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Studio just a side job for Luther Dickinson live onstage

Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Danielle Nicole is amused with Luther Dickinson as he changes a guitar string in midsong during the High Sierra Music Festival. He says Mojo Nixon, who broke all of his gear, is a “perfect role model.”
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

The son of a legendary producer, Luther Dickinson also has become an in-demand studio man, but he considers himself first and foremost a live performer.

“I love studios and I love recording but I made my living on the road,” Dickinson, a slide guitar player, told Tahoe Onstage.

The North Mississippi Allstars, theHill Country blues and jam band that he and his brother Cody started 20 years ago, will appear twice this week at the Crystal Bay Casino, Friday, Dec. 30, and Saturday Dec. 31. The group, which recently added bassist and singer Danielle Nicole, will be joined at the New Year’s Eve show by John Medeski and Marc Broussard.

“With that cast of characters, who knows what could happen?” Dickinson said. “That’s going to be great.”

Medeski also plays with Dickinson and Robert Randolph in the band The Word, one of Dickinson’s many projects. Dickinson spent so much time playing with others that some fans worried that Luther and Cody had stopped playing together. That was never the case.

North Mississippi Allstars

Brothers Luther, left, and Cody, right, with Danielle Nicole Schnebelen, on the Grandstand stage Saturday at the High Sierra Music Festival.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

“We never went anywhere,” Dickinson said. “Even when I was playing with the Black Crowes we were still putting out records and touring. We’ve never taken a hiatus. Side projects are healthy. Music’s like food. You can’t eat just one food. You’ve got to have a variety.”

Dickinson did confirm his father had encouraged his sons always to stay together, saying they were better together than they ever would be apart.

Jim Dickinson, who created the Zebra Ranch studio in Memphis, played with and produced for numerous artists, including Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. He died in 2009 at the age of 67.

His sons were involved in the sessions when they were very young. An artist who made a lasting impression on young Luther was Mojo Nixon. Dickinson was just 16 when he played on Nixon’s album “Otis.” The credits list him as playing “Teenage Guitar.”

“We didn’t hang out at the studio — that wasn’t appropriate,” Dickinson said. “We would come visit or the artist would come hang out with us. They’d come to dinner and, Mojo in particular, when they would come to dinner we would go down in the basement and jam. Mojo got on guitar and broke a couple of strings, then he’d go on the bass and he’d break a bass string, then he got on the drums and he broke our bass drum pedal. By the time Mojo was done, we couldn’t even jam any more. He demolished our gear. … He was a perfect role model.”

Artists now call upon Dickinson, 43, to be the adult in the room.

“He’s the guy to call,” said rising young blues performer Samantha Fish.

Dickinson produced Fish’s “Wild Heart,” which was No. 1 on Billboard’s Blues Album chart for multiple weeks.

“(Luther’s) playing is incredible and it’s no wonder why everybody wants him to be a part of their project because he’s got this really creative mind. No matter what he does, he’s got a really great approach. I was a little freaked out. I was sweating it because I was a fan of Luther’s for years, so that was a huge deal.”

Dickinson explained his recording method.

“My thing is I like to make artists’ live recordings. I always strive for live vocals as opposed to concentrating on the band track,” he said. “It’s all about getting the vocal performance. Any idea of getting a band track and overdubbing the vocal on top is just a backwards thought product of modern falsehoods. It works for some music. But we’re talking about American roots music. We’re talking about touring artists. We’re talking about people who move audiences night after night and the best way to capture them in the studio is to twist out the artist to rise to the occasion.

“It’s not like put in a scratch vocal and we’ll fix it later. Because that just throws everything off. It’s like you are breaking your foundation before you start building it. And another thing is budgets are so tight. We invest in high-quality audio. We have to work fast because it’s expensive to get high-quality audio.”

Dickinson praised his father as a great family man who stayed at home. However, Luther and Cody do most of their work on the road. Luther Dickinson has been touring since he joined R.L Burnside’s band.

“They taught me how to tour in ‘97 and we’ve been traveling ever since,” he said.

What’s the key to longevity?

“Take it one day at a time and stay on top of your game,” he said. “For me, I respect the audience and the craft and I respect my ability to perform at all costs because you never know when you’ve got to do it. You might have to do something on TV at 8 in the morning or be on the radio at 5 a.m. I want to give each and every audience member 100 percent. For me personally I just try to maintain my consistency. I feel a huge sense of gratitude to the audience. You can’t do it without them.”

— Get your daily fix of Tahoe live music at Tahoe Onstage.com

  • North Mississippi Allstars
    Where: Crystal Bay Casino
    Two shows (some tickets remain for both):
  • 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 30, with the Monophonics; Red Room after-party with Mojo Green
    Tickets: $30
  • 10 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 31, with special guests Marc Broussard and John Medeski; after-party with Jelly Bread
    Tickets: $50

    Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

    Guitar god triumvirate: Luther Dickinson, left, Eric McFadden and Anders Osborne at the 2016 High Sierra Music Festival.
    Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage.


About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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