The Dickinson Family

The Dickinson Family - Hernando

James Luther “Jim” Dickinson (1941-2009) played a central role in the Memphis area blues scene for many decades though his work as a producer, vocalist and pianist. In 1996 his sons Luther and Cody formed the North Mississippi Allstars here together with their Hernando High School classmate Chris Chew.

Jim Dickinson was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, on November 15, 1941, and spent most of his childhood in Memphis, where he was introduced to the blues and other blues musicians by vocalist Alec Teal. Other important early encounters included seeing the Memphis Jug Band play in a downtown alley and Howlin’ Wolf performing live on KWEM radio in West Memphis. In high school Dickinson sang and played piano in a rock band that covered blues, and while in college at Baylor and Memphis State he became deeply interested in folklore. He played a major role in the folk and blues revival scene in Memphis in the early ’60s as a performer–playing with Sleepy John Estes and Booker “Bukka” White–and in creating events including the Memphis Country Blues Festival.

Dickinson’s career as a recording artist, sideman and producer began in the mid-’60s, and in 1969 he became a founding member of Atlantic Records’ studio band the Dixie Flyers, which backed Aretha Franklin, Albert Collins, Sam & Dave, Little Esther Phillips, Hank Ballard, Brook Benton, Bettye LaVette, James Carr and many others. Best known for his production/session/soundtrack work with the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Replacements, Big Star and Ry Cooder, Dickinson also recorded blues on his solo projects and with his group Mud Boy and the Neutrons, produced or recorded with blues artists Frank Frost, Albert King, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Johnny Woods and T-Model Ford, and did blues session work at Ace Records in Jackson. His recordings of Woods, John Estes, Mose Vinson, Alec Teal, Furry Lewis and other traditional artists appeared on the Dickinson-produced Beale Street Saturday Night and two of his Delta Experimental Project compilations.

In 1985 the Dickinson family moved to Hernando, where they operated a home studio before establishing the Zebra Ranch studio in 1995 near Coldwater; throughout Dickinson’s career, his wife Mary Lindsay worked with the business side of his operations. In 1989 Dickinson began performing with sons Luther (b. 1973) and Cody (b. 1976), and later produced and played on albums with their band, the North Mississippi Allstars (NMA). The group did much to spread the word about the musical traditions of north Mississippi, collaborating with local musicians Otha Turner and Sharde Thomas; R.L., Duwayne, Garry, Cedric and Cody Burnside; David and Kinney Kimbrough (Malone); Kenny Brown, Lightnin’ Malcolm, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Jimbo Mathus. NMA recordings, as well as Luther’s solo releases, have garnered Grammy nominations, and Cody coproduced the 2014 documentary Take Me to the River, featuring veterans Bobby Rush, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Mavis Staples, William Bell, Charlie Musselwhite and Otis Clay collaborating with younger artists, including Luther and Cody.

Jim Dickinson, a noted philosopher on music, once said, “When I heard Afro-American music, something happened. And it wasn’t just me. It was a whole generation of crazy white boys that this happened to. That’s what rock ’n’ roll is. Us trying to be them.” Dickinson died on August 15, 2009. He was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2012.”

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