Jim Dickinson: 1941-2009
Acclaimed record producer, pianist and North Mississippi Allstars patriarch James Luther Dickinson died this past Saturday in Memphis after undergoing triple bypass heart surgery.He was 67.
The multi-talented musician, who went by the name Jim Dickinson, was born in Little Rock, AR, but found success in Memphis. It was there that he recorded for the legendary Sun label, appearing on the Jesters Cadillac Man. Dickinson slowly made a name for himself as an in-demand producer and sideman. During his storied, underappreciated career he played piano on The Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses and The Flamin Groovies’ Teenage Head, as well as recordings by Aretha Frankin, Delaney and Bonnie, Ry Cooder, Bob Dylan and a host of other soul, R&B and rock musicians. In addition, he produced and co-produced records ranging from Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers to The Replacements Please to Meet Me.
Dickinson stepped out on his own for the solo release Dixie Fried in 1972. The album featured covers of songs by the likes of Bob Dylan and Carl Perkins. The producer’s work with Big Star and that groups singer Alex Chilton, in particular, turned him into a cult hero among indie rock and alternative acts. In his later years, he produced a number of younger musicians like Mudhoney, Alvin Youngblood Hart, G. Love & Special Sauce and The John Spencer Blues Explosion.
In the past decade, Dickinson reached a new audience through his sons Luther and Cody, who co-founded the North Mississippi Allstars. The musicians backed their farther on both 2002s Fee Beer Tomorrow and 2006s Jungle Jim and the Voodoo Tiger. Dickinson also appeared on the North Mississippi Allstars 51 Phantom, Polaris and Electric Blue Watermelon and joined his sons onstage at Bonnaroo in 2004 and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 2005 for Hill Country Revue performances. He also formed the Memphis band Snake Eyes, with whom he recently recorded.
Rock-and-roll is self-taught: I really do think its something you grow out of yourself and your environment, Jim Dickinson told Relix in 2004. Its folk music. It comes up from the street. At least the good stuff does. Its not that he learned without teachers. They both started out with John Evans from the original Box Tops and he was a very sympathetic, philosophic kind of teacher. Luther has studied with Shawn Lane who was a monster of the instrument. And a local jazz musician named Ed Finney who doesnt even play in the Western scale. So I mean, it wasnt that they werent taught, they just werent part of any teaching system. You know when I started playing, I got the Mel Bay chord book and never got off the third page. I still dont know what the damn notes are and Ive been playing the guitar for 55 years. I look at my hands and I tell what Im doing which kept me honest.
He experienced cardiac problems earlier in the year and died on August 15 in Memphis after completing triple bypass heart surgery.