Roots-Rock Papa Luther Dickinson Has Plenty "Mojo, Mojo" Workin'
Photo by Mike Kerr/Courtesy of New West Records
If the general rules of parent/child relationships hold, most members of the latter group will find the former's music tastes "uncool" at some point.
However, how can that be the case when your dad is Luther Dickinson, the rock/country/blues singer-guitarist and current solo artist, member of the North Mississippi Allstars and South Memphis String band, and former member of the freakin' Black Crowes?
"I have two daughters and another baby due next month, and I'm raising them the best I can, but they are bored with rock and roll!" the Memphis native laughs in a slow, stoner-like drawl. "My four-year-old likes classical and jazz!"
Nor is young Ms. Dickinson a fan of daddy's mode of transportation. With no car of his own, he still drives the Allstars' touring Ford Club Wagon with more than 300,000 miles on it.
"She says to me 'Your van is disgusting," recounts Dickinson. "And that it's for dirty boys. But touring is expensive! We try to be self-reliant. It's the band, a merch guy, and a tour manager who also does sound. We don't even have a stage tech!"
Still, Dickinson says the girls will jam in the backseat to the inescapably and insanely catchy percussion of "Vandalize," the lead off track from Dickinson's current release, Rock 'n Roll Blues (New West Records).
It's his third solo record, but adds it's his most personal, with many songs chronicling his love of music growing up and experiences on the road in working bands in not-so-plush circumstances -- in and out of ramshackle Ford Club Wagons. They just don't sound like he had originally planned.
"In my mind, I wrote all of these songs as rock and roll songs," Dickinson says. "Some were new and some had been around awhile. But it wasn't until I reinterpreted them as acoustic with the band that it all fell together."
He credits bassist Amy LaVere and drummer Sharde Thomas with forming the material, and adds that they were "songs I had to get out of my system," since many of them told youthful tales.
"I am 41 now, and I wanted to record them before I turned 40, so there was a sense of urgency," he recalls. "The songs are about the follies of youth talking!"
Tracks like "Blood 'n Guts," "Yard Man," "Mojo, Mojo," "Bar Band," and "Stone's Throw" weave tales of his past, some of joy and some of woe. But album closer "Karmic Debt" has him looking forward to his next phase in life, music and marriage, full of gratitude and excitement.
"I'm fortunate to do this, and rock and roll keeps you young." he says.
In "Goin' Country," Dickinson takes a swipe at rock bands who have all of a sudden embraced the twangier genre, following a popular trend more then a genuine musical muse.
"Modern country music sounds more like rock than anything now," he says. "It is the new rock." he says.
When we bring up Bon Jovi's foray into the genre, the distaste is palpable over the phone line: "Oh, man, that one was the worst of them all!"
Still, he sees some of contemporary country's appeal, or at least the appeal to others.
"I played on a show with Pat Green once," he remembers. "And I've never seen more beautiful white girls than there were at the Pat Green show!"
Dickinson had an enviable upbringing, though, when it comes to music. His father was the late Jim Dickinson, the producer, singer and pianist who performed or worked with artists ranging from Hank Ballard, Ronnie Hawkins and Sam & Dave to Big Star, Mojo Nixon and Bob Dylan; that's Dickinson Sr. playing piano on the Rolling Stones single "Wild Horses." Luther's brother, Cody, plays with him in the Allstars.
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So it was an adventure for the young Luther to try and track down releases from his favorite punk-rock bands -- especially Black Flag -- in somewhat rural Mississippi.
"When I was 12, I would have to really search for Black Flag in vinyl and cassette, and it wasn't easy," he says. "But it was great to open it up and find a flyer in there or some kind of collage or news about the band and the punk [scene]. It was exciting.
"My dad would drive up into town, and he was friends with the guy who ran the record store," continues Dickinson. "It was a really cool, old-school indie store. And linking [punk rock] made me an outsider, but everyone who likes punk does. It's outsider music."
Dickinson's current tour does not include a Houston stop, but he was in Austin last month for several gigs at SXSW.
"I hit all my favorite Mexican food places. And I got to see Jimmie Vaughan play live with [drummer] Frosty! That was great." he says. "But I do love the Continental Club in Houston."
Still, one question about Dickinson lingers: Why did he part company with the Black Crowes, who are notoriously private about personnel matters? He was a member for three years from 2007-2010, appearing on the records and tours for Warpaint and Before the Frost...Until the Freeze.
"The Black Crowes are the best rock and roll band in the world! I learned a lot playing with them!" he says, in a voice a little...well...too chipper. Thinking we misheard the question, we repeat it.
"The Black Crowes are the best rock and roll band in the world!" he says, in the exact same cadence. "I learned a lot playing with them!"
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