North Mississippi Allstars’ Hill Country Roots

Brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson grew up surrounded by American roots music in the hill country of northwestern Mississippi.

Feb. 8 | 9 p.m.
Crystal Bay Casino | Crystal Bay, Nev.

“It’s not too far from Memphis, but it gets rural really quick,” Luther says. “It’s an enlightened little spot. It’s laid back and there’s a lot of good music. My dad and his friends were all musicians. Everything social our family did was all music-based. It was Memphis is the 70s. There was an artistic counterculture. I always knew I was going to be a guitar player.”

In their early years, their father Jim Dickinson, noted record producer and leader of Mud Boy and the Neutrons, discouraged his boys from following in his musical footsteps.

“He said it was a hard life, don’t do it, blah, blah, blah,” says Luther. “But once we started writing originals, he was like, alright. He took us under his wing and showed us how to record. We started a family band and he and his friends taught us how to play roots music.”

In 1996, Luther and Cody started the North Mississippi Allstars and hit the road with proto-jam bands such as Medeski Martin & Wood, Galactic, Gov’t Mule and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

“The scene in North Mississippi was so fun with all the great music that was happening at the time,” he says. “Everyone was so generous. To this day, people still invite me to sit in and play with them. There is no better learning experience than jumping in with a band that really knows how to play together.”

When they weren’t on the road, Luther and Cody came home to hill country where they played low-key sessions with blues legends such as Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside and Otha Turner.

“We grew up on Jimi Hendrix and Allman Brothers,” says Luther. “I remember I was 15 years old my first time jamming in a garage with a real band. It demystified it for me.”

Although Luther admits he wasn’t a natural guitar player from the start, he always had an innate knack for creating material.

“I could write songs better than I could sing them,” he says. “It’s just like skiing. You gotta push yourself and hang out with athletes who are better than you.”

The hard work paid off. Luther landed a lead guitar slot with The Black Crowes from 2007 to 2013.

North Mississippi Allstars have been going strong for 22 years with Luther and Cody standing side by side.

“It’s a really fun endeavor,” says Luther. “If you got a brother band and you can get along, it’s easy to keep it together. There can be a telepathic level to the music if everything is sympathetic. It definitely cuts down on rehearsal. Musical families are such a widespread phenomenon; there’s definitely something to be said for it.”

The Allstars have recently been recording in Memphis and at their home studios in Hernando, Miss. They plan to release their 20th album later this year.

“What I’m into is roots music,” says Luther. “We grew up with rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, blues, gospel, punk rock and rap. I just love that our generation of musicians — be it G-Love or Beck or whoever — took the influences that were available for us and made our own type of music from it.”

As far as the trajectory of traditional blues and roots music in America, Luther believes it is an artform always evolving.

“America is such an interesting place historically and the art reflects it,” he says. “If you sink deep into the well of the history of the blues it gets into an ugly American history lesson pretty quick. Luckily enough, we’re telling our own stories.” |