Hold on: North Mississippi Allstars are back in town

The new North Mississippi Allstars lineup, from left, Luther and Cody Dickinson, Larmar Williams Jr. and Jesse Williams.

You gotta love those Southern hippies Luther and Cody Dickinson.

The brothers who started the North Mississippi Allstars perform with so much joy on the bandstand. And they probably have just as much fun playing alone in their jam room.

A concertgoer threw a generous gift baggie onstage the last time the band played at Tahoe. As he played guitar, Luther lobbed the plastic sack toward Cody, landing it precisely onto the snare drum. Stuff like that is easy when you’re in the zone.

The North Mississippi Allstars never miss the opportunity to play the Crystal Bay Casino. But due to the Covid mess, Friday’s Crown Room appearance will be its first since February 2019. That 2 hours and 40 minutes hoedown ended with Cody playing bass, Luther shifting his arms like a robot as he played drums and bass player “The Bayou Buddha” Carl Dufrene soloing on Luther’s guitar.

Dufrene died in 2020.

“That was awful,” Luther Dickinson said in his most recent interview with Tahoe Onstage. “The thing about Carl was that he was such a sweet and generous person. He was always offering you whatever he could. He was known for always doing random acts of kindness. Carl had my back and was great about always giving me subtle cues so I knew what to play, but he didn’t make it obvious to anyone else.”

Tahoe Onstage
Carl Dufrene is pictured in his final Lake Tahoe appearance with the North Mississippi Allstars in 2019.

Dufrene is among the pantheon of accomplished bass players for the North Mississippi Allstars, which includes Chris Chew, Lightnin’ Malcolm and Danielle Nicole.

Nicole has gone solo and she and her band played a memorable 2019 Squaw Valley Bluesdays show that segued into a full-blown rock concert. Before taking the stage, she was asked about her time with the North Mississippi Allstars.

“Luther doesn’t play inside the pentatonic blues scale very much, so it was a big challenge,” she said. “They will be playing in such a weird time signature that you just have to close your eyes and count to four. Luther and Cody are some of the most mind-blowing musicians I’ve ever worked with.”

Hill Country blues is the hypnotic percussion-heavy style the Dickinson brothers grew up with, learning from folks such as Junior Kimbrough, R. L. Burnside, Jessie Mae Hemphill and Othar Turner. However, the North Mississippi Allstars are versatile and can play rock jams and R&B. Its new lineup indicates the band has taken a soulful turn.

Jesse Williams is the new bass player and Lamar Williams Jr. — son of Allman Brothers bassist Lamar Sr. — sings. Williams Jr. appeared at Crystal Bay was Dec. 29 with The New Mastersounds.

Lamar Williams Jr. played with the New Mastersounds in his last Tahoe appearance.

“The chemistry we have with this lineup is powerful,” Luther Dickinson stated on his band’s website. “We are all second-generation musicians and share a telepathic, relaxed ease about creating and performing. I believe music is a form of communion with our loved ones and conjuring this vibe with members of musical families can be inspirational.

“Lamar and I are like-minded. I’ve never had the pleasure of working with a singing partner like Lamar. He has a true-blue quality in his musicality that will pull you in and break your heart. At the same time, Jesse grew up playing music with his brothers and his father—as did we. He plays like a sibling.”

On April 1, the North Mississippi Allstars will release its 13th album, “Set Sail” on New West Records.

“We recorded the album fresh off the road and captured the energy we had worked up,” Dickinson said. “I’m drawn to musical families, regardless of style. Playing with second- or third-generation players allows us an easy unspoken musical dialog. It’s not a big thing; it’s just what we do. We never had to figure out what it means and takes to be a musician. We all inherently know.” 

The Dickinsons are the sons of famed producer Jim Dickinson, who died in 2009. They grew up watching their father work and were able to learn from various musicians. Luther contributed to Mojo Nixon’s album “Otis,” on which he’s credited as “Teenage Guitar.”

“We didn’t hang out at the studio — that wasn’t appropriate,” Dickinson said. “We would come visit or the artist would come hang out with us. They’d come to dinner and, Mojo in particular, when they would come to dinner we would go down in the basement and jam. Mojo got on guitar and broke a couple of strings, then he’d go on the bass and he’d break a bass string, then he got on the drums and he broke our bass drum pedal. By the time Mojo was done, we couldn’t even jam any more. He demolished our gear. … He was a perfect role model.”

Luther Dickinson kicks off the new year in 2017 at Crystal Bay Casino.

At age 24, Luther Dickinson began touring in 1997 with R. L Burnside. He also played several years with the Black Crowes and bands such as John Hiatt, Hill Country Revue, Gut Bucket, DDT and With The Word. In 2020 and 2021, more than a decade-old sessions were unearthed and released under the band name New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers, which included Jim, Luther and Cody Dickinson,  Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus and Charlie Musselwhite, who came up with the name.

Luther Dickinson has produced albums for Samantha Fish, Eric Lindell, John Nemeth, R.L. Boyce, Jim Lauderdale, Mike Zito, Mojo Nixon, Danielle Nicole, GA-20 and Seasick Steve.

“He’s the guy to call,” Fish told Tahoe Onstage in 2015. “His playing is incredible and it’s no wonder why everybody wants him to be a part of their project because he’s got this really creative mind. No matter what he does, he’s got a really great approach.”

Tahoe Onstage
Cody Dickinson plays the electric washboard, as well as drums, keyboard and guitar.

Cody Dickinson, who likes to play washboard with a wah-wah pedal, produced a film “Take Me To The River,” which documents generations of Mississippi Delta musicians. He’s also produced albums with Les Claypool, Lucero, Ian Siegal and Cisco Alder.

The North Mississippi Allstars Crystal Bay show is sandwiched between appearances at Harlow’s in Sacramento and The Independent in San Francisco.

  • An Evening with The North Mississippi Allstars
  • When: 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 4
  • Where: Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room
  • Tickets: $25 in advance or $30 on the day of the show
Luther Dickinson and Carl Dufrene.

Looking back through the years

A string breaks on Luther Dickinson’s Gibson guitar at the High Sierra Music Festival in 2016.
Photos by Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
Dickinson decides to change the string as the song continues.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
Danielle Nicole is amused.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
Danielle and Cody are amused and impressed.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
And the show continues.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
Eric McFadden and The Bayou Buddha Carl Dufrene on the High Sierra Music Festival’s Big Meadow stage in 2016. Eric McFadden is at left. Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
Tim Parsons/Tahoe Onstage
Cody Dickinson and Lightnin Malcolm march through the Crown Room in 2014. Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
Tahoe Onstage photo
Luther Dickinson and Lightnin’ Malcolm of the North Mississippi Allstars at Crystal Bay. Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
Luther Dickinson at Crystal Bay in 2015.
High Sierra
Luther Dickson of the North Mississippi Allstars at High Sierra in 2013. Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

ABOUT Tim Parsons

Picture of Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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