Down and dirty blues for a new generation: The North Mississippi Allstars infuse hill country blues with gospel and psychedelic rock |

Down and dirty blues for a new generation: The North Mississippi Allstars infuse hill country blues with gospel and psychedelic rock

BRECKENRIDGE-Southern blues legends R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and Otha Turner infused the boys from the North Mississippi Allstars with their mojo, and now the Allstars are grinding out a new generation of down-and-dirty hill country blues.Allstar frontman Luther Dickinson and his brother, Cody Dickinson, simmered in Memphis and Mississippi’s musical gumbo from an early age. Their father, Jim Dickinson, sat in as a keyboardist for the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and Eric Clapton and was a legendary Memphis producer for roots-rockers Ry Cooder and Jim Keltner and post-punkers Green on Red and the Replacements, among others.”We were always around my dad’s friends, who were inspired by the great ’60s guys,” Luther Dickinson said. “In the hill country, what was so great (when we were growing up) was that Junior and Otha were still alive and all their sons and grandsons were our age, and we just hung out.”The Dickinson brothers took a short detour in high school from the rich blues tradition that surrounded them by forming a punk-turned-thrash-rock fusion band. But they grew tired of the mosh-pit mentality and turned to a simpler sound, soaking up Kimbrough’s and Burnside’s music at Kimbrough’s Juke Joint.Then Luther Dickinson started visiting the area’s oldest living bluesman, 92-year-old Turner. The goat farmer – also a connoisseur of women, moonshine and, of course, blues music – became Luther Dickinson’s mentor and taught him how to play soulfully by valuing feeling over flash. He became obsessed with country blues and its nomadic tradition.One night in 1996, as Luther Dickinson sweltered in a hot trailer, he envisioned how he wanted to carry on the blues tradition. He and his brother would play electric versions of old acoustic tunes, under the name of the region they grew up in: North Mississippi.After touring for a year, the brothers recruited their 6-foot-7-inch football player friend, Chris Chew. Chew learned to play bass at his Southern Baptist church, and on some Saturdays, the band members would drive all night from Atlanta or Chicago to deliver Chew home in time for Sunday morning services.”Chris brought an uplifting gospel style and we had a rocking, Southern- and psychedelic rock style,” Luther Dickinson said. “Once everything got combined in there, I think that’s when we formed our strange little sound.”The Allstars’ “strange little sound” is based on the hill country tradition, which takes a simple, primitive song and stretches it with a little rock ‘n’ roll.”Our sound is a combination of the blues, gospel and traditional psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll, but if you took us down to just one guitar and a voice, it would be total hill country blues,” he said.The outfit’s first album, “Shake Hands with Shorty” was a collection of raucous, drawn-out blues standards. The second, “51 Phantom,” captured the raw energy of a first take because the elder Dickinson, who produced the record, didn’t like to cut songs that had been excessively road tested. Both albums garnered Grammy nominations.But Luther Dickinson views the first two records as merely setting the stage for the latest, “Polaris,” due out in September. It includes the Allstars’ newest member, Duwayne Burnside (R.L. Burnside’s son), who plays guitar but also doubles on drums, allowing Cody Dickinson to step out and play guitar, piano and sing lead vocals.”This was supposed to be our most “out’ album,” he said. “In the end, we took everything we could do – hill country blues, gospel, psychedelic pop and everything else – and used it to nail down a whole new kind of Southern rock. It’s real honest. It’s real heartfelt.”The Allstars play Thursday at Sherpa & Yeti’s in Breckenridge. Last time the band came to town, the show could have sold out four times, said Crawford Byers, of Overeasee Productions.”It’s a positive, good time,” Luther Dickinson said. “We’re always trying to get people off, get the girls dancing and get people riled up.”Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at—North Mississippi Allstars- When: Thursday, May 29- Where: Sherpa & Yeti’s, Breckenridge

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