Bernard Allison: Born to a bluesman

This Friday and Saturday, Allison will perform in the Galilee at Hemdat Yamin Club and in Tel Aviv at the Zappa Club.

Bernard Allison 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Bernard Allison 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Bernard Allison got a really early start to his musical path in life.
Of course, it can help to have a genuine titan of your chosen line of work around from the word go and, as the son of blues icon Luther Allison, Bernard dived headlong into the craft at the tender age of 10.
This Friday and Saturday, Allison will show local audiences just how far he has taken his art in the intervening 38 years at a concert at the Hemdat Yamim Club in the Galilee (Friday – doors open 8:30 p.m., show starts 10 p.m.), and a show at the Zappa Club in Tel Aviv on Saturday (doors open 7:45 p.m., show starts at 9 p.m.).
Allison will be backed by the local Blues Rebels band of singer and harmonica player Dov Hammer, guitarist Andy Watts, bass player-vocalist Ilan Hillel and drummer Alon Hillel.
“It all started with my dad,” says Allison.
“I basically studied him and learned where he was coming from with the music, before I started listening to other artists. I wanted to learn my guitar based on that. My father was definitely my biggest influence.”
And the youngster could have done far worse. Over a 40-year career Luther Allison, who died in 1997 at the age of 57, mixed it with such greats of the blues community as Howlin’ Wolf and James Cotton, and put out over 25 albums.
Mind you, it was a while before Allison Sr. discovered his son have been perfecting his guitar licks. “I played guitar for three years before he knew about it,” Allison recalls, adding that despite being a proverbial chip off the old block, when it comes to music, he has always been his own man.
“I taught myself, so it was more or less me perfecting his recordings before presenting him with even the idea that I was interested in playing. I could play everything my dad had ever recorded note for note.”
That go-it-alone ethos has stood Allison in good stead ever since. “My playing all comes from me being a selftaught musician. I can pick out and play pretty much everything I hear. It’s a blessing that I have that talent.”
Allison’s initial three-year gestation period launched him straight into active duty. “My dad was pretty amazed when he heard me play at the age of 13.
The day he found out I could play he was actually doing a recording, so the first time I played with him was on a recording.”
The youngster soon hit the road with his dad and all the other older cats, and hanging around with them when they came over to jam with his dad.
However, that didn’t exactly mean that the youngster and the regular members of the band necessarily became buddies.
“I was raised to respect my elders and taught that when older people were talking, to keep quiet,” notes Allison. That discipline, he says, came in handy for his musical evolution.
“We were taught to sit back and listen when our elders were talking, and I think that carried over for me as a musician. I would listen to someone else playing something, rather than just jumping and saying ‘I know how to do this.’” There were other benefits of being seen and not heard. “I listened to all the stories those guys would tell even before I considered playing music,” says Allison. “That really put a bug in my ear – those stories my dad told of hanging with people like [blues legends] Muddy Waters and Albert King, and all those names, and I thought ‘that sounds cool.’” Listening to the other musicians in the band while you’re on stage, is, of course, a prerequisite for being a professional musician, too, and those childhood eavesdropping sessions proved to be an invaluable training aid.
“Listening to the other players is how the music evolves,” states Allison. “If you know your instrument you can pretty much get up and play with anyone, but you also have to be aware of what the others are doing. If I’m playing with [blues icon] BB King, I’m not going to try to play like BB King. Playing music is not a competition, and you have to respect the music. I think jazz, blues and gospel music are maybe one of the few genres that the musicians understand that we don’t own any of this.
“The music has been around for years.
You can only put your take on it and, hopefully, your take will inform someone else, and that the genre will continue to the next generation.”
Allison has certainly been doing his bit to keep the blues flame burning brightly.
After accumulating stage and recording time, and blues street cred, with his dad, including an appearance at the 1983 Chicago Blues Festival, shortly after he graduated from high school the teenaged Allison received a call from veteran blues vocalist Koko Taylor and, youth notwithstanding, became her lead guitarist, and learned more about the do’s and dont’s of life on the road.
In 1990, when he was 25, Allison released his first solo album – the name of which, The Next Generation, is self-explanatory – and there have been around a dozen more releases since then. That first release was recorded in Paris, where Luther was based at the time, and Allison also spent several years based in Europe.
The continent continues to be a happy hunting ground for him. “I play a lot in Europe, and often feel like some of the gigs are like a sort of family reunion,” he says. “I see a lot of my dad’s old friends there and there is always a great atmosphere.”
Although he has now been in the business for over three decades, Allison says he doesn’t necessarily attribute his accrued prowess to the early start he got. “It’s not an age thing, or a color thing,” he states. “If you’ve got it, you’ve got it. It’s that simple.”
Bernard Allison has clearly “got it.”
For tickets and more information: (03) 762-6666, *9080 and, (03) 522-1212 and