From one music city on the Mississippi River to another, the Memphis area-based North Mississippi Allstars feel a connection to New Orleans.
North Mississippi Allstars’ singer-guitarist-songwriter Luther Dickinson hears similarities between the Mississippi Hill Country’s traditional fife-and-drums music and New Orleans’ second-line beat. Dickinson also loves to work with New Orleans musicians.
“I’ve got so many good friends down in New Orleans,” he said. “I go there and do the most inspired, off-the cuff presentations.”
Being on stage without a script once frightened Dickinson.
“But I learned how to do it,” he said from his Mississippi Hill Country home recently. “That’s such a valuable lesson because, if you walk into a gig with New Orleans musicians Johnny Vidacovich and George Porter Jr., a gig with no set list, after you learn how to handle that, that gives you a state of mind that you can reference anywhere in the world.”
Dickinson’s New Orleans friends also include singer, songwriter and guitarist Anders Osborne. Last month, Dickinson and many others participated in the two-night Anders Osborne 1st Annual Holiday Spectacular at Tipitina’s.
“That was great fun,” Dickinson said. “Anders is such of force of nature.”
Dickinson and Osborne met about 18 months ago in New Orleans. Concurrently with the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Dickinson was playing a riverboat gig and Osborne was appearing at the Tipitina’s French Quarter location.
“I finished my gig, we landed and I just boogied down to Tipitina’s,” Dickinson said. “I’d never even spoken to Anders before, but we started playing music together and saw eye to eye.”
Dickinson instantly became an Osborne fan.
“He is my favorite rock guitar player and singer out there. He gets into such a deep zone. He’s so improvisational and his tone is so good and he sings great. He can’t be beat.”
Dickinson hopes that he and Osborne, a songwriter whose compositions have been recorded by Keb Mo’, Tim McGraw (“Watch The Wind Blow By”) and Brad Paisley, will write together.
“We’d also like to do some acoustic work together,” Dickinson said.
Dickinson’s solo folk- and blues-based instrumental album, Hambone’s Meditations!, is nominated for a Grammy award this year for best folk album. The upcoming North Mississippi Allstars album, World Boogie Is Coming, is also taking a rootsy direction.
“It’s really raw, live performances, but with some slick qualities added to it here and there,” Dickinson said. “I think our fans are going to really dig it because it’s an honest representation of us live, and that’s hard to do in the studio.”
World Boogie Is Coming takes the North Mississippi Allstars — which features singer-guitarist Dickinson, his drummer brother, Cody, and, at various times, bassist Chris Chew, Lightnin’ Malcolm and Alvin Youngblood Hart — back to the group’s Grammy-nominated album debut, 2000’s Shake Hands With Shorty.
“We haven’t made that kind of record for 12 years, but Shorty is, in a lot of ways, our most loved record. As songwriters and musical explorers, you make different types of records, but the time came when we were like, ‘We got all these good traditionals that we play live, let’s go do these.’ ”
Quite unlike traditional Mississippi Hill Country music, Luther and Cody Dickinson are performing with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra this week at the New Daisy Theatre in Memphis. The concerts are part of the orchestra’s Opus One Series, which features rock, rap and rhythm-and-blues acts in a symphonic setting.
“We’re honored to do it,” Dickinson said.
Dickinson and his younger brother, raised by parents who were both musicians, are just naturally musical. Their father, the late Jim Dickinson, played piano for recordings by the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Petula Clark and Arlo Guthrie and produced recordings by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Big Star, Jason and the Scorchers, and the Replacements.
“I don’t remember a choice,” Dickinson said of his musician’s life. “And that was my greatest advantage in my whole life, having that destiny and the focus it provided.
“But at first, Dad said, ‘Don’t do music just because I do it.’ And then, as soon as he saw that we were really into it, we started playing together and recording together. It was great that we became such good partners and great friends. We shared something that transcended the parent-child relationship.”