James Luther Dickinson

James Luther (“Jim”) Dickinson died last Saturday (Aug. 15) of a heart attack. His loss to the world of rock’n’roll cannot be understated. He was one of a kind. The good kind.

He was born in the countryside outside of Memphis where he moved as a tyke. His father was a repair man and once he followed his father into a studio where Howlin‘ Wolf was doing a radio broadcast. Needless to say, this was a life changing moment. He played piano in dozens of teenage bands, put in a season at Baylor college then returned to Memphis to work as a studio musicians for Bill “Raunchy” Justis, for whom he cut his first single, a quasi- jug band thing called You Do It All The Time.
He sang on the Jesters’ Sun classic– Cadillac Man b/w My Babe the last good Sun 45 (even though he wasn’t even in the band). Another early killer 45 appeared on the Southtown label– issued as by Jim Dickinson & the Katmandu Quartet, one side was a an organ driven frat party raver– Monkey Man, the flip,a blues shuffle called Shake ‘Em On Down (1966). A good start in the biz if there ever was one, he was batting 1000%.
In Memphis he worked as session piano player, put together various bands, got into production, and ended up as a member of the Dixie Flyers, the rhythm section put together by Jerry Wexler to replace the Muscle Shoals players whom he’d had a falling out with. With the Flyers, relocated to Miami, he played with Aretha (Spirit In The Dark), Wilson Pickett, Duane Allman, even put in an appearance on the FlaminGroovies Teenage Head (Kamu Sutra), all this as well as recording a killer solo LP– Dixie Fried (Atlantic, 1970) from which Wine, and Louise, are highlights (I’d post the whole LP but it seems to get pulled down whenever it’s posted). Another great record is Flash and the Memphis Casuals, a great garage rocker that Dickinson appeared on in ‘ 67— Uptight Tonight.
In the 70’s he formed a group called Mudboy & the Nuetrons, who made three great LP-‘s– Known Felons In Drag (New Rose, 1986), Negro Streets At Dawn (New Rose, 1993) and They Walk Among Us (New Rose 1995). My favorite cuts are Codine, I Can’t Feel At Home Anymore, Power To The People, I’ve Got A Secret (Shake Sugaree). The other band members included Lee Baker, Sid Selvidge, and Jimmy Crosswaite. All three LP’s are worth hunting down.
Dickinson stayed busy as a producer– working with the Replacements, Mudhoney, Big Star, the Panther Burns and his sons’ band– the North Mississippi All Stars.
Another great record Jim Dickinson steals the show on is the Johnny Burnette Trio re-union LP, issued in the early 80’s on Paul Burlison’s Rockabilly label (the Burnettes were all ready dead), but Dickinson appears with Burlison, Eddie Bond, James Van Eaton, Johnny Black and others, and his two tracks– Rooster Blues and Ubangi Stomp are killers. He also cut a one off backed by the Cramps which appeared on a Big Big (U.K.) sampler, where he tears through Red Headed Woman like there’s no tomorrow.
He played piano in Ry Cooder’s band (and on the Stones’ Wild Horses, Ian Stewart couldn’t play in minor keys)
As a producer he produced the best Alex Chilton LP’s (Like Flies On Sherbett), Big Star (Sister Lovers), not to mention hits by the Replacements and Mudhoney. After nearly thirty years since Dixie Fried he returned to the studio to record two excellent LP’s
Free Beer Tomorrow and Jungle Jim and the Voodoo Tiger (both Memphis International)
As a bar owner one of my proudest moments was having Jim Dickinson appear at the Lakeside Lounge with a band that featured my partner Eric “Roscoe” Ambel on guitar.
One of the best shows I ever saw, I wish I had a tape. I think it was his New York debut (I can’t remember the year, 2003?), Oddly enough his sons the North Mississippi All-Stars made their NYC debut at the Lakeside also.
Dickinson also did some field recording around Memphis, three volumes of these sounds– Beale St Saturday Night (Memphis Development Foundation) for years was available only at the drug store on Beale St., two volumes of Delta Experimental Projects Compilation: Down Home (New Rose) later appeared in the 80’s and are well worth hunting down. Another killer 45 issued in ’77 on the Barbarian label under the guise of JD & the Hoods– Rumble is one I’ve been looking for for ages, anyone got one to sell or trade?
Dickinson was something of a musical philosopher, see the interview above. He never minced words. On Chuck Levall, the Stone long time piano player– “that cocktail lounge playing mother fucker….”. He never got to produced Dylan or the Stones, the two acts that needed him most.
Such is life. I suggest you get yourself a copy of Dixie Fried (Atlantic), and Known Felons In Drag (New Rose), sit back and and enjoy what was one of America’s last great rock’n’roll characters.
We won’t see the likes of him again.

21 thoughts on “James Luther Dickinson”

  1. Been waiting for your eulogy on Jim, one of the bitter pleasures of life is reading good writing about people who are now no more. Fuck this year – Lux, Ron, Jim, three people who gave the world more than it knew what to do with. It's going to be a while before I can accept that there's no more Jim Dickinson stories, records, shows. His last record came out on my birthday, I sent an email to his Zebra Ranch to say thanks for a great b'day present – but he'd already gone to hospital. Fuck 2009, it's been crueller than I'd imagined possible to good men, and the mediocre dogs in the street get to walk around spouting same old same old shit. But at least we have the records, and somebody told me Jim got a good way into writing his autobiography… so that's something to hang around for.

  2. Thanks for filling in the details. Saw Jim at Joe's Pub a couple of years ago. It was aone-of-a-kind experience, just like “the Ballad of Billy and Oscar,” the story of a meeting between Billy the Kid and Oscar Wilde, that he wrote with art critic and madman Dave Hickey, was a sui generis song. Les Paul, Willie DeVille, Jim Dickinson. Where are the characters to replace them?

  3. Sad news, unfathomable loss. This cuts too deep. Dickinson had his fingers in so many pies. I used to go to a record store where the counter guy would always say, no matter what record you picked out, “you just bought the best record in the place.” As a kid my taste was pretty variable. I bought some pretty good and pretty shitty records there over the years, but his sales pitch always remained the same. I found Known Felons in Drag here, which I bought for the cover alone–the mud cake creature with grass hair. Eerie and silly, boding riches within. Naturally as I bought it, the counter guy issued his familiar mantra. He couldn't have been more right.That was my intro to Dickinson; been following him ever since. That Mud Boy record, sadly, was borrowed by a friend who left it in his car on a warm day. The outer edge got warped, but you could still play the songs closer to the inner groove, even tho they too played with strange flux. Still, we never stopped playing it. Never will either.An eternal regret's that I blew off Dickinson's Lakeside show for work. That job's gone, the money's gone, even the bar's gone and, sadly, now him, too.

  4. Thank you. I knew jim for 20 years, he might be theonly real genius I ever knew. I was in touch with him and mary while he was sick. he was upbeat and typically himself even though he felt awful. Thank you so much for remembering him.

  5. I couldn't possibly write any blog about him better,that guy had been involved in a million things, and there's no way I put it all together like you did here. It must be because the guy really loved music,so much,and so he had his hands into so many projects,and so many people respected him.Every time I like a band,his name was attached to the project,the Uptight Tonight Comp,Alex Chilton, Tav Falco/The Panther Burns,Mudhoney,and that Cramps song Red Headed Woman (what comp is that?) That's awesome! It's an insane song! Great producer,and much more.

  6. Hound- Thank You for the post and the dls. Any chance you can post the rest of the two Mudboy New rose cds? Been looking for them for a long time. KV

  7. “Any chance you can post the rest of the two Mudboy New rose cds? “Koch International which put out both CD's as a two-for a few years back looks unkindly to such things, which is why you never see it for download. If I was to post it they'd have Google pull my blog within days.I wish someone would post the Barbarian 45's, it's unlikely they'll sue anyone as they've been out of biz for 30 years……

  8. Hound, I can send you a file of Rumble if you want.Still got the best jukebox in NYC. My wife and I always come down and take pictures in your photo booth.-LAD


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