Hey, blues fans! Frank Butler here…I thought I would start this blog section by telling you about my best blues story. At least one of my best blues stories. I have lived a life hooked on the blues and played lots of crazy gigs that were the best day of my life, at least on that particular day.
When I was 14 years old, I was cutting grass for this old guy that owned a bunch of rented houses in Flour Bluff, Texas, where my family had just settled after year in the Rio Grande Valley after years abroad. I travelled with my father’s occupation so much that I didn’t think I would be there long. As it turns out I graduated from High School there and went to college in Corpus Christi, 20 minutes away.
I was making $1.50 an hour cutting grass and had big plans for that money that summer. My boss set an A.M. Radio on the porch of one of these homes that I was cutting the grass at, and I wondered why, as he left and I could not hear the radio since the gas powered mower was loud. Well, when I ran out of gas, I could hear the radio as I was refilling the tank. I heard someone on guitar that was making it talk. Making it cry. It struck me as really cool, and I thought “man…if I could only do that!”. The DJ said after the song was over that it was Luther Allison. I remembered the name. I later became a blues guitar player and that is another story about how that came about that we will get to later.
Fast forward about 35 years or so…I am at the Doheny Blues Festival in Dana Point, California and I am over by where they sell catfish dinners, which is pretty much standard at any big blues festival that I have ever been to. So… this older man standing by the deep fryer, asks me who I was there to see. I told him I was there to see Luther Allison. He looked puzzled and acted like he never heard of him. Then he asked me if Luther was any good. In the fast-paced hustle of selling food to a never ending line of customers, I thought this guy must be so busy with his business, he probably doesn’t even hear the music at the festival, and probably isn’t even a blues fan if he never heard of Luther Allison-at least in my world. Well, I went off on a rant about how he is one of the best blues guitarists to ever come out of Chicago, how he had won the W.C. Handy award that year, how he was the first blues artist to be signed by Motown Records and on and on until I got my catfish and hushpuppies and wandered off into a sea of a few thousand people there that day.
Later during the festival, Luther Allison was coming up and I wanted front and center at the stage, and I skipped the band on another stage to make sure I had the best spot in front of the mic stand that was center stage where I assumed he would be standing. The festival was rotating 3 stages to keep the downtime to a minimum. The Luther Allison Band came out and started killing it. Only thing is, the guy playing guitar was white, with long hair. Confused, I wondered if it was a Luther Allison tribute band. I looked at the hand bill in my back pocket.
That’s not what it said…it said LUTHER ALLISON. Now this band was great, but it wasn’t Luther Allison. It’s hard to be disappointed when you are standing in front of an awesome band, tearing it up, but I admit I was a little bummed out and elated with what I was hearing at the same time. So after about three quarters of the way into the intro song, Luther comes out and stands right in front of me and smiles ear to ear. It was the guy I was ranting to about Luther Allison over by the catfish stand. Somehow it just didn’t click I was telling Luther, in great detail, about how awesome he was on the other side of the festival grounds. Lol!
Fast forward again, but just shortly after that festival, I saw he was playing at the House of Blues on Sunset Strip in Hollywood. He had lIved in France since 1977 and rarely played in the U.S., so I decided to go see him again. When I walked in, he was raging on the guitar. The traffic was horrible and I was very late. He saw me walking by to find a seat and gave me a nod and I was thinking of how embarrassing it would be if he remembered my history lesson to him about himself at that blues festival. During a break, Luther was in the audience greeting people and he came over and shook my hand and told me it was great to see me again and then he was quickly surrounded by other fans and away he went. The show was great, and sadly, I never saw him again. Shortly after that show, I want to say within a matter of months, he passed away. His son, Bernard Allison, now carries the torch for his father as a phenomenal blues artist in his own right. Looking back, if I had to pick how I met Luther Allison, I would not change a single thing.