mississippi-born pianist and singer was a singular talent. He was an economical jazz pianist whose songs drifted into a highly idiosyncratic brand of blues. His style defies classification – “the missing link between jazz and blues,” Ray Davies of The Kinks (and Olympic’s closing ceremony) describes it. Though his piano style is rooted in Delta stride and boogie-woogie, Allison fused that into bebop jazz, then added folk music’s trenchant lyrics to further confuse the issue.

You may know more Mose Allison than you think. He became a favorite of Sixties British blues-rockers, The Yardbirds “I’m Not Talking,” and John Mayall “Parchman Farm”. The Who covered his “Young Man Blues,” and Van Morrison released an entire tribute album.

The track that caught my eye on Back Country Suite was the instrumental “In Shalah”. George Wallington Quintet (featuring  Phil Woods and Donald Byrd)  1957 recording New York Scene featured a cracking track “In Salah” attributed to one Mose Allison. As it turns out, Wallington recorded it at the Van Gelder studios one week before Allison recorded the piano version for Back Country Suite at the same studios. 
Wallington’s  version of “In Salah” is  misquoted in his discography as “In Sarah”. I doubt Sarah was much pleased with that dedication. In Salah means prayer in arabic, as any modern diversity-trained fule noes.It’s a tremendous fast paced swinger, not especially a celestial tweet.
Try the Wallington  interpretation:

Vinyl: Esquire32-051 UK  release of US Prestige PRLP 7091

UK cover by cartoonist/illustrator  Ralph Steadman, he of the ricketty clicketty “SoulTrane”

Once again the US cover walks it over the “piano on castors” Esquire. Perhaps Steadman was thinking the piano would need to be pushed to the back country.

The Matrix:

RVG and US stamper catalogue number

Collectors Corner

Source: London record store

Inexpensive find in the  new arrivals shelf of London vinyl store, along side a half dozen other Mose Allison records, as is usual when a collector sells records of their favourites. Mingus’s are also often found in packs. If you like one you are more than likely to have many. I didn’t have any Mose Allison records, this seemed one to open the door.

Not sure I am ready for the singing quite yet, but it is interesting to hear a source of those Sixties Brit- blues band songs from my youth. Straight back to Viv Stanshall’s Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band’s immortal question Can a blue man sing the whites?” Yes he can.

3 thoughts on “Mose Allison Back Country Suite (1957) Esquire

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I have just bought the Young Man Mose LP on Prestige and it’s simply wonderful, I definitely should get more of his albums.

  2. Must be a very early Steadman illustration, before he found his own distinctive style. Even his signature is different. It has curiosity value at least.

    • A quick look at Steadman’s bio suggests he was very young when the Esquire covers were drawn – barely twenty. I suspect he was still looking for his own “voice”, some years before establishing his trademark – those pen and ink satirical caricatures of Gonzo politics in the Seventies. Still going strong today.

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