Interview: Bernard Allison

The funky American blues guitarist looks ahead to Tuesday night's Lucerna Music Bar show

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.

The sentiment and showmanship come naturally to Allison, 45, as does his proficiency on blues guitar. He is the son of Luther Allison, a fiery American blues guitarist who was still blowing away concert audiences in 1997, when he fell victim to lung cancer. Bernard has carried on his father's sound and expanded it, mixing in soul, rock, funk, gospel and other influences he picked up while living abroad.

Just before setting out on his latest European tour, which opens in Prague on Tuesday, April 5, Allison answered questions via email:

We haven't seen you in Prague in a while. Can you tell us what you've been up to lately?

Just touring and making new music, basically.

You do a lot of your recording in Europe.

My first four CDs were recorded in Europe, and my last two CD and DVD releases, Energized and Live at Jazzhaus, were recorded in Germany. But I have a choice of where I want to record, and I've found a home here in Minneapolis at Winterland Studios.

You lived in Europe for a while. How did that influence your music?

I lived in Paris for 12 years, and I learned a lot of African styles of music and instruments there. I think the African rhythms is what I've added in some of my music -- very funky!

You've also maintained a fan base in Europe. Why do you think such a uniquely American form of music has such strong appeal here?

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. 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.

Aside from your father, who are your strongest musical influences?

My main influences are Albert King, George Clinton, the Isley Brothers and Sly Stone. I grew up with all styles of music at home, so believe me, that list goes on and on.

And your favorite blues guitar player?

My favorite guitar player of all time is Albert King. That's pretty much where all your guitar greats got a huge influence.

What can we expect to hear when you're in Prague?

It's never a written set, I just go with the flow. We'll do tunes from our last two releases, as well as some new things. I often "feel the people" and decide what comes next.

The last time you were here, you spent part of the show in the audience.

You mean what we call "the walk"? It just relaxes people a bit and lets them know they're not watching a movie. Let's treat each other as if we're all family and have a good time together.

Can we expect another close encounter this time?

That as well is never planned -- if I feel it, I go for it. Depending on time restrictions, I like to do it as a segment of the show. So we'll see.

Any particular thoughts or feelings about returning to Prague?

I'm very happy that my fans and friends gave me the invitation to come back and share an evening with the Allison Family.

• The Bernard Allison Group plays Lucerna Music Bar on Tuesday, April 5, 2011, from 8pm. Advance tickets are available from the Lucerna Music Bar box office and through the Ticketpro and Ticketstream networks for 440 CZK

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