James Luther Dickinson – I’m Just Dead, I’m Not Gone: Lazarus Edition – Memphis International Records MIR2029 [4/4/2017] mono vinyl ****:
A rock and roll pioneer gets a posthumous career boost!
(James Luther Dickinson – piano, vocals; backed by North Mississippi Allstars Luther Dickinson – guitar, vocals; Cody Dickinson – drums, vocals; Chris Chew – bass; Jimmy Davis – guitar, vocals, Roland James – guitar; Stan Kessler – guitar; Cowboy Jack Clement – vocals; Billie Lee Riley – harmonica and J.M. Van Eaton – drummer)
James Luther “Jim” Dickinson emerged at the end of the Sun Records reign.The singer/pianist played on the last hit for the label, “Cadillac Man”. He became a respected producer for Ardent Studios in Memphis. Eventually, Dickinson returned as a session musician with the highly regarded Dixie Flyers. The group replaced the Muscle Shoals crew for Atlantic Records, backing Aretha Franklin. Additionally they worked with Delaney and Bonnie, Jerry Jeff Walker, Brooke Benton, Ronnie Hawkins, Sam & Dave and Esther Phillips. Dickinson also fronted bands like Mudboy and The Neutrons. He was respected in the rock community playing on records with Bob Dylan and Ry Cooder. He played piano on the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses”. Later in his career he formed a band with his sons until his passing in 2009.
James Luther Dickinson many be gone, but he is certainly not forgotten. In 2017, a live album, I’m Just Dead, I’m Not Gone (now that’s funny!) has been released on CD and vinyl. There will also be a concurrent autobiography. The mono vinyl release has ten tracks recorded at two different performances. The first eight cuts were recorded in 2006 at the New Daisy Theatre in Memphis (on Beale street of course). The final two cuts were recorded at the Beale Street Music Festival in 1987 and featured a renowned Sun Records rhythm section. Side A (vinyl of course) opens with a hard-edged country rock anthem, “Redneck, Blue Collar”. The song effectively captures rural country angst with humor and pathos. With jagged guitar licks, Dickinson’s gruff baritone belts out “…You can wave old glory, but it’s the same old story”. He represents the country working class in earnest terms, unlike the modern punch line approaches. “Lazarus” is a Delta-tinged swamp groove that gives an electric charge to Delta roots music. It is evocative storytelling of a father’s painful account of a son gone wrong. Switching to a slower tempo, “All Out Of Blue” is a heartfelt shout out to legends like Robert Johnson and Ray Charles. Dickinson bemoans the loss of resilience in the spirit of blues.
This is a seasoned performer. After a hilarious spoken intro (‘…I better explain this to those Yankees, I’m playin’ New York next week”), The North Mississippi Allstars launch into a festive boogie woogie jam (“Hadacol Boogie”). Dickinson’s muscular barrelhouse piano licks are infectious. The band responds with ferocity and the vocal call and response is terrific. The humor and spontaneity continue on Side B with “Fraulein”. This is another inspired country boogie number that showcases Dickinson and his “tinkling 88’s”. Luther Dickinson contributes a rockabilly-inspired guitar solo. Even the band intro is funny. Perhaps to get some folks dancing, the band slows down for “Somewhere Down The Road”. The ragged vocal harmony on the chorus and slide guitar licks are barroom charming. Dickinson takes a stab at the Allman Brothers classic, “Midnight Rider”. But no one can touch the original, not even Jim Dickinson.
Included are two engaging tracks that feature Memphis recording legends (Roland James, Stan Kessler, Cowboy Jack Clement, Billy Lee Riley and J.M. Van Eaton). This is nothing short of a rock and roll historical document. It appears that Dickinson is called up to join the band. They tear it up on a souped-up rockabilly jam, titled “Ubangi Stomp”. Dickinson unleashes a furious piano barrage like Jerry lee Lewis or Little Richard. Roland James is superb on guitar. The finale is a country blues opus (“I Forgot To Remember To Forget”), penned by bassist Stan Kessler. It is these two songs that define the cross-section of rhythm and blues and country that launched the early Memphis sound.
The mono audio is raw and distorted with a “muddy” mix. It fits the simple instrumentation and live acoustics.
Side A: Redneck, Blue Collar; Lazarus; All Out Of Blue; Hadacool Boogie
Side B: Fraulein; Band Intro; Somewhere Down The Road; Midnight Rider; Ubangi Stomp; I Forgot To Remember To Forget