Look in the dictionary under laid-back and you will probably see a picture of singer/piano player Mose Allison. If he was any mellower, we'd be checking his pulse.
Allison, 62, is a jazz/blues hepcat who has been touring long enough to remember when the Cubs were good. He's like Maynard G. Krebs with a good job, a voice like smoke and about 30 albums.
The legendary Allison will be doing a Sunday afternoon show at Wheeler Hot Springs (646-8131), 16825 Maricopa Highway (or California 33) a few miles north of Ojai. The show starts at 3:30 and is by reservation only, capacity 120. It's $20 for the show only, $45 for the show and dinner and $55 for a hot tub, the show and dinner. It's not called "hot springs" for nothing--the spa has been there since 1891.
Allison hasn't been around that long, but he's seen nearly every musician there is come and go, mostly go. Born in 1927 in the Mississippi Delta, Allison began piano lessons at age 5. In a few years, he learned to play by ear and began to copy blues and boogie-woogie tunes he heard on jukeboxes. By high school, Allison was getting into the recordings of Nat King Cole, Fats Waller and Duke Ellington.
In high school, then as now, there are three ways for guys to be cool with the gals--be a jock, be weird (so far out, you're in) or be a musician. Allison chose Option No. 3. He played trumpet in his high school marching band and made up songs that he played and sang at parties.
After a stint in the Army (he was in the band), Allison got his first regular gig--a six-nighter at Lake Charles, La., in 1950. He's been on the road ever since. For many years, he averaged more than 200 gigs per year, but now Allison's cruising, and only doing about 160 gigs. Allison basically plays little halls, little dives, little hole-in-the-wall places he likes. He has played the same venues for years. When Allison plays Wheeler Hot Springs, it will be on an off day from The Vine Street Bar & Grill in Hollywood--a gig he has had for 12 years. This show will be Allison's first local appearance since he did the 1984 Ojai Bowl Full of Blues. He also headlined a Santa Barbara Blues Society show in 1982 or so.
Since 1956, Allison has lived on Long Island, N.Y., but he has lost neither his accent nor his ability to meld a variety of styles. Allison has been described as a jazz musician, a bluesman or whatever lies in between. This lack of category goes with the turf for an original.
"I guess I'm the man without a category," Allison said in a recent phone interview. "People are always trying to categorize me as blues or jazz or folk. Some say I'm a jazz pianist that sings the blues."
Allison, nonetheless, has been releasing albums regularly. The new one, "My Backyard" on Blue Note/Capitol, came out this year. And if musicians are confused over how to classify Allison, it hasn't scared them away from his music. A few years ago, Pete Townsend recorded Allison's "Young Man Blues" with considerably more electricity. Georgie Fame, John Mayall, Bonnie Raitt and the Yardbirds have also covered Allison tunes. Don't hold your breath, however, waiting for Allison to do an MTV video. "Those videos sell mostly sex appeal," Allison said. "I never was that pretty to begin with, and I sure ain't now."