A roots rock legend in the making, Luther Dickinson thrives on keeping very busy.
Of all of the many shining lights currently beaming bright in the American roots rock/jam/alt-country hemisphere, Luther Dickinson is arguably the brightest. And over the last few years, he’s certainly been one of the busiest.
Not only did he take a mini-hiatus from his longtime band the North Mississippi All Stars to join The Black Crowes for a spate of touring and songwriting, he is also embarking on second short tour this fall with the Southern Soul Assembly featuring JJ Grey, Anders Osborne and Marc Broussard, after recently recording two solo records and playing behind the likes of John Hiatt, Shawn Lane, The Wandering, The South Memphis String Band and others.
But Luther’s not the only All Star to thrive by delving into other musical worlds. He and fellow All Star and brother Cody Dickinson have recently been producing music on separate projects for a variety of eclectic musicians. While time away from the “main” band can sometimes be a hindrance to a band’s progress and evolution, Luther says just the opposite has happened for Cody and himself. They’ve grown and evolved by working on those other projects and exploring other sounds and feels.
“We’ve grown so much better about doing side projects and production work and taking time off from the road, it keeps it fresh,” Luther said on the phone this week from his home. “We try not to let the music get stagnant; we’ve been experimenting and trying to evolve the band.”
About 14 years after their stunning debut record “Shake Hands With Shorty” was released, Luther and Cody have managed to churn out nine utterly memorable records (and they’re now in the studio working on the 10th) that mix rock, soul, funk and blues, blending traditional musical themes from their Mississippi roots while also creating startlingly fresh-sounding raw rock and roll. Add a big helping of genes from their father, the late legendary music producer Jim Dickinson, and you have a delicious stew of unforgettable music coming from these boys.
Letting themselves wander down other musical paths and ventures was not something they thought about doing earlier on in the All Stars’ history. They figured it was all about having a laser focus on their own band, and putting everything they had into that. Funny what valuable lessons come simply with experience.
“That’s something you learn over the years that I wish we’d known 10-12 years ago. We used to try and filter every idea, every experiment, into the one project,” Luther said. “That’s just what we assumed we were supposed to do. But having [other] projects allows the All Stars to really flex and be what they do best, naturally, ya know? If you put everything in its proper place, then that allows all the music to be uncompromised. And that’s been our greatest triumph the last three years, is learning that and expanding that.”
As if they needed even more inspiration, the All Stars spent this summer in Europe opening for rock icon Robert Plant and his band the Sensational Shape Shifters – a rare experience Luther still marvels at. Plant was another example of someone, like Luther, who always strives to keep things fresh, and he helped the All Stars to find even more priceless perspective that will undoubtedly help them on their own journey.
“The biggest lesson is how hard (Robert Plant) works,” Luther continued. “He’s so industrious, he’s always rehearsing and stretching and pushing, I feel he deserves everything he’s ever achieved or accomplished, ‘cuz he’s such a hard worker, man. Plus he’s so smart, he knows more about American music than any American I know. And he really strives to keep his music fresh, to keep that fresh energy in his music. And that’s most important, you know, that’s where the longevity lies.”
The North Mississippi All Stars perform Sept 25th at the State Theater, 220 N. Washington St., Falls Church VA. 22046. For tickets, click here.
Steve Houk writes about local and national music luminaries for WashingtonLife.com and his own blog at midliferocker.wordpress.com. He is also lead singer for the successful Northern Virginia classic rock cover band Second Wind