NMA: Shake What Your Mama Gave Ya

 
There's a little secret I'll let you in on. When you enjoy what you do, when playing guitar and singing are what you're trained to do and it's what you love, well, it's not that difficult. Time just flies by. You get into the zone, and it's like living a dream. It's like being in a dream.

Luther Dickinson on all night sit-ins

 

That peculiar intersection of LSD and "Three Hundred Pounds of Joy" surfaces in the Allstars' music at times, where their blues bounce carries long haired concertgoers away on a rainbow Slip 'n' Slide. Hernando taps into this with "I'd Love To Be A Hippie," a smiling creeper sung by bassist Chris Chew, who rounds out the trio.

Chris Chew by Josh Mintz
"You listen to those early ZZ Top records and there's no love song or pop ballad but there's a slow blues. You need something to contrast the riff-rock and the slow blues ballad is the perfect thing to break it up," says Luther. "Chris has really come into his own. One of the next things we have to do is his solo record, which will be straight, hardcore soul music."

However, for the hints of Flower Power in their sound, don't expect the Allstars to start singing about smiling on your brother or starting peace rallies.

"On the tour with Mavis and Charlie, we played [Black Sabbath's] 'War Pigs' every night. But, I haven't been able to write a protest song. Some cats are cut out for it and some aren't," observes Luther. "It's cool that Neil Young put out his record [Living With War] and Bruce [Springsteen] put out his record [Magic], and Michael Franti is amazing at his message, but for me it comes back to that R.L. Burnside philosophy of whatever place you're at you should try and give it that clapboard juke joint feeling. Maybe I'm a little better at escapism [laughs]."

Hernando is looser than their past couple records, showing greater continuity with the Allstars' freewheeling live shows. Dickinson says they welcome happy accidents but also understand the value of discipline. It's wisdom picked up from friends like Col. Bruce Hampton and alumni of his peculiar boot camp.

"Jeff Sipe says, 'Go out on a limb and break it!' Yeah! If you play in the Colonel's band he doesn't want you drinking water. He damn sure don't want you taking a drink. No smoking cigarettes, no flirting with the crowd. It's all about the music. He says, 'If you go to the dentist you don't want him making eyes at your girlfriend. Or if you go see Michael Jordan you don't want to see him drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette.' It's professionalism," recounts Luther. "What he really laid on me that really changed it up was, 'If you get 10 people or a 100,000, just don't let it get to you. Don't be discouraged, don't be intimidated, don't be frustrated because that's just your ego fuckin' with you. If you can bring yourself to come through on the music night after night, get in the zone and do your thing, then nothing will throw you.' That's a muthafucker right there!"

Cody Dickinson by Josh Mintz
"You can't let [small crowds] get to you. Or you could be playing Jazz Fest and there's 50,000 people. You can't let that get to you either. Cody really loves packed, sweaty bars and I really like a half-empty Fillmore. I like the more spacious rooms. Let's the people breathe, let's the music breathe. Outdoor festivals are the ultimate. It's a celebratory experience and it should be outside."

Luther Dickinson is a sit-in king at festivals, wandering the grounds, guitar on his back, looking for an amp to jump. "I'm a ho'," he laughs. Even after playing marathon sets with his own band, he's usually ready for more. "There's a little secret I'll let you in on. When you enjoy what you do, when playing guitar and singing are what you're trained to do and it's what you love, well, it's not that difficult. Time just flies by. You get into the zone, and it's like living a dream. It's like being in a dream. It's what it's all about."

The day I spoke with him, Luther was knee deep in a blues super group session at Zebra Ranch with Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus, his dad and the Allstars.

"Our home studio is like our little family church. I can be at home but until we do a session in the barn I don't really fell like I've made it back yet. I've got no interest in recording our music anywhere else now," says Luther. "You'll never be able to recapture the blues of '20s and '30s. You just take it in and that naturally turns into rock 'n' roll. Local musicians, white and black, influenced Jimmy Rodgers, and then he put out records that influenced John Hurt and Furry Lewis, who in turn influenced a generation of white dudes. It jumps back and forth between the generations and races. That's what I love."

Continue reading for more on North Mississippi Allstars...


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