The North Mississippi
Allstars are indeed one of the most intriguing acts to emerge from the
Southern Blues and Roots Rock world in recent years. Guitarist and Epiphone
player Luther Dickinson along with brother Cody on drums and bassist Chris
Chew have established themselves as one of the most potent live bands in
America. With their latest project “Electric Blue Watermelon” slated
to hit stores on September 6th, Epiphone’s Don Mitchell had the chance
to chat with Luther from his hotel room in Boulder, Colorado where NMA is
in the midst of a tour opening for and backing the legendary John Hiatt.
Tell me about your development as a
LUTHER: Well, I came from a musical environment.
They tell me that my first word was actually “studio” which is
pretty funny! Being around my father and all his friends at an early age
was a big influence and I knew I
wanted to play guitar when I was just a little kid. My brother
Cody and I started our first band when I was in the third grade and I’ve
been messing around with bands ever since. I started playing professionally
when I was fifteen and I’m thirty-two now so it’s just been a long
progression of experimenting with different styles of music and studying
those styles. I’ve really tried to learn as many of the traditional,
rootsy types of music that I could. I’ve studied everything from Memphis
Rock&Roll to R&B to Rockabilly and of course The Blues. I’ve
just kind of been playing forever.
It sounds like you were blessed to be
born into a very musical atmosphere.
LUTHER: Yeah, when I was very young my dad was
doing a lot of music for movies and also some records in California with
guys like Ry Cooder, who is just an amazing guitar player! He was definitely
an inspiration for me. Dad also worked with The Replacements when I was about
thirteen or fourteen. I learned a whole lot by studying Paul Westerberg back
then including a lot about writing songs. Dad would be at work and I would
be at home with the demos picking them apart!
Tell me about your new project ,
LUTHER: I’m really proud of this record.
It’s done and will be coming out on September 6th. We’re back to
a trio with dad producing and I think it’s the best collaboration
we’ve ever done. The timing was right, the material was right and everybody
was in the right frame of mind. The songs are kind of modern folk songs about
heroes in my life. Guys like Kenny Brown and Junior Kimbrough.
What is the writing process like for
LUTHER: Most of it is collaborative. The music
comes many times at sound check on the road and then I’ll come in later
and finish it up and bring in lyrics. There are times that I’ll bring
something in cold but my favorites are the ones we work on together. Those
songs have a unique sound that the others really don’t have.
You recently played on John Hiatt’s
new CD “Master of Disaster” and you are currently on the road as
his backing band. How did that come about?
Earlier I was talking about my dad working with Ry Cooder in the
eighties…well, he also worked with Hiatt so they’ve known each
other and worked with each other for a long time. He had planned to do a
solo acoustic project but changed his mind and called dad and us to help
out. He came to Memphis and we knocked it out in about two weeks. It was
great because everything was live.
So he sang while you tracked?
LUTHER: Yes, it was amazing.
How is it working with John in a live,
LUTHER: Oh Man, it’s great. He’s been
so cool and patient with us. We had to learn twenty eight songs and be ready
to go in two weeks. He’s got some great tunes and he’s just an
amazing singer. We’re having a ball and musically its real natural for
us. The tunes are right up our alley.
With all those songs do you play the
same set every night or do you mix it up?
LUTHER: No we switch it up. John’s got kind
of a rough outline but he’ll switch it up… sometimes even in the
middle of the set!
That keeps you on your toes and keeps
LUTHER: Definitely man, which is important.
Tell me about your Epiphones.
LUTHER: When I was about fourteen, I got an
Casino. I still have that guitar and play it all the time. I also have
Korina Flying V that I love…that thing sounds so damn good…and
an Epiphone Elitist
Les Paul Standard that I love. There’s just something about the
Flying V and that Elitist that sound so good. Maybe I shouldn’t say
this but they sound “bouncier” than the standard Les Pauls I’ve
played. There’s just something about them and their character that I
really like. By the way, the Casino and the Flying V are all over the new
CD. I also have a couple of the
acoustics. I love the way the finish on them is so light. They have a real
natural feel to them.
We are thrilled that you love our guitars
and look forward to what the future holds for you and the North Mississippi
Allstars! Thanks for taking the time to chat!
LUTHER: My pleasure!