As mentioned last week in this post, the Rhythm & Roots Festival will once again take place at Ninigret Park in Charlestown on Labor Day weekend. It’s the last installment of Rhode Island’s music festival season as summer continues to wind down into fall, but Friday through Sunday the season will end with a bang.
One of the many talented performers will be the North Mississippi Allstars with guitarist and vocalist Luther Dickinson and his brother Cody on drums, keyboards and washboard. The pair are the creative core of the group and will perform as part of a series of shows they are doing in support of their eleventh studio album Set Sail which was released in January. People will see what they’re talking about when they take to the rhythm stage on the last day of the festival at 4.45pm.
Luther and I had a chat before the event about his first recording, growing up with his dad as a music producer, the musical direction of Set Sail, and still having multiple projects to work on.
Rob Duguay: Your very first recording is a guitar solo on the song “Shooting Dirty Pool” from The Replacements’ 1987 album “Pleased To Meet Me”, which you obtained thanks to your father Jim who produced the album. How did you find yourself in this situation? Did your father just approach you about it or is the story more complex than that?
Luther Dickinson: I was 13 when our dad Jim produced Pleased to Meet Me and it was amazing because I was fascinated by the band. I studied all the demos, rough mixes and learned all the songs as they recorded them. My guitar playing on “Shooting Dirty Pool” was a clear case of my dad telling the band, “Hey guys, how about we bring my kid here and make some comedic heavy metal guitar noise?”. [Paul] Westerberg was okay with that and was always really cool with me. tommy [Stinson] become a lifelong friend and confidant, he asked me to play on his latest Bash and Pop album.
DR: It’s awesome. What was it like growing up with your dad recording and producing albums? Did you hang around the recording studio a lot?
LD: Growing up in the counterculture community of Memphis felt natural to us as kids, surrounded by musicians, artists, writers, and weirdos. I’ve always liked it and jumped into it. When I was little I always knew I wanted to play guitar because Dad and his crew were having so much fun, making music and hanging out. The studio was an early fascination, but it was treated with respect. Our dad was keen to introduce us to everyone he worked with and we could usually come and visit the studio for an hour and see what was going on, but dad kept it professional and we just walked in and out. We would go back to our four-track tape studio in the basement and do our thing.
DR: Set Sail which has more of a soul and funk feel than the rest of the North Mississippi Allstars catalog. What inspired this musical direction for the album?
LD: I wanted to make a psychedelic folk rock record, but the soul and funk creep in naturally. Every song on Set Sail started with my lyric book, an acoustic guitar and a metronome. Cody [Dickinson]Jesse [Williams]lamar [Williams Jr.] and I would just add layers to see where the songs end and how they take shape. Having a predetermined direction for new songs never works for me. Accept what the song wants to be and accentuate what works best.
DR: I can totally see how it works better with songwriting. What sets you apart from the blues and bluegrass of the northern Mississippi region compared to Chicago blues, Applaachian bluegrass and other variations of these two styles?
LD: Northern Mississippi music focuses on rhythm and melody while toning down and simplifying chord changes. Otha Turner and Sharde Thomas fife & drum music exemplify the hill country style melody and rhythm best.
DR: Is there any new music being created for a new album already, do you plan to tour in support of Set Sail for a while and/or do you have any plans in the works?
LD: There are still several projects on the go, some on the back burner and some hot, but I don’t know which one will be released.