Ben Dickey is a long time musician who recently stepped out of his comfort zone to star in Ethan Hawke’s film Blaze, portraying the larger than life singer songwriter Blaze Foley. The role led to widespread praise for the new actor, new acting roles, and Dickey signing to the newly birthed SexBlackHawke Records, started by actor/director Hawke, musician/producer Charlie Sexton and Austin entrepreneur and SXSW co-founder Louis Black.
With new album Glimmer on the Outskirts coming out March 8, Dickey will make his way across the United States supporting Houston’s own Hayes Carll on tour. The two will kick off their tour with three Houston area gigs; February 15 at the Continental Club (already sold out), February 16 at White Oak Music Hall and February 18 at Dosey Doe in The Woodlands.
The Arkansas native now calls Louisiana home and the Houston Press caught up with him while he was shooting the breeze in his farmhouse demo studio, drinking water on a cool afternoon. “The experience of making the film and getting close to the people that worked on it was otherworldly. It changed my life in a really big way.” explains Dickey.
It’s hard to separate Dickey from his role as Blaze Foley. A quick web search for the artist provides dozens of Blaze-related articles. His performance incorporated his life long love of music and natural abilities as a musician as well as the many parallels between the two artists' lives. Both not only share a geographical history, but also saw firsthand some of the pitfalls of the music industry.
Ben moved from Arkansas to Georgia as a young man, as did Blaze, which has created its own trail of cosmic connections for the two artists. As the movie has reached wider audiences Dickey has continued to be contacted by people who either knew Blaze or were exposed to him for the first time through the film. “People that actually knew him, know people that I grew up around. It keeps going.
“I know that won’t stop for a while and I’m not bothered by that. To be honest it’s kinda psychedelic.” Dickey continues, “I feel great about that. Someone asked me if I’m going to get tired of playing those songs and the answer is no.” he says with a laugh. “The experience of making that movie and what it did for me on a professional level, spiritual level, it goes on and on and on so I’m really thankful for Blaze.”
Dickey even carried around a copy of Blaze’s Houston driver's license while filming the movie.
Both artists were first exposed to music as children through family. Dickey got his first guitar, a 1935 Gibson L30, from his grandpa who had been an opera singer and admirer of all genres of music. Dickey describes him as “A terrific whistler! I went fishing with him a lot and he would whistle for like 20 minutes at a time, these beautiful melodies.” When his grandfather realized he would not be with Dickey much longer he gave him his guitar with the responsibility of caring for it. “He impressed on me this is important and it should be important to you. It’ll accompany you in a big way. If you’re alone, you play this guitar and you are not alone anymore. And that impressed on my head and I forced myself to learn how to play guitar. I learned quick, mysteriously quick and I told myself it was because the guitar was magical.”
Dickey and Blaze also experienced being on the brink of fame in an industry that can at times be ruthless. Blaze in all his years only officially recorded one album. Dickey for his part tasted mainstream success with his previous band, Blood Feathers and unfortunately encountered more than his share of people trying to get their piece of the pie and friendships gone awry. “It’s a full contact sport, the entertainment industry in America and it’s kinda nasty but the making of the art isn’t and the presenting isn’t and it shouldn’t be. You have to sort of grip up to that.”
Dickey frequently is asked what he thinks audiences should walk away from the film with and he says, “If you see someone that you love walking out on the edge of the branches where they are gonna fall, at your best measure try to help them.” He continues, “I know people that are gone that I loved who were not only touched in magic but were also deeply, deeply dark and scarred by something. Sometimes I knew what it was, sometimes I didn’t. But it’s a weird thing when you see someone start ambling to the edge.
“I’ve had my own traps, I’ve been in bad spirals and had moments where I didn’t think it made sense to be around and I think everybody goes through it.” Ultimately Dickey says he’s optimistic about it all. “Life’s a tragic, sad thing most of the time but often times there is a bright light all over. I’m a hopeful person, I’m full of hope.”
Dickey’s new album is a tribute to hope. “Every single song is sort of discussion about hope. It really is. Or an example of hope.” says the singer. “And the glimmer and the outskirts is, it’s a magical thing when someone becomes hopeful. In your molecular structure something huge happens because even if it’s just a glimmer, that’s a really exciting thing.”
Dickey had the help of producer, master guitarist, label head and friend, Charlie Sexton. “Something that happened that’s amazing from making Blaze is that I met Charlie.” Dickey continues, “I clocked him when I heard stories about him playing at a young age with Jerry Lee Lewis. I kept up with him and when he joined Bob Dylan’s band, I was jealous of Bob Dylan.”
Dickey’s long time admiration and hope to one day make a record with Sexton producing came to fruition with Glimmer on the Outskirts and Sexton was a great ally in the studio. “He’s really a master in that environment, making records, understanding what people want. He plays to the artists in a really unique way.”
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Dickey's album is backed by big names. Though his new label is filled with friends, Dickey is clear on his role in the process of getting his music out. “The whole of it makes me feel safer that I’m working with people that I love and trust and we are in it together. I want to hustle.” Dickey explains, “I understand my part of the mission and I want to hustle. I’m part of a little team. I’m not trying to rook anybody. I don’t want too much, I want to make it work. I want to go play music. All of that feels like a venture, it feels important and good.”
You can hear Dickey's first solo album from 2016, Sexy Birds and Salt Water Classics online or purchase it through his website. Salt Water Classics is a lovely, mellow 12 track album which Dickey recorded while working as a chef in Philadelphia using his only day off, Mondays, to get the album done. Put out on his buddies' punk rock label out of Arkansas Dickey says, “He pressed 300 records and put it on itunes and that was plenty for me at the time. I was just trying to make that record and rearrange my life. That was sort of a Hail Mary that record.”
You can pre-order Dickey's new album now and get your hands on it March 8 either online or at one of Dickey’s many upcoming shows. When asked about audience expectations to hear Blaze Foley when they see Ben Dickey, Dickey says coolly, “Whether are not they are going to see me for me or what, well that’s up to them and up to me. And I’m not worried about it.”
Ben Dickey's performances are scheduled for:
Friday, February 15 at the Continental Club, 3700 Main, doors open at 9 p.m. $28 (sold out)
Saturday, February 16 at White Oak Music Hall (upstairs), 2915 N. Main, doors open at 8 p.m., $40 (sold out)
Sunday, February 18 at Dosey Doe Big Barn, 25911 I-45 N, The Woodlands, doors open at 5:30 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. $26-30.