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
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
[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-
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
played with that you'd like to?
LD: Oh yes! Jack White. Bob Dylan. Keith Richards. Questlove. Eric
[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
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
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,
tour. You guys get going plenty well as a duo but why has it been important to bring on a
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!
JB: You have a bunch of dates with a very interesting incarnation of Phil
Friends coming up. How did you meet Phil?
LD: Phil hired me to come play a run at Terrapin Crossroads and we hit it
off! I am
not shy on the bandstand when I feel musical freedom and he responds to that.
Phil is a true master. He has built a home base and brings in younger musicians and
teaches them his craft, his way of working and his traditions. It is amazing to behold.
[The shows we played in the spring] were very exciting.
[Photo by Joe Russo]
JB: Do you have much experience with Dead music? Can we assume you were a
LD: Of course, I grew up with the music but I had never learned it.
learning the repertoire has been such a thrill. Robert Hunter’s use of American language
and history is truly unique. He is up there with Mark Twain and Bob Dylan. I also admire
Jerry's guitar hooks -- genius rock ‘n’ roll guitar playing. It's great how structured the
Dead's music is. It sounds so free but it is intensely cerebral.
JB: You seem to have a pretty unique chemistry with Anders Osborne that I
will be a big focus of this Phil lineup. Talk about that a little bit.
LD: Anders and I hit it off immediately. He is one of my favorite rock
guitar players and a great singer. We see eye to eye and complement each other.
JB: How much time are you spending on your solo music? You had a bunch of
releases in 2012 and I was particularly taken with Hambone Meditations. What else
is coming up?
LD: I have been concentrating on North Mississippi Allstars but I do have
tricks up my sleeve for the future. I wrote a score to a silent film that I plan to share
with everyone next year. That was so satisfying and inspiring.
JB: Do you expect more music and shows with Butch Trucks and Oteil
Burbridge in the
future? That seemed like an interesting project and you've obviously known those guys for
LD: What a dream come true! We plan to do another Roots Rock Revival Camp
JB: And as I hit all the bases, do you think you and Cody will be
The Word again any time soon?
LD: I sure hope so! We need The Word!
THE DOSSIER: 5 Hot Luther Sit-Ins From the Past Year and 1 From the Vault
It’s hard to go wrong with Luther, but these shows jump out as strong examples from the
past year of Luther and NMAS as host or Luther as guest musician.
NMAS and Friends at
Minglewood Hall, Memphis, TN, 11/23/2012: Everything you love about the NMAS and more:
a show on the more-or-less home court of Memphis, a runaway train feeling as the jams
percolate and build, and likeminded guests (Burnsides! Alvin Youngblood Hart!) weaving in
and out as everybody switches instruments.
Bowlive, Brooklyn, NY, 3/7/2013: This one has a little bit of everything from Bowlive:
jazz, funk, blues, blazing rock ‘n’ roll, John Popper, Saunders Sermons, Hendrix and
Beatles tunes, and Luther and Cody wailing away for most of set two.
Luther with Phil Lesh & Friends at Terrapin Crossroads, 4/12/2013: The second of three
sizzling, unusual shows that anticipated the fall PLF tour lineup has a 2-hour, 10-minute
second set that includes Neil Young’s “Down by the River” and the Allstars’ “Mean Ol Wind
Luther with Umphrey’s McGee
at Summer Camp, Chillicothe, IL, 5/26/2013: A typically sparkling Umphrey’s set at
Summer Camp gets that much gnarlier with the additions of Luther and the one and only Taj
Mahal midway through the set.
From the Vault:
NMAS with Al Kooper, Somerville, MA,
4/16/2000: A short show as opener for Galactic, but a hot one from the “old days” of
NMAS, which at this point included Garry Burnside on second guitar. Bonus: Rock legend Al
Kooper sits in throughout the gig on Hammond B3 organ.