Dickinson Family Legacy
by Justin Farrar | September 5, 2013
Over the last half-century the Dickinsons' stamp on Southern music has been profound. Family patriarch Jim Dickinson (1941-2009) was the archetypal Memphis bohemian, one whose influence as producer, musician, roots archivist and guru-like muse stretches across not only soul and rock 'n' roll, but blues and alternative music as well.
Jim Dickinson initially came to prominence as a member of The Dixie Flyers, a white-hot session group that in the late '60s and early '70s backed all manner of badasses, including Aretha Franklin (see her sublime Spirit in the Dark album), Delaney & Bonnie, Jerry Jeff Walker and Sam & Dave. At the urging of friend Duane Allman, Dickinson struck out on his own, eventually recording Dixie Fried, a cracked masterpiece from '72 that somehow connects the dots between Sun-burned boogie, California country rock and Beat poetry. He also played in Mudboy & the Neutrons, a vital outfit that throughout the '70s helped bridge the divide between Memphis' rockabilly past and the city's then-burgeoning punk underground. But Dickinson never gave up session work, through the years collaborating with the likes of Big Star (he produced Third/Sister Lovers), Alex Chilton, The Rolling Stones (that's his piano work on "Wild Horses"), The Flamin' Groovies, Tav Falco's Panther Burns (arguably the fathers of retro-rockabilly), Bob Dylan, Primal Scream, Ry Cooder and even Spacemen 3's Sonic Boom.
Meanwhile, Dickinson's prodigious sons Cody (drums) and Luther (guitar) have carved out their own distinct paths. Because he and wife Mary Lindsay moved the family to the rolling hills of northern Mississippi while their sons were still quite young, their music has wound up reflecting the hill country blues of Mississippi Fred McDowell, Otha Turner, R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough far more than the Memphis-bred R&B and rockabilly that originally inspired their pops. The brothers' primary vehicle is the hard-grooving North Mississippi Allstars (whose new album, World Boogie Is Coming, is a total burner). But like their father, they certainly keep busy: In addition to joining The Black Crowes in 2007, Luther has recorded and/or performed with John Hiatt, Beck, John Medeski and others. As for Cody, he oversees Hill Country Revue, who are more or less The Black Keys, had Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney actually had the good fortune to grow up in Mississippi. And together, Cody and Luther have repeatedly teamed up with Jon Spencer under the moniker Spencer Dickinson.