There are several topics that spring to mind when discussing Luther Dickinson’s life and career: son of the late, famed producer/musician Jim Dickinson; co-leader of North Mississippi Allstars alongside his brother, Cody; onetime guitarist in The Black Crowes; member of the “sacred steel” supergroup The Word.
But the topic of the moment concerns yet another facet of Luther’s story — his solo career. Last month, Dickinson released his latest album, Blues & Ballads (A Folksinger’s Songbook) Vols. I & II on New West Records. On Thursday, March 10, Luther Dickinson and The Cooperators — with special guests Amy LaVere and Will Sexton — will perform at Saturn. Dickinson recently spoke about his latest album ahead of Thursday’s show.
Weld: What went into the creation of Blues & Ballads?
Luther Dickinson: The initial concept was a songbook. It was a dream to have a transcription of my songs, the sheet music and guitar chords, just like I grew up studying. I wanted my songs to be in that format, so I wanted to re-record my older songs in an honest, unproduced way, similar to the way I wrote them.
Weld: You’re involved in several active musical projects — your solo career, North Mississippi Allstars and The Word. How do you juggle those effectively?
Dickinson: You just keep your calendar together. I just stay one day ahead and be sure I’m prepared for the next day’s task and I can rise to the occasion for the most part.
Weld: The variety your career affords must help to keep things interesting for you.
Dickinson: Definitely. It’s healthy. Music is like food and it’s good to keep different spices and recipes in your diet.
Weld: Do you ever notice that your participation in one project influences your input in another?
Dickinson: Definitely, but the biggest epiphany was when Cody and my manager convinced me to start doing proper solo records. In the early years of the Allstars, we filtered everything into that one thing because that was our band. It wasn’t necessarily the smartest thing because that band is good at what we do, which is play loud, improvisational Hill Country blues rock. But the revelation was to spread it out so everything can be its own entity without it having to be compromised.
Weld: How do you keep the same material fresh when you’ve played it repeatedly?
Dickinson: One of the things we learned from our father was to play interpretively, to treat any type of roots music as if it was jazz. If you want to sing it slow, be aggressive or stretch it out, the structures are just foundations to build on.
Weld: Obviously, your father cast a large presence on the music industry. When did you feel like you could develop a career of your own?
Dickinson: My dad and his friends were so cool and I always knew I wanted to play guitar. It’s a huge advantage to know what you want to do because some people never figure it out. But I wasn’t naturally talented. Cody was. He could’ve been a doctor, computer programmer or musician. He’s just that kind of guy. I just kept practicing and practicing, but I always had a gift for the creative process. My dad picked up on that early, so I started writing songs at 14 and that was the first breakthrough. I could sculpt ideas into fruition.
Weld: Blues & Ballads includes a track about former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford. If you will, talk about the writing of that song.
Dickinson: One morning I woke up on a bus and had to go play the Birmingham morning news to promote our show. I had nothing in particular to play but the day’s breaking news created a heavy scene as I waited to play. I simply wrote the song around the catch phrases they kept repeating and performed it live on the news that morning, much to the newscaster’s horror. It was a Facebook and YouTube sensation. “Mayor Langford Birmingham Blues” is the most topical song I have ever written.
Luther Dickinson & The Cooperators will perform at Saturn on Thursday, March 10. The show begins at 8 p.m. For more information, visit saturnbirmingham.com.