Tuesday, August 18, 2009

World Boogie Is Coming

"If you've got Dickinson, you don't need anyone else"
- Bob Dylan to Harp Magazine, May 2003
This will have nothing to do with the Yankees and little to do with anything previously posted at Fack Youk, but given our musical leanings here, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention it. Last week I mentioned how August seems to be a terrible month for deaths, both in baseball and music. Just hours before that post published, Les Paul went to the great beyond. Now, there is another loss to mourn.

Last night, as I was finishing cooking dinner, I logged onto to my favorite music website, jambands.com. It was only then that I learned that Memphis music legend Jim Dickinson passed away Saturday, at the age of 67, following triple bypass surgery.

Even if you're a music buff like Jay or me, you may never have heard of Jim Dickinson, but chances are you've heard Jim Dickinson. The man's music career has spanned the past forty-plus years and has associated him with some of the biggest names in music history.

As a sideman, Dickinson recorded with the likes of Arethra Franklin, Sam & Dave, Ry Cooder, Delaney and Bonnie, Arlo Guthrie, Mavis Staples, and Duane Allman. His Dixie Flyers were the house band during the heyday of Criteria Studios in Miami, where he worked with legenedary producer Tom Dowd.

Dickinson later recorded and toured with the Rolling Stones. He provides the piano on the recording of "Wild Horses". In the Stones documentary Gimme Shelter, Dickinson can be seen lounging next to Keith Richards as the band listens to the playback of the freshly cut track. More than twenty five years later, Dickinson would record with Bob Dylan on his critically acclaimed comeback album, Time Out of Mind.

In the early 1970s, Dickinson returned to the Memphis area, where he'd spent most of his youth. From then until the end of his days, he was at the forefront of the Memphis music scene, the city from which Sam Phillips and his Million Dollar Quartet brought rock and roll to the rest of the nation. He was instrumental in the rediscovery of blues acts such as Furry Lewis, Bukka White*, and Sleepy John Estes, often playing in their backing bands.

*White once played in the Negro Leagues, gifted his cousin B.B. King with the first guitar B.B. ever owned, and was an innovator of the National Steel guitar. One of his steel guitars is currently owned by blog favorite Derek Trucks.

Upon his return to the Memphis area, Dickinson also began a solo career, releasing the critically acclaimed Dixie Fried in 1972 (featuring Dr. John and Eric Clapton). After a 30 year hiatus, he jump started his solo career in 2002, releasing four more albums prior to his passing. During his recording hiatus, Dickinson continued to perform, assembling the legendary Memphis band Mudboy and the Neutrons.

For more than thirty years Dickinson has also enjoyed a wildly successful second career as a producer. He guided the recordings of artists such as Big Star, Toots Hibbert, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, The Replacements, Albert King, The Radiators, and John Hiatt.

In the mid 1970s, Dickinson moved slighly south of Memphis, to the hill country of north Mississippi. There, he established his Zebra Ranch Studios, and along with his wife Mary, raised their sons Luther and Cody. Growing up in that household, and in that region of the country, the Dickinson boys were exposed to a wealth of musical greatness, and were soon taken with the famed blues musicians of the hill country: Otha Turner, R.L. Burnside, and Junior Kimbrough. In 1996 the brothers Dickinson and childhood friend Chris Chew formed the North Mississippi Allstars, my favorite band, whose song "The Meeting" I used for our game preview just last Wednesday. The lyric I quoted at the bottom, "If you ain't right you better get right" was an old phrase Jim was fond of using. As father, mentor, and producer, Jim was a guiding force for NMA.

While Jim Dickinson is now gone, his legacy, in the recorded music he left behind as a performer and a producer and in the music that will continue to be created by his progeny, will last. Another phrase Jim was fond of was "World Boogie is coming". Indeed it is, and when it does, Jim Dickinson will be largely to thank for it. Rest in peace Jim.