His record company, Alligator Records, said Allison was diagnosed last month with inoperable lung cancer and brain tumors.
The bluesman had been touring in support of his latest album, Reckless, when he began suffering dizziness and a loss of coordination. He was waylaid in Madison for treatment and forced to cancel several shows.
Audio Clip: Luther Allison, "Low Down and Dirty"
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Born on a cotton plantation in Widener, Arkansas, on August 17, 1939, Allison began singing gospel music before he turned 10. He moved to Chicago in the early '50s and struck up a friendship with Muddy Waters' son. He honed his guitar chops in his brother's band in the mid-'50s, before forming his own group, the Rolling Stones (later the Four Jivers), that only lasted a year.
Throughout the '60s, Allison earned his reputation as an electric bluesman, jamming with Chicago's West Side legends Magic Sam, Otis Rush and Freddie King. Between his first album, 1969's classic Love Me Mama, and searing sets at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969 and 1970, Allison achieved cross-over success, appealing to old-school blues devotees as well as young, suburban rock fans. He palled around with Jimi Hendrix and the (other) Rolling Stones.
In 1971, he became the first blues act to sign with Motown Records and released three albums on the label. He toured the U.S. in the 1970s before moving to Paris in the early '80s, recording albums and gigging incessantly in Europe, where he eventually gained superstar status.
He revitalized his U.S. career with the 1994 release of Soul Fixin' Man on the Chicago-based Alligator label. He followed up with Blue Streak in 1995 and Reckless earlier this year. The latter has been on Billboard's blues chart for 12 weeks and has topped the Living Blues radio charts since May.
Allison recently won three W.C. Handy Awards--the blues Oscars presented by the Memphis-based Blues Foundation--including his second consecutive trophy as Blues Entertainer of the Year for his scorching three- and four-hour sets.
Funeral services will be conducted Sunday in Chicago, followed, appropriately enough, with a memorial jam session at Buddy Guy's Legends club.