“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

Sunday, May 26, 2013

North Mississippi Allstars & Sons of Mudboy Pay Tribute to Jim Dickinson at the Levitt Shell in Memphis

On May 23, 2013, the North Mississippi Allstars and the Sons of Mudboy played the Levitt Shell in Memphis in a show that was advertised ast the 50th anniversary of the "first Jim Dickinson Folk Festival at the Shell in 1963."

A couple of good articles were published in advance of the show.

Bridging the Blues Blog

This Thursday Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars pay tribute to their late father, Jim Dickinson, with a show at the Levitt Shell advertised as the 50th anniversary of the "first Jim Dickinson Folk Festival at the Shell in 1963." The elder Dickinson was an important member of the Memphis folk community, a story that's well documented in Robert Gordon's book It Came From Memphis. There's a really good article about the 1963 show as well as Thursday's event by Bob Mehr in this week's Commercial Appeal.
Keyboardist/vocalist Dickinson later formed an electric blues-rock band called Mudboy and the Neutrons together with Jimmy Crosthwait (washboard), Lee Baker (guitar), and guitarist/vocalist Sid Selvidge, a native of Greenville who died last month. The "Sons of Mudboy," who will also perform Thursday include Crosthwait, Luther and Cody Dickinson, Sid Selvidge's son Steve, Lee Baker's son Ben, and Paul Taylor, who played together with Luther and Cody in DDT.
I spoke with Luther today, and he told me that he'll be performing a special show at the upcoming North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic together with Lightin' Malcolm (who has been playing bass with the Allstars regularly since Chris Chew left the group for health reasons), T-Model Ford's grandson "Stud" on drums, and Sharde Thomas--Cody will not be appearing. The Allstars' new CD, which will come out August on their own Songs of the South label, will feature Chew, Lightnin' Malcolm, Sharde Thomas, Kenny Brown, Duwayne Burnside, and some vintage sounds from Otha Turner--Luther produced both of his solo CDs.
Go Memphis

Fifty years ago, in the spring of 1963, Jim Dickinson became the first independent promoter to stage a show at the city-owned Overton Park Shell.

The event he put together was billed as the Memphis Folk Festival, though it would be referred to commonly in the press as a hootenanny, specifically “the loudest hootenanny ever hooted!”

At the time, the national folk craze was in full effect, but Dickinson wanted to highlight a rawer brand of regional roots music. “It’s time people learned that there are more kinds of folk music than The Kingston Trio,” he told The Commercial Appeal in March of that year.

Much to the surprise of the city fathers, Dickinson’s concert program drew some 3,000 Memphians to the park, each paying $1 each to see an assortment of acts playing blues, Appalachian mountain songs, Civil War ballads, and European folk numbers. Dickinson himself, described by the newspaper as the “Decibel King,” played guitar with a “mouth organ attached to a rack hanging on his neck,” becoming a one-man band.

Now, a half-century later, the late Dickinson’s sons, Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, will kick off the free concert series Thursday at the renamed Levitt Shell at Overton Park.

For the Dickinson boys, who grew up playing the Shell, it remains treasured experience. “Man, it’s just a classic American amphitheater, and we’re so proud of it,” says Luther Dickinson. “We’ve played so many countless ‘Save the Shell’ shows and punk- rock Earth Day benefits back in the day. And so we’re pleased that it’s still there. It’s a landmark for Memphis, and something to really be proud of.”

After a couple decades of instability, the Shell’s fate finally stabilized in 2008 with the patronage of the Mortimer and Mimi Levitt Foundation. Since then, the charitable organization has helped fund the refurbishing and redevelopment of the Shell, which now stages two annual free concert seasons, as well as special events, film screenings and other community activities throughout the year.

Still, there’s nothing quite like the experience of seeing and hearing music at the venue. It’s a feeling few know better than guitarist/singer Luther Dickinson. “It’s a completely unique experience the way the sound resonates at the Shell,” says Dickinson, who will open Thursday’s show with an acoustic performance as part of the second-generation Memphis band Sons of Mudboy. “Playing acoustic is a real cool trip; the Shell itself is a natural amplifier. I like setting up way back in the back, and letting the Shell itself push the sound out forward.”

The headlining set from North Mississippi Allstars — which currently features the Dickinsons and bassist Lightnin’ Malcolm — will likely feature some of the same folk and blues songs that were played in 1963. The Allstars’ set will offer a preview of their new album, World Boogie Is Coming, due out in August on their own Songs of the South label.

“It’s largely a record of traditionals. It’s like a party blues record. I think our people are going to dig it,” Dickinson says of the album, which includes regional and hill country standards like “Jumper on the Line,” “Going to Brownsville” and “Snake Drive.” “It has lot of crowd pleasers that we’ve never recorded before. We had a blast recording it, with a lot of cool guests.”