Blues guitarist Luther Allison, who saw his domestic career skyrocket in the last three years after spending a decade and a half in Paris, died Tuesday at the U. of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison. He was 57.
Although no cause of death was listed, Allison had been under treatment for lung cancer and brain tumors in the last month. He was scheduled to perform at the Long Beach Blues Festival over the Labor Day weekend.
A hearty performer known for lengthy and emotionally charged performances, Allison was named entertainer of the year at the W.C. Handy Blues Awards in May for the second year in a row. He also won for best male contemporary blues artist, and Luther Allison & the James Solberg Band snagged blues band of the year.
In 1995, the year Alligator Records issued his “Blue Streak” disc, Allison received five Handy Awards and 10 Living Blues Awards.
Born in Windener, Ark., in 1939, Allison developed his aggressive and biting style on the West Side of Chicago in the late 1950s, performing with and learning from legendary bluesmen such as Magic Sam. He recorded throughout the ’60s, reaching an apex with a 1969 performance at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, a fest that also exposed Magic Sam to a national rock audience.
He recorded three poorly received albums for Motown between 1972 and 1975, prompting him to emphasize European tours. He moved to Paris in 1979 and visits to the U.S. were generally for vacations at his home in Madison, Wis.
In 1993, Alligator Records issued his disc “Soul Fixin’ Man” (recorded in Europe) and began a publicity campaign to herald his return. Following one rave review after another for his gritty two- to three-hour performances, Allison made “Blue Streak,” his first domestic recording in more than 20 years. Most recently, he released “Reckless,” which showcased his talents as a slide guitarist and acoustic musician.
He played with almost every major blues figure over the last three decades, and knew many of the leading rock figures of the 1960s and ’70s, including the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix.
His recent North American tour included appearances as the Montreal Jazz Festival, the Beale Street Music Festival and the Monterey Bay Blues Festival.