The Art Of The Sit-In | Luther Dickinson

Written By: Chad Berndtson

:: The Art Of The Sit-In - Luther Dickinson ::

Welcome back to another edition of The Art of the Sit-In. Last time, we chatted up Roosevelt Collier and for a moment, we’ll keep the conversation going in the land of guitar.

Our scene doesn’t lack for world-class guitarists, but even when you really start to shorten the the list of elite axemen, there’s still no avoiding Luther Dickinson. Son of Jim, brother of drummer/instrumentalist Cody and lifelong pal to families named Burnside, Kimbrough and Turner, Luther bleeds blues and countless other styles – a stylistic link between the ancient Hill Country pickers, Duane Allman, Hendrix and plenty of others.

[Photo by Joe Russo]

Also, dude gets around, and never more so than in recent years. In addition to maintaining the core of the North Mississippi Allstars – now a 17-year-old band, astonishingly – he toured and recorded with the Black Crowes, cut a range of solo-project albums (including last year’s mesmerizing acoustic disc Hambone Meditations and albums with the South Memphis String Band and The Wandering), and found time to turn up everywhere.

This fall, in addition to the release of World Boogie Is Coming, NMAS’ ace return to reform, he’s playing an East Coast swing as a Phil Lesh friend alongside Lesh, Grahame Lesh, Jason Crosby, Tony Leone and good buddy Anders Osborne. It’s one of the most intriguing PLF lineups in ages and one that Phil was apparently impressed enough with (following a run of shows at Terrapin Crossroads in the spring) to develop beyond a one- off.

Luther’s a busy guy but agreed to answer a few questions en route to Europe for a NMAS tour. He didn’t touch everything – no discussion of his time with the Crowes – but we’re frankly impressed he can keep it all straight.

JAMBASE: I listened to a bootleg the other day of you guys from 2000 in Boston, one with Al Kooper sitting in on organ. It was such a raw, immediate sound and 13 years later, a lot's changed for North Mississippi Allstars but that fundamental rawness is still there. Do you think you guys are still the same band?

LUTHER DICKINSON: We have gone through different stages but right now we are closer to the original concept of what the band should be than ever. Lightnin Malcolm is a great influence. His knowledge of hill country blues is invaluable, as is his stylistic principles and aesthetic. He keeps it raw.

JB: You've always been accommodating of sit-ins and had to get pretty good at working players into your fabric, especially folks who have toured with your band. I remember you telling me once that that goes with the territory in the musical environment you grew up in -- can you expand on that?

LD: As a trio we have always utilized the other touring musicians to expand the presentation. We try to put together package tours with musicians we love. I am very protective of the opening slot. I despise having our audience tortured before we even have a chance to say hello.

We spent years opening up for Medeski Martin & Wood, Galactic and Gov't Mule and they always sat in with us and invited us as well. I love sitting in and playing in new musical environments. "When in doubt, lay out!"

JB: Any particularly great sit-ins -- either you guys welcoming someone in with Allstars or you sitting in with someone else -- from the past year? Can you share a story?

LD: Playing with the Allman Brothers is always a dream come true and I appreciate every chance to do so. My favorite was one night at Wanee, my wife and I were literally leaned up against the back fence deep into a mushroom zone and half undressed when Warren introduced me as sitting in!

We rushed up to the stage and [guitar tech Brian] Farmer strapped a Gibson on me and I made the outro solo. Musically, it was my favorite ABB sit in because I was in the zone and felt fluent in the Brothers’ vernacular. The best part was after when Jaimoe called me over and said, "What you doing up here with grass on your back and in your hair? You out there gettin some?!" Yes sir, I was!

JB: Kind of a rhetorical question, but is there anyone in particular you've never played with that you'd like to?

LD: Oh yes! Jack White. Bob Dylan. Keith Richards. Questlove. Eric Clapton. [That’s] just to name a few and this would all be preferred to be in the studio. And playing with Mavis Staples is a highlight. She is a queen and an American treasure.

JB: How would you compare World Boogie is Coming to previous North Mississippi Allstars albums? Where does this one "sit" in your evolution?

LD: We are in control of our powers. We used to let songwriting or self indulgence lead us stylistically astray but we now know what our job is. Bring the world boogie!

[Photo by Joe Russo]

JB: Talk about Lightnin’ Malcolm and what he's brought to the band, especially on tour. You guys get going plenty well as a duo but why has it been important to bring on a bass again?

LD: We had been jamming and writing songs late night at my house during the time we had to replace Chew and before we knew it we were rehearsing. It was very natural. We enjoy playing as a duo but try to keep both lineups viable. By the way, Chris is doing well and seems healthy and happy!


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