Allison Mathis is an unusual name for a country blues artist, perhaps sounding more like the wayward bluegrass picking daughter of a '50s lounge singer. Nonetheless, Mathis was at least one of the stage names of an obscure Georgia country blues performer in the early '40s when various archivists from the Library of Congress were scouting the South looking for blues-bloods to record. Sometimes the performer in question is identified as Alison Mathis, the spelling indicating that perhaps the scholarly blues attitude toward the number of consonants in this artist's name might be "What the L!" Anderson Mathis is also the same artist and an account of an early '40s Fort Valley State College Folk Festival where Mathis was recorded by ethnomusicologist John Work suggests that this might be the most accurate version of the artists' name of them all. Anderson Mathis is also the birth name of Georgia rapper Bubba Sparxxx, creating a coincidental but apparently not genealogical link in American black music history from the peach state. Anderson or Allison Mathis of the '40s was indeed a fine slide guitarist, coaxing heartfelt blues licks and sometimes even a shimmering rainbow of tones from the guitar in a style that has been compared to Fred McMullen or Curley Weaver. Much praise has been poured on the Mathis version of "Bottle up and Go," as he apparently created a recognizably different variation of this country blues and folk anthem, also often titled "Step It up and Go." The Mathis knack for personalizing material has also been compared to the sometimes eccentric recordings of later bluesman Lightnin' Sam Hopkins, but in this performer's case the motivation was obviously to convince fly by night record labels that he had new material, which he actually didn't. The recording career of Mathis is nowhere near as prolific as Hopkins and as a result, the reasons or motivations behind some of his arrangements are quite mysterious and listeners can only speculate as to what sources and influences could have been. Most of the existing evidence of Mathis seems to be linked to trips up the road to the aforementioned festival in the '40s. He was a prize winner and a repeat invite for the first two years of the event, to which folk music nuts such as Alan Lomax flocked. This area of Georgia reeled from the resurgence of interest in a type of music that had once taken place casually on street corners throughout the state; by the '40s, the main attraction of this area was now a type of chopped barbecued pork smothered with vinegar. Mathis sometimes played with the fine harmonica player Jesse Stroller, definitely a good choice for walking blues and in the mid-'40s was also appearing at festival events as a guitar accompanist to other acts. "Mama You Goin' to Quit Me" is the moving track most often chosen as an example of Mathis' slide guitar artistry, as some of the improvised passages are simply sublime. This performance was reissued by the Library of Congress on a collection entitled Red River Blues released on the Travelin' Man label, but shows up on other compilations as well.
by Eugene Chadbourne