There might not be a musician more enthusiastic about music and life than North Mississippi Allstars’ guitarist Luther Dickinson.
Really, for Dickinson there isn’t a distinction; music is what gives this man life. Over the course of a 20-minute conversation with Tahoe Onstage, Dickinson glowed about all things music in his charming Delta-hippie accent, from festival season to why he is awestruck by jazz composer Kamasi Washington to who would be in his one-off festival band. His appreciation of music was as genuine and pure as the people in the front row of concerts who have been holding their spot for hours.
There were plenty of similar fans as the North Mississippi Allstars took the stage twice over the course of the Hangtown Halloween Ball Festival in Placerville on Oct. 22-25.
“Festival season, that’s like the payoff to working on the road and in the city ‘cause it’s such an insular life, you know? Even on tour, you don’t get to see music or see your friends. But at festivals you get to hear what all the bands are like, you get to check out new bands, you get to see your friends and sit-in with your friends. Also I just like music outside. Just let it breath, you know. … Music is a celebration of life and festivals are when it’s really time to get down. Just the paganistic joy of people coming together for live music,” Dickinson said.
For Dickinson, the summer festivals brought about some fanboy moments of his own. He was stoked to be on Lock’n Festival’s 2016 lineup, considering it an honor just to be included with such great artists. He also had the chance to catch the Fare The Well shows in Chicago, which he said he would never forget. For the record, John Mayer will “pleasantly surprise” skeptics when he tours with The Dead this fall. He also was impressed by his ability to draw women to listen to the electric guitar.
The guitarist always has been a huge collaborator and outside of the North Mississippi Allstars has played with The Black Crowes, The Southern Soul Assembly, The Word and his band’s configuration with Anders Osborne, N.M.O. Dickinson is happy to sit-in with friends and hopes his tours are always striving to be about collaboration. Asked to pick a lineup of musicians to have his own super-jam with, the guitarist was giddy with the possibilities.
“There is gonna be a lot of guitar players probably. (Laughs) The two people that came to mind are Jack White and Ryan Adams, who don’t get along, so let’s get them together. That will be interesting. And then I’ll play bass. And then we’ll get Dr. John, that would be good. And then who is gonna play drums? Pretty Lights! Pretty Lights, Pretty Lights! We don’t need drums, we just have him do his thing. And we need a girl. Aretha Franklin. (Laughs) Aretha and Pretty Lights,” Dickinson said.
He had even more praise for Pretty Lights (a.k.a Derek Smith), whose album “A Color Map of the Sun” was made from vinyl samples Smith created with a host of musicians, calling the album “the coolest project of the last couple years.”
In addition to “A Color Map of the Sun,” Dickinson recently has been floored by “The Epic,” the 17-song opus by jazz composer Kamasi Washington. He was impressed by Washington’s confidence and talent to put out such a large album filled with such dense tracks. He also believed Washington had stumbled onto a new art form of created albums to listen to in binges, comparing it to watching whole seasons of television shows in two days.
“Kamasi Washington is tapping into that. It’s like people say you gotta make a short record because of people’s attention spans are short. But I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, put it all out there.’ I think give it all to them. Three CDs jam-packed full of music, that’s awesome. … If you want to commit, you can spend a whole week with that record and just scratch the tip of the iceberg,” Dickinson said.
Dickinson is no stranger to knowing what it takes to make records and has added producing records to his many adventures in music. He has produced a handful of records over the past couple years, including working with blues guitarist Samantha Fish on this year’s “Wild Heart.” Dickinson said he started producing albums because he was just fed-up with how bad modern records sounded. Despite his father being famous producer Jim Dickinson, he said he picked up the key to his producing technique from singer-songwriter/producer Buddy Miller.
“What I go for, and I learned this from Buddy Miller, is that it’s really all about the vocals. The whole idea of doing a band track and vocal track later, that’s good for pop music, that’s good for rap if you have to. But if you have a great vocalist, it’s the band’s job to push them and get a great vocal performance on tape! … This is all about the vocalist. To me that is what I strive for, live vocals and a feeling,” Dickinson said.