OK, the top 5 contributions to our music by James Luther “Jim” Dickinson, a Memphis legend. As a member of the Dixie Flyers, the house band at Criteria Recording Studio, he played on hits for Aretha Franklin, Delaney & Bonnie, Sam & Dave & Esther Phillips (& Lulu !). For many years he played, produced & collaborated with Ry Cooder on several fine LPs. He produced the wonderful wreck that is “Third/Sister Lovers”, Big Star’s bitter sayonara to an indifferent music industry & a non-existent audience. As a result he was sought out by the Replacements to produce “Pleased To Meet Me”. Finally he played piano on “Wild Horses” by the Rolling Stones.
The Dixie Flyers were Atlantic’s go-to boys. The band only once played outside of the studio but the label were eager for them to record their own LP. The result was a Jim Dickinson solo record “Dixie Fried” (1972), a wonderful swampy, slurred, stoned collection with Dickinson, no great singer but the finest of raconteurs, telling tales of characters from the wilder side of life. Check out “John Brown”, a Captain Beefheart on a soul tip cover of an early Bob Dylan song. On “Oh How She Dances” Jim is a travelling show huckster proclaiming the unique virtues of his attractions. Tod Browning’s “Freaks” on a record. Tom Waits was to release his first record a year later & I think he was listening to “Dixie Fried”.
There was not another James Luther Dickinson LP until 1997. When he wasn’t playing or producing with Ry, Alex Chilton or the ‘Mats he performed with his friends in a band called Mud Boy & the Neutrons. There are 3 LPs & “Known Felons In Drag” (1986) has got the be the best title for a record ever. The band played American music…no more, no less. This clip of “Down By The Riverside” is, I would guess, from the 1970s. It is not gospel, not folk, not blues but it is pretty special.
Jim Dickinson became the larger-than-life “Captain Memphis”. He had been around since the early days of the Sun Studio, played on the soul hits of the 60s & had continued to make & produce great music with such varied artists. He knew everyone and had a good story about each of them. He said “As a producer, it really is all about taste, I’m not the greatest piano player in the world, but I’ve got damn good taste. I’ll sit down and go taste with anybody.” He knew about the space in music. He knew that without emotion it lost something.
I was lucky to see Jim play in 1988 as part of Ry Cooder’s band, the Moula Banda Rhythm Aces. On the “Get Rhythm” LP he co-wrote a song with Cooder & John Hiatt which has become a classic. the original has Harry Dean Stanton singing on it so is hard to beat. Jim did his own version of “Across The Borderline” on a 1997 live album.
Jim Dickinson died aged 67 in 2009 & Memphis lost another contributor to and an historian of its legendary music scene. He produced LPs for Toots & the Maytals, Jason & the Scorchers, Wille de Ville, Mojo Nixon & Dan Penn. He played on “Teenage Head” by the Flamin’ Groovies & with Primal Scream. When he played on Dylan’s “Time Out Of Mind” Bob told Daniel Lanois, “If you’ve got Dickinson, you don’t need anybody else” .
Jim’s sons Luther & Cody are musicians. Their Dad often played with the North Mississippi All-Stars. When his sons collaborated with John Spencer off of Blues Explosion it was at Jim’s Zebra Ranch studio & he sat in with the younger musicians on this fantastic 21st century blues. Jim Dickinson’s taste never let him down & his style was never out of fashion so…C’mon !