I’m not big on religion or following pseudo cult leaders with some kind of utopian message. History has shown that usually doesn’t end well. But if I were to go create some kind of religion, it certainly would incorporate matching outfits, secret handshakes and gathering around campfires in masks at midnight. And it probably would be loosely based around the seemingly eternal good vibes of guitarist and producer Luther Dickinson.
For one, he’s certainly been anointed and possessed by the divine musical spirit. Luther and his brother Cody are the sons of famed musical producer Jim Dickinson. The brothers were raised in the tradition of Hill Country blues and gospel, learning from and playing with blues sages such as Othar Turner and R.L. Burnside since they were children. As adults, Luther and Cody have carried the spirit of their home in their band the North Mississippi Allstars, transcending their blues roots to make boogie music for the world.
Furthermore, Luther Dickinson already has amassed a healthy following of believers and converts, a key component when religion building. According to Allmusic.com, he’s had some 320 credits on recordings as a producer and player, ranging from The Black Crowes to The Replacements, and he’s probably sat in with three times that number of musicians live over the years.
He’s generally regarded as a sweet, charismatic guy who can’t stop smiling and whose musicality is highly respected. Fellow musician and friend Colin Linden probably put it best when he described Dickinson in an interview as “not only a master musician, but also an artist with a great vision and a soulful, wonderful human being.”
What exactly would the message be of this religion in the making? In the ancient tradition of taking something someone said and reappropriating it for different purposes, it would be something along the lines of what Dickinson told Tahoe Onstage recently over the phone: “Think globally, act locally, let’s take care of everyone tonight!”
It’s an inclusive message about living in the moment and connecting with people behind the power of music. You can find traces of that ethos throughout the North Mississippi Allstars’ most recent album, “Prayer for Peace.” To record the album, Luther and Cody wanted to transfer the energy of a live performance to the studio. Taking the importance of living in the moment to heart, the brothers harnessed the energy of a previous night’s concert into full-throttle, stripped-down studio sessions the following day, striking while the spirit was still hot.
If you’re searching for some core tenets of Luther’s worldview, you can find them in the bombastic track “Need To Be Free, where the guitarist sings, “We don’t discriminate, we all know how to get along” as he and his brother just demolish the song, Walls of Jericho-style. Elsewhere, on the rumbling title track he hopes “we could all be colorblind” and to “pray ignorance and hate will disintegrate into space.” If you are looking for a worldview to follow, the spiritual musings of Luther Dickinson — The Hill Country Maji and High Priest of World Boogie — ain’t a bad place to start.
In all seriousness though, Luther Dickinson is a shining example of an artist who loves his craft and loves sharing it for people. The genuineness of his music and the purity of his desire to connect people through music is palpable. If folks are able to unite around something as spiritual and positive as the music of Dickinson and The North Mississippi Allstars — even if only to listen to an album or go see a concert — the world is a better place for it.
Tahoe Onstage: You are over in Europe with Seasick Steve, how is that going?
Luther Dickinson: Oh man it’s so fun, Steve is such a great artist. We’re so like-minded, Steve’s music is right up my alley. I think we met in ‘09 or something like that. I can’t remember, but we’ve been friends for around 10 years. I’ve been playing on his records for years but, is this first tour with him. I’m playing for him, both lead guitar and bass. I’m backing him up and it’s been really fun.
Both of you are American bluesman playing in London, where historically they’ve been very receptive. Britain and Europe almost reintroduced the blues to Americans in the ’60s and ’70s. Is the reverence and appreciation for the blues still strong? Do European audiences appreciate the blues differently than Americans?
I think that all audiences take the night at face value, you know what I mean? I know myself and any I’ve worked with are really trying to maintain a whole fashion aesthetic or whatever — we are just trying to rock tonight (laughs). I think that’s the key.It’s all about the night and it’s not about keeping things alive or revisiting anything. The shows don’t feel like blues shows.
“Prayer For Peace” was just a fantastic album. When I listen to it, it’s really about you and your brother Cody (Dickinson) riffing off each other. What did you want to do with that album?
That was a real fun record to make! For the first time, we made it on the road. We recorded a day in New Orleans, a couple days in Brooklyn here or there, recorded in California, but we didn’t record any at our place at home. So we were really trying to capture that live spirit, which is hard to do. We found that recording on the road, casually and quickly and just jammed. It was really fun and Oteil (Burbridge) played with us on a couple of those songs. We also had a fun time with arpeggiators and synthesizers.
What made you choose the title “Prayer Peace?”
That song is pretty old now. I wrote that way before the election. I woke up morning and was thinking about Buddy Guy and everything that he’d seen in his lifetime. There was a lot of police violence in America at the time and a lot of awkward legislation being passed, especially in the South. I was just trying to write from the point of view of Mavis Staples or Buddy Guy. That generation has seen so much change in the American landscape.
On the album, “Prayer for Peace” follows right into “Need To Be Free,” which is just the most hippie, melt-your-face-off protest song I’ve heard. When you play that song live, is there a sense you are projecting some kind of message? Do you feel the emotional weight of those lyrics in the moment?
Yeah, definitely. I’ve kept re-writing the lyrics, too. We have an album “BDM: Blues Dance Music,” an EP Cody did that was a dance remix of “Prayer For Peace” that’s really groovy. There’s a new lyric in that version. I’m just stating how I feel and unashamed about it. It might not be subtle or poetic, I just feel strongly to lead by example. I want to let people know about how I’m feeling tonight, it’s all about tonight! Think globally, act locally, let’s take care of everyone tonight (laughs)!
Any side gigs or producing gigs you’re excited about?
Yeah, I’ve been making music with my friend Colin Linden and backing him up, it’s more of his project. (“Amour” by Colin Linden & Luther Dickenson with the Tennessee Valentines was released Feb. 8 by Stony Plain Records.) I got a really cool album coming out early in the year called “Luther Dickinson and the Sisterhood of the Strawberry Moon.” (That band will perform at the High Sierra Music Festival.) It’s a collection of wonderful female artists that we all got together and made a bunch of music. It’s a fantastic, lovely, beautiful record. I make a lot of music for my daughter, for young girls, young kids.
You’re always so fluid in your touring lineup, you seem to have a different configuration each time. Who will be out on tour in February?
We’re so fortunate. Last year at some point Anders Osborne changed up his lineup and brother Carl (Dufrene) came aboard with us and was the first person in so many years that was like, ‘I’ll take all the gigs!’ So he’s been playing with us together for months. I don’t even really remember when he started. He’s played with us in NMO for years, so we had the experience. It’s been so much fun. He’s been recording with us for the new album as well. We’ve also been doing a lot of opening up for ourselves. We plan to do an “Evening With” where Cody and I will each play some solo songs on guitar and keyboard and then branch out.
— Garrett Bethmann
Related story: Concert review: North Mississippi Allstars drink muddy water, sleep in hollow log.
Related story: CD review: North Mississippi Allstars’ fiery ‘Prayer for Peace.’