North Mississippi Allstars' "A-Ha" Moment
The 11.4 square miles of Hernando, Mississippi has seen its fair share of talented musicians, including Jerry Lee Lewis, and guitar pioneer Paul Burlison. In more recent years, though, a younger, but no less prolific musician calls the town home: Drummer and renaissance man Cody Dickinson, who along with his singer-guitarist brother Luther, is two-thirds of the revved-up blues band that's the North Mississippi Allstars (rounded out by bassist Chris Chew).
North Mississippi Allstars
In the last 13 years they've put out nine albums, including the just-released World Boogie is Coming. Like the band themselves, it's a record that boasts an impressive legacy. The title comes from the brothers' late father, Jim Dickinson, whose credits include producing Big Star and the Replacements, among many others, as well as playing piano on the Stones' "Wild Horses."
"'World boogie is coming' was my father's valediction. He signed off with that," says Cody. The mirrored disco ball resting in a cotton field on the album cover says it all. "North Mississippi is such a huge part of our identity. I export and import this melting pot of creative influences and that's my gumbo, my recipe for my art," he explains. "But it's ultimately incubated and cultured here. We can tour Japan and Australia and come back to Hernando and bring that with us, and that's literally what the record is about."
They had the heady ambition of making a "career" and "cultural" statement, and to that end, Robert Plant plays harmonica on two songs and there's emotional archival material from the late R.L. Burnside on the record. Luther is more the legacy guy, while Cody admits, "I'm famously quoted as being not nostalgic. That lies on Luther's shoulders. That's the mojo, the magic, when we are looking forward and reaching back at the same time. We'll do that within a four-minute song; maintaining the integrity but make it interesting and accessible to modern listeners."
Legendary blues hobo Seasick Steve imparted the importance of carrying on the roots/blues legacy to Luther, who also plays in the Black Crowes. The guitarist took Steve's entreaty to heart, while for Cody, it was a drive near his home that provided his "a-ha" moment. "I went for a drive in rural Mississippi on Interstate 69, which is a new road. So I was seeing this region I grew up in a new way. I was taken by its natural beauty, juxtaposed with the lost hope and desperation, and I realized in that moment that I could capture this juxtaposition in one frame, in one shot, I'm talking photography. That was the genesis. I felt an overwhelming artistic responsibility to share that with the world. That started this record. We literally went into the studio and recorded [Muddy Waters'] "Rollin' and Tumblin'" and shot a video at the same time. When you see the washboard solo, that's the one that's actually on the record.. It became this immersive project, a completely multi-media experience. We were off to the races; next thing we knew we had 25 songs recorded and four music videos."
So, after nearly two decades of touring nine albums, they set out--and succeeded--to create their magnum opus. "The time was right," Cody concludes. "It was almost easy, a relief to make this record. It was a daunting task, but at the same time, I feel so blessed to be an artist, because it's literally manifesting dreams into reality. We have concepts in our minds and we're able to, through a step by step process, bring them to life and make them real. It was very linear and very satisfying."
The North Mississippi All-stars play Irving Plaza on Wednesday, September 11, doors, 7 pm.