By Brent Thompson
L-R: Luther and Cody Dickinson (Photo by Tom Bejgrowicz)
Luther and Cody Dickinson didn’t just grow up in a musical household, they grew up in the musical household. The sons of famed producer/singer/pianist Jim Dickinson (1941-2009), the Dickinson brothers have created their own legacy since forming North Mississippi Allstars more than 20 years ago. Using the gritty Blues sound of its namesake state as its basis, the band has continually expanded its musical horizons while staying true to its foundations. In 2017, the group released Prayer for Peace [SMG Records], a 12-track collection featuring guest appearances by Oteil Burbridge, Graeme Lesh and Dominic Davis among others. On Friday, April 13, North Mississippi Allstars will perform at Avondale Brewing Co. Recently, Luther Dickinson spoke with us by phone as he traveled from Nashville to Memphis.
Birmingham Stages: Luther, thanks for your time. We are enjoying Prayer for Peace. If you will, talk about the evolution of the album’s material.
Luther Dickinson: I wrote “Prayer for Peace” three years ago, so it’s an older song. I woke up one morning thinking about Buddy Guy and he’s the last man standing – he’s the living king of the Blues. You think about his generation and everything he’s seen and that leads me to Mavis Staples, the queen, and the whole American experience; the Gospel, Country Blues, civil rights – the whole thing. I wrote that song thinking about their perspective. “Need To Be Free” – I wrote that in reaction to a lot of Southern legislation that was going down that I didn’t really agree with and there was a lot of police violence. That’s what I was thinking about back then. It’s all timeless – the never-ending struggle and treating others in a way that you would want them to treat you.
Birmingham Stages: When you write a song, how do you know if it’s a better fit for a solo record or an Allstars record?
LD: That’s a good question, man. The Allstars is a collaborative effort – what we do best is what we do together. If either of Cody’s or my agendas get too overbearing, the band gets skewed. We do our best work when we do our thing and it’s coming together. It’s funny – my first solo record of original songs was Rock ‘n Roll Blues, a real personal song cycle about growing up as a young musician. I recorded the songs with Cody as an Allstars record, but both Cody and our management said, “Nah, that’s a solo record – it’s not an Allstars record.” At first it made me mad, but they were right and it was so liberating. If you put everything in its proper place, then nothing gets watered-down.
Birmingham Stages: With your various musical projects – the Allstars, The Word and Southern Soul Assembly among them – you don’t have much open space on your calendar.
LD: Yeah, and when I am free I’m with my family so it’s either family or music and there’s not much in between. But we can’t afford not to. We’re a working-class family – we work to support our lifestyle and we appreciate the fans who make it possible. On the other hand, if you’re granted a life of music, you owe it to music to keep it alive and spread it. They asked Bob Dylan why he tours constantly and he said, “I made my deal and I’ve got to hold up my end of it.”
Birmingham Stages: You worked with Tommy Stinson’s band Bash & Pop on their latest album, Anything Could Happen. I know you’re dad worked with Tommy when he was in The Replacements. What was it like to work with him?
LD: My relationship is one of the many relationships of my father’s that we have maintained, be it Tommy Stinson, Chuck Prophet, Mojo Nixon or Ry Cooder – the list goes on and on. So many of dad’s friends have taken us under their wings and it’s a wonderful extension of all of our love for what he was. But playing with Tommy – that’s hard man! I’m used to rising to the occasion. We make records with Jim Lauderdale and I listen to those records and think, “Man, that’s some fancy guitar playing,” but it was natural and easy for me. But in playing with Tommy, I haven’t played Power Pop/Punk since I was a teenager or in my early 20s. It’s not easy for me – it was a real challenge. There’s something about that melancholy Minneapolis melodic territory, be it Prince, [Paul] Westerberg or The Hold Steady. There’s a tension that comes from that place and Tommy really embodies it, he really keeps it alive. I love his songwriting and he’s the real deal. He never even had a choice because [Stinson’s brother and Replacements bandmate] Bob made him play. It’s amazing – he’s such a badass.
Birmingham Stages: Few people grow up around a parent as musically open-minded as your dad. Is there a way to sum up the experience of being a young music lover in that household?
LD: I remember one day he pointed to his record collection and said, “This is a wealth of knowledge” and I still go back to that well. I loved my dad and his music and his friends, but when I found [California Punk band] Black Flag, I asked my dad to help me learn how to play “Six Pack” and he got so mad. He said, “This makes no g–d— sense” because it was anything goes. He said, “I cannot believe you found something I can’t relate to.” It was great.
Emporium Presents: North Mississippi Allstars at Avondale Brewing Co. on Friday, April 13, Tickets to the 6 p.m. show are $20 and can be purchased at www.avondalebrewing.com.