“There are cool cats and there are cool Memphis cats but no one, not
Elvis, not Jerry Lee, not even the Wolf came close to epitomizing Memphis
and cool like Jim Dickinson did. He was the Top Cat Daddy, an
inspiration, a mentor and my friend.

If you knew his music and understood his role as one of the links between
black and white culture and between blues and rock and roll, you know what
I'm talking about. If he is unfamiliar to you, now's as good time as any
to get to know him, even though he's checked out of the motel.”

--Joe Nick Patoski

For more about Jim go to

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Remembering Jim - Harris Scheuner

I'm reprinting this visitor's post that Harris Scheuner wrote Saturday about Jim. Here's what I believe Jim would say about it: "Not just yes, but HELL, YES!!!" "World boogie is coming!" Harris Scheuner: As I begin to write about Jim Dickinson on the anniversary of his just being dead, not being gone, in my head I am listening to him playing, "There's No Place Like Home" which he played and sung with such an emotion......As soon as I could understand and speak words, I found my truths, my morality, my my strength, my solace on 70's AM radio...WHBQ and WMPS, my theme song, at age six was Sunshine by Jonathon Edwards....." He can't even run his own life, I'll be damned if he'll run mine" I would later in life understand that the song was about our government, but to me it was about my home life. To say the least, there was no positive role model at our house, and so, it went for years, messages about right and wrong, and fairness, and such came from my only true and respectable friend, Rock-n-Roll. Then, on Halloween 1985 at Handy Park on Beale Street, I saw Mudboy and the Neutrons for the first time, and had my life's one true epiphany. Jim was Rock-n-Roll and truth and justice all wrapped up in a brutal Rock-n-Roll rage, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was in church the way church is supposed to be on it's best day, and for the first time in my life, I felt at home....Standing in awe in Handy Park, I felt at home for the very first time in my life.....and I felt that all this time, I had been right.....right to find what is right through Rock-n-Roll, and that there were others, and that of it all, Jim was the leader. That is Jim Dickinson's Legacy, Shouting truth with songs and with speech, and encouraging others to do so, not by asking them to, but by powerful example. Jim was not shy about what he had to say, he meant it, and he said it loud and clear. Going to see/hear him was the food for my spirit, for my soul. He was the closest thing to a pastor or rabbi I ever had, he never ever failed to talk about some injustice or wrong, or right both through speech and song, and it kept my spirit full and satisfied. Maybe it is the loneliest, most empty people....people with less love and family than need there church and there pastor the most. On August 15th 2009, I was set to have a pretty good night, I when to the Antenna for the Antenna Reunion the night before, and it was like the best high school reunion ever, and was set to reunite, after 20 years, with my band Los Pimpin' that night.....hadn't played out in a long while, and was excited to play, then Linda Heck gave me the news, and the bottom fell out. No words.....If you don't know who Jim was, he would say that you were better off, but if you have know idea of him, just think; he was the Perry Mason of Rock-n-Roll.....he is to Rock-n-roll what Moses was to the Jews......he was the king of goodness through Rock-n-Roll.....the wisest of wise men.....So after a few hours of no words, then I became enraged, like Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump up on top of the pole screaming at God that he had pushed me just too far, and that if he wanted to come fight for it just outside of Murphy's, that I was ready and not in the mood to wait.....and in a fist fight with God on that day, I would have won.....easily. So with that spirit we played our stupid little gig, and in honor of our fallen leader, we played "I've Had It" a song he is known for, or rather a song that is known because of him, with Greg Cartwright sitting in and singing it. Needless to say further, but I will, I wanted to be him when I grew up....He was and still is my role model. Sometimes when I speak up for or against something, I am often viewed as a jerk. I don't have the "it" that Jim had nor the grace, but when I get weak and think about not speaking up, I think of the video of him that I saw at his tribute. To paraphrase, he said when "they" don't like it, or "they" disagree, and they tell you to stop, he said don't tell them no, tell them HELL NO! So as I feel like George Bailey standing on the bridge, I'll use the same words he did; Dear Lord, if you are up there, and you can hear me.....please help us cultivate and grow that which Jim planted in me the way, Lord, show us the way. World Boogie is coming if it kills me!

Six years

Six years ago, I walked into our home on the Zebra Ranch for the first time as a widow. The phone was ringing. I answered it. It was a reporter from Reuters, a world wide news organization. Jim had been dead a handful of hours. I couldn't believe the news had broken so fast. I hung up the phone in a daze after talking to the reporter. The second I put the phone down, it rang again. It was my niece from Florida, giving me her condolences for my loss. I was bewildered. It was the first inkling I had of the magnitude of Jim's fame. Since then James Luther Dickinson's legacy has spread. Cody dedicated the magnificent movie he conceived and produced (with his partner, Martin Shore), "Take me to the River," to his father, and played with Luther on the NMA CD that Luther mostly wrote, "Keys to the Kingdom." The music they play around the world keeps his legacy alive, proving his now famous last words, "I'm just dead, I'm not gone." 

Surprise! The best is yet to come! That is a promise!

Meanwhile, an important man in the life of Luther and his family, the Rector of Gray St. Luke's Episcopal church and school, was so touched by Luther's songs in "Keys to the Kingdom," that he asked Luther to play for the church these songs and tell how he came to write them. I do believe this is the best, most transcendent playing that has ever come out of Luther's guitar.

What do you think?

 As Jim would say, "Sit back, relax, pour some whiskey in your glass. Enjoy"

 World boogie is coming!

Up Over Yonder: The Sights and Sounds of Heaven with Luther Dickinson from the band North Mississippi Allstars from Grace-St. Lukes Episcopal Church on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Remembering John Fry

I can't let this week slip by without writing more in tribute to John Fry, not the music man or the gentleman or the friend of all who wanted to learn about everything from studio engineering to aviation. (Yes, John taught many of his young engineers to fly airplanes). The John Fry I want to remember tonight was my prayer partner, my brother in Christ; a fearless, fervent witness to whomever would listen about the Gospel, the good news that "God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life." John ran the Evangelism Explosion at Bellevue Baptist Church for eighteen years and himself knocked on many a door asking people if he could come into their homes and pray for them. Of course, John being John, music could not be far behind and along with my nephew, Eddie DeGarmo and his band, DeGarmo and Key, John had a great hand in recording the first Christian rock music that still rocks our world. I can see John now- up in Heaven, resetting the EQ in the great Control Room in the Sky and holding the Keys to the Kingdom, while St. Peter takes a break.

This photo was from such a fun night in Nov. 2012. Al Kapone gave a smoking performance, John accepted a Pyramid Award from the Blues Ball for Big Star, and Jim was posthumously honored as one of the inaugural members of the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. Two years later we celebrate the life of our remarkable, unforgettable, and irreplaceable friend, John Fry, and his almost fifty years of setting the bar for excellence in Memphis music. I praise the Lord for the privilege of having known and revered John. I will treasure his memory always.

(photo courtesy Sharon Bicks)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Jim with Joe Hardy at Ardent Studios - "Quantizing"

Jim with Joe Hardy at Ardent Studios. Jim and Joe were in the midst of inventing a process called "Quantizing," using a Fairlight. This involved being able to move the beats of a drum part around, eons (in recording time) before the likes of Pro Tools. They were both high as kites from the sheer outrageousness of what they were doing. (h/t Kelly Fisher/Ardent Studios)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

John Fry - Ardent Studio founder

Memphis lost another great one this week - John Fry, founder of Ardent Studios.

19th December 2014

John Fry, founder of the world-class, world-famous Ardent Studios in Memphis, and the genial, self-effacing mentor of cult act Big Star died unexpectedly yesterday at the age of 69. Alec Palao pays his respects.

JOHN FRY was a one-off. To be sure, in the annals of Memphis popular music there are similarly important personages - Sam Phillips, Jim Stewart, Chips Moman to name but three – and Fry stood as tall as any of them. He was a true gent, without one iota of the high maintenance ways peculiar to the recording industry. Anyone who ever met John could only be struck by his warmth, generosity and genuine nature. Cordial but never stand-offish, at times he resembled that one teacher you might have actually liked at school, who was willing to share what they know with you, and is completely encouraging along with it. Someone who simply makes you want to learn from them.

What John Fry had to share was a tremendous expertise in the art of capturing sound. Graduates from the Ardent School of engineering include Terry Manning, Richard Rosebrough, John Hampton (RIP) and of course Chris Bell, along with many others who benefited from absorbing his innate attention to detail, as well as the unprecedented opportunity to use the Ardent facilities after-hours to experiment. Fry could recognize the qualities within an individual whether they fit the accepted mould of the music business or not. Hence Memphis maverick Jim Dickinson’s tenure as house engineer at the studio’s interim National location, or Fry’s careful yet hands-offs stewardship of Big Star, from their inception as Icewater / Rock City to the act’s dour denouement on their third album. Indeed, Big Star’s career is symptomatic of the Memphis/Ardent paradox. Here was one of the most impeccably maintained recording facilities in the United States, yet its own roster was frequently at odds with the accepted methods of producing records, both technically and artistically. Ultimately this dichotomy is testament to the far-sightedness and passion of John Fry, who was young enough to identify with the excitement that overtook rock in the mid-60s, yet smart and caring enough to harness it in such a classy and dedicated manner, allied to a magnanimity rarely spotted in that era.

An avid radio and technophile at an early age, John built his first studio in the late 1950s in “Grannys sewing room” at the back of his house on Grandview in Memphis. He and his partners recorded and released a handful of records intermittently on Ardent over the next few years, including great items by the Ole Miss Downbeats and Lawson & Four More, while studying electronics at college and then running a radio station in Arkansas. Fry opened the first proper Ardent studio on National Street in the late spring of 1966, and soon was busy with the surfeit of work that other local studios could not handle, including jingle and advertising dates, and crucially, Stax overflow sessions. Ardent soon got a reputation for its technical quality, and while the company continued to produce masters to pitch to other companies, it was not until 1971 and a move to the custom-built facility at 2000 Madison Avenue, where the studio resides today, that the Ardent label was reborn with distribution by Stax. Big Star, Cargo and the Hot Dogs constituted their small catalogue, none of whom were successful at the time, but the powerful legacy of Big Star – as much in part to the sonic quality of the recordings as perhaps anything else – has made Ardent a name known around the world. And from around the globe, musicians, fans and aficionados have beaten a path to Ardent over the years, whether to avail themselves of its impeccable facilities, or simply just walk those hallowed halls.

For almost fifteen years, I have been making regular visits there, initially to go through the Ardent label’s own small yet fascinating catalogue for “Thank You Friends: The Ardent Records Story”. Compiling that set was not only ear-opening but also quite clear evidence of not only John’s technical but his leadership abilities. Working on further Big Star, Alex Chilton and Chris Bell projects afforded me some remarkable insights into the real lessons Fry instilled in his engineers, as well as perhaps his own greatest skill – that of a mixer. Jim Dickinson in particular had alerted me to this aspect of Fry’s brilliance and what he had told me was one hundred per cent borne out by the recorded evidence. Throw the faders up on the multi-tracks for Third and you get a dissonant mess of alternating rhythms and strings battling with feedback; John Fry balanced it all with a clarity and nuance that is still, to this day, breathtaking. I spent many, many pleasurable hours discussing audio technique with John, and he was as open with his knowledge and opinion as he might well have been with any of his Ardent “students.” Though he rarely engineered after the 1970s – preferring to tend to business, as well as evolving into a cheerleader for Memphis music in general - with these reissues, John did some of his last remixing, such was his dedication to making sure the legacy remained true. One of the biggest compliments I have ever received in my professional career is when John mentioned he would actually prefer we used a couple of mixes I had done for a Chris Bell set.

Whenever Dean Rudland, Tony Rounce and I hit Memphis on behalf of Ace, Ardent is always our first stop, thanks to the studio’s handy midtown location, the always warm welcome and not least, its incredibly high and reliable standards. I got in the habit of schlepping master tapes from both Nashville and Muscle Shoals – two locations not exactly without their own recording facilities - to do the transfers at Ardent, simply because I knew I could get it right with a minimum of fuss. Though he never could be drawn to actually engineer a session, a particularly fun and incredibly instructive moment at Ardent occurred when John was persuaded to set up the drum mics in Studio C, on the one occasion I have been able actually record as a musician at the studio, with my pal Matt Piucci of the Rain Parade. Resident engineer Adam Hill and I were agog watching how he placed the microphone for the floor tom about three feet behind, to the right of the drum stool. The recorded results spoke for themselves (of course it didn’t hurt that the drum kit - the same one heard on ‘September Gurls’ and “Third” – was being played by its owner, Big Star’s Jody Stephens, Ardent Studios manager and a fantastic fellow in his own right). Oh yes, and Matt used Chris Bell’s Gibson 335. It was a true Rock’n’Roll Fantasy Camp.

On a more serious note. I’m not really a T-shirt type of guy, but for some reason yesterday morning I had decided to put on a blue shirt emblazoned with the iconic 1970s “mod globe” 70s Ardent logo, that had been a Christmas gift from Ardent in years past, and in doing so reminded myself that I ought to give John a ring to wish him the compliments of the season. He’d left a message with a similar Thanksgiving greeting a few weeks earlier and when I returned the call, he wound up our chat in typical fashion with a folksy, southern-accented “well, good deal”. That was John – always within easy reach and unerringly gracious and supportive. Receiving the news of his passing just a couple of hours later was thus eerie, and really quite upsetting. John Fry taught me so much, but most of all he showed me how you can maintain in this business with grace and humility. Thank you, friend.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Jim Dickinson: The Man Behind the Console (Trailer)

Robert Allen Parker and Nan Hackman did a great job on their short documentary film, "The Man Behind the Console," about Jim Dickinson's life as a music producer. The film won the Hometowner award for Best Short Documentary at the Indie Memphis Film Festival. The only problem with the film is that there needed to be more of it! Good job, Robert and Nan. The Dickinson family thanks you.

Trailer: Jim Dickinson: The Man Behind the Console from Meanwhile in Memphis on Vimeo.

The Replacements - Alex Chilton on The Tonight Show

Back in September, The Replacements appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and played "Alex Chilton" from their 1987 release, Pleased To Meet Me, produced by Jim at Ardent Studios. Of course, another link to the song is Jim's involvement with Big Star's album, Third, featuring Alex Chilton.

Another factoid related to the Pleased To Meet Me album - a teenage Luther Dickinson plays guitar on one of the tracks ("Shooting Dirty Pool"). Luther tells a great story about the lyrics and being in the studio with The Replacements.