Blues, talent and music lineage, the North Mississippi Allstars have all three—and more.
Band members, Luther Dickinson, vocals, guitar and lowebow, and Cody Dickinson (who is also in the side project Hill Country Revue), drums, keyboards and electric washboard, are the sons of legendary Memphis, Tenn. musician, and record producer, Jim Dickinson.
Dickinson Sr. not only released music in his own name, but he also worked with Ry Cooder, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones. Dickinson Sr.’s career spanned more than four decades before he died in 2009.
He started Zebra Ranch, a recording studio complex, during the 1990s in Hernando, Miss.
Recently, IN was able to talk to Luther Dickinson about North Mississippi Allstars and his musical career.
According to Dickinson, the Zebra Ranch studio is still in existence today. In the beginning, the Zebra Ranch was a family art project—an old barn full of vintage audio recording antiques. Over the past few years, the Dickinson family members have collectively produced more than fifty projects of unique material.
Now, Dickinson is a blues legend in his own right. He still lives in Hernando, Miss. The North Mississippi Allstars formed in 1996.
“I started playing music as a little kid,” Dickinson said. “I was fortunate, because I knew exactly what I wanted to do—play guitar. I had been in studios since I was born. It took a lot of determination and I worked hard to make it happen.”
Among his many accomplishments, Dickinson is part of a side project, The Word. They have only made a couple of appearances, yet people cannot get enough of them. He collaborated with Robert Randolph and John Madeski to form the instrumental rock, Sacred steel and gospel blues band in 1998. They recently played at this year’s Bonnaroo Music Festival.
“We have gotten together a handful of times. We had the idea in 1998 and recorded in 2000,” Dickinson said.
Though they don’t have any upcoming shows currently scheduled, Dickinson said, “I am always willing.”
Other North Mississippi Allstars band members have included Chris Chew, on electric bass, and Duwayne Burnside, son of R.L. Burnside on second guitar.
Chew suffered a medical issue about a year ago, but recently the band announced that he would be well enough to play a couple dates.
Dickinson joined The Black Crowes in 2007 as lead guitarist and has appeared on a number of their albums. He shares his time with both the Black Crowes and the North Mississippi Allstars.
North Mississippi Allstars have opened for Robert Plant and the Band of Joy on their concert tour in 2011. They have recorded with Mavis Staples, Spooner Oldham and Alvin Youngblood Hart. To date, they have recorded 15 albums, have multiple Grammy nominations, toured with John Hiatt and were the house band for “Last Call with Carson Daily.”
Inspiration for their music came from the people and the music they were exposed to as youngsters.
“My Father turned us on to all the rock and roll and blues,” Dickinson said. “In the ‘90s, I discovered R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. It blew my mind and inspired the formation of the North Mississippi Allstars.”
“I consider Othar, or Otha Turner, a grandfather to me. And, Kenny Brown: a really close friend,” said Dickinson.
Turner was one of the last well-known fife players in the American fife and drum blues tradition. He was born and lived his entire life as a farmer in Northern Mississippi, where in 1923 at age 16 he learned to play fifes made out of rivercanes.
Brown, born in Alabama, is an American blues slide guitarist, now residing in Nesbit, Miss. He is an aficionado of the North Mississippi Hill Country blues style popularized by his mentor R.L. Burnside.
These are some musical heavyweights to have as influences and close friends.
The North Mississippi Allstars have some YouTube videos that show them playing at United Record Pressing’s plant. Called, “Upstairs at United Volume 4,” it is a series of all-analog vinyl records recorded inside the historic United Record Pressing Plant in Nashville, Tenn.
“United Pressing Plant built rooms, and a listening group party room, because many African American artists in the ‘50s and ‘60s could not get rooms at any hotel they wanted,” Dickinson said. “The place is unchanged, it has a living room and a kitchen, and we liked recording there. It was a really cool project.”
As for the future, Dickinson has a few things in mind.
“Keep playing, working on more planned recording projects, and keeping the dream alive,” he said.
NORTH MISSISSIPPI ALLSTARS
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, October 18
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox
DETAILS: vinylmusichall.com, nmallstars.com