Lucerna Music Bar
April 5 at 8
|Everyone's part of the family when Allison plays.|
The last time Bernard Allison performed in Prague, he disappeared in the middle of his set. But he never stopped playing. He left the stage and wandered through the pumped-up crowd at Lucerna Music Bar, upstairs and down, mingling with his fans while never missing a note as his band continued pounding out the blues onstage.
“It relaxes people a bit and lets them know they’re not watching a movie,” Allison says via e-mail. “Let’s treat each other as if we’re all family, and have a good time together.”
The sentiment and showmanship come naturally to Allison, as does his proficiency on blues guitar. He is the son of Luther Allison, a fiery American blues guitarist who started on the club circuit in the 1950s and was still blowing away concert audiences in 1997, when he fell victim to lung cancer. Reviewing Reckless, the last album the senior Allison recorded, Guitar World characterized it as “Reckless in the best sense of the word, dancing on a razor’s edge, remaining just this side of out-of-control. Hard-driving, piercing West Side Chicago single-note leads with a soul base and a rock edge.”
Bernard, 45, brings a lot of the same energy to his music, though with less of the Chicago style and more of a mix of the sounds he absorbed playing with his father and touring the world with Koko Taylor. He also picked up some interesting influences in Paris, where he lived for 12 years after his father relocated there in 1977.
“I learned a lot of African styles of music, and their instruments, while I was in Paris,” Allison says. “I’ve added African rhythms to some of my music – very funky!”
Like his father, Bernard is a versatile player, comfortable across a variety of styles – standard 12-bar blues, slow blues, shuffle and blues-rock. There are clear strains of gospel and R&B in his sound, and when you ask him who has influenced him most, the spectrum gets even wider.
“My main influences are Albert King, George Clinton, the Isley Brothers and Sly Stone,” he says. “I grew up with all styles of music at home, so believe me, that list goes on and on.”
And his favorite blues guitar player?
“My favorite guitar player of all time is Albert King,” he says. “That’s pretty much where all your guitar greats got a huge influence.”
Now based in Minneapolis, Allison has maintained an international profile, touring and recording in both the U.S. and Europe. His last two releases – Energized, a DVD concert recording, and Chills & Thrills, 13 cuts of high-powered blues – were recorded in Germany. If that seems unusual for a practitioner of a uniquely American art form, it’s partly because Allison has discovered something in Europe that’s increasingly difficult to find in the States.
“I just think the Europeans are more accepting of all styles of music, whereas the USA is more commercial, and focused on the younger generation,” he says. “On television and radio, as well as the actual concerts, they’re promoting Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, etc. – that’s all the kids see. It’s very, very rare to see any blues-related music on television.”
It’s equally rare to hear great blues in Prague, so Allison’s visit is a welcome event. He’ll be bringing the latest version of his touring band: Jose James on sax, percussion and vocals, Erick Ballard on drums, Michael Goldsmith on guitar, Toby Marshall on keyboards and vocals and George Moye on bass. As for what they’ll be playing, even Allison isn’t sure yet.
“It’s never a written set, I just go with the flow,” he says. “We’ll do tunes from our last two releases, as well as some new things. I often ʻfeel the people’ and decide what comes next.”
And can fans look forward to another close encounter?
“We’ll have to see if the walk will take place once the show is going,” he says, adding an almost-audible “lol.”