Martin “Big Larry” Allbritton — Carbondale’s own blues legend — died early Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017, at Memorial Hospital. He was 80 years old.
Allbritton was a drummer for Bobby “Blue” Band and performed with Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows before coming to Southern Illinois and playing for decades in venues throughout the region. Allbritton told the Nightlife in 2012, when he was honored with his own Big Larry Day in Carbondale proclamation, that he never felt that he had to stick with one genre.
“Blues is the roots of all music,” he said at the time. “Country, rock… music is music. I have done all kinds. Anything that felt right at the time, I did it.”
Will Stephens, mayor of Murphysboro and radio host on WXAN and WDBX and Murphysboro Mayor said he first met Allbritton nearly 20 years ago.
“I was working at Kroger, when someone pointed him out to me and said that guy is a blues man,” Stephens said. “He then came by the radio station, and from there, I just wanted to help him book shows.”
That chance encounter grew into a business relationship and a friendship.
“I was as close to him as you can be to someone who is not family,” he said. “People who barely knew him felt like he was their best friend.”
Blues performer Ivas John said in an email he was a fan of Allbritton before he ever met. He recalled playing guitar in another local blues band at the old Hangar 9 when Allbritton was sitting in one of the booths and watching the opening acts before him.
“After we finished I introduced myself to him and as we shook hands he simply said ‘Leave all your stuff up on stage, you’re playing with me tonight,’” John said. “So, just like that we started our relationship playing music and from that day forward I worked with him until I formed my own group years later.”
John said he considered Allbritton a mentor and he was thankful for the time he spent with him both on and off the stage.
“I learned so much in the years that we worked together just by being around him, listening to him sing, watching the way he interacted with the audiences, seeing how he ran the band, hearing him tell stories etc.,” he said. “He never drank a drop or did any drugs, always took care of business and behind his sometimes-tough exterior. He had a big heart and a lot of compassion for people.
“When it came to the music, it goes without saying that the guy was the real deal. It was like getting to play with Otis Redding or BB King. He would bring people to tears with his soulful singing and at other times have them howling with laughter. His influence touches everything I do. I couldn’t have asked for a more formative experience at a young age. I’ll always be grateful that I was in the right place and right time to cross paths with such a masterful singer and encouraging person.”
Stephens said Allbritton may have toured and lived in other places, but his larger than life personality belonged to the heart of Southern Illinois.
“He was a flamingo in a flock of seagulls,” he said. “You could be in a crowd of people, not hardly able to see the stage. But If Larry gets on the stage, then there’s no question who it is.
“Having known Larry, I think he would have wanted to say thank you to all of his fans and to everyone who ever came to a show. So, on behalf of Larry, thank you.”
An online fundraiser has been set up to offset some of the funeral expenses. To contribute to the Big Larry GoFundMe fundraiser, visit www.gofundme.com/big-larry-funeral-expenses.