North Mississippi Allstars: Boogie Knights
âOur friend Seasick Steve knows our whole history and he said to me, âYouâre the one, boy, the link,ââ Luther recalls. âHe said, âYou have to keep it primitive and hold up your end of the bargain by taking it to the kids and making the blues attractive again.â I realized I had not been holding up my end of the deal. The masters took me in and taught me so muchâhow to tour, how to keep the dance floor packedâand I had gotten caught up in my own songwriting trip. Weâve really learned how to put everything in its proper place. Doing solo records and projects has allowed me to streamline what the Allstars should be. If I have some folk songs, thereâs no need to force them into the Allstars just because I wrote them.â
The first song that they recorded for World Boogie was an updated version of the blues classic âRollinâ And Tumblinâ,â with Luther laying down the main riff on a two-string diddley bow.
âWe were doing an in-store appearance in North Carolina and my friend handed me a homemade coffee can two- string diddley bow guitar, and I just tuned it up and started playing âRollinâ And Tumblinâ,ââ Luther says with a laugh. âWe liked the way it came out and recorded it at our home studio, which we call the Zebra Ranch Electric Church and Fellowship Hall.
âThat was the start of this record, though we didnât know it at the time,â he continues. âWe released it as a single and were thinking that thatâs what we would do: release singles.â
They shifted their focus once again when Cody, who has a growing interest in photography, recorded a video for the song, and the process jump-started a desire to record a song cycle that would be a âcomplete cultural statement.â (Cody eventually cut videos for four of the songs, which can be found at www.nmallstars.com.)
âIâm real big on progress,â Cody says. âI donât want to be stuck or static. When I see something thatâs dynamic, I get excited and thatâs how we try to push forward.â
Photo: Andrew Scott Blackstein
When the band hit the road again, they began screening Codyâs films behind them and continued to expand their footage, bringing cameraman Shelby Baldock out on the road.
âHe filmed some stuff for us and we said, âWeâre leaving on tour tomorrow. You have to come with us.â It adds so much,â recalls Luther.
Every night, Baldock watches the band from the side of the stage and keeps the film synced and ever creative, often including local footage shot that afternoon. The results provide a mesmerizing backdrop. âIt really helps the audienceâs attention span,â says Luther.
âIt doesnât really influence meâI canât see it. But I can feel how it influences the audience and the vibe. It keeps their eyes on us, on the stage.â
Cody picks up his brotherâs thought, saying, âI got into photography and actingâIâve been in G.I. Joe and some other films. I understood that we needed a visual element, and I wanted to stay away from laser lights. I hate stage lights. They make me sweat and look bad, and the projections allow us to mostly play in the darkness and to give people the multi-sensory experience they are so used to having. I love that weâre projecting.â
His thoughts race as he continues: âWeâre coming to the future, but in such an old school way that itâs really the past, which is just perfect for us. Not only does it add a new dimension but it tells a storyâand it looks cool. For instance, in the song âAll Night Long,â the movie shows concrete steps and bushes and it looks cool, but itâs deeper than thatâitâs Junior Kimbroughâs juke joint. Obviously, most people donât know that, but I still think they feel it, that it adds to the vibe.â
The Dickinsons' recent interactions with a trio of musical titans profoundly impacted them. Robert Plant, whose project Band Of Joy they opened for in 2011 and who also plays harmonica on World Boogie; Phil Lesh, who had the brothers play his San Rafael, Calif. venue Terrapin Crossroads and featured them in his revolving groups; and Butch Trucks, The Allman Brothers drummer who the Dickinsons worked with at the Roots Rock Revival camp last summer.
âThese guys are giants of rock and roll and theyâve become friends and role models,â says Luther. âTouring with Phil and Plant and getting the chance to see them up close has been incredibly inspiring and instructive. They work really, really hard with total dedication to the music.â
Cody jumps in: âItâs a serious business and they take it very seriously.â
Luther nods his head in agreement and continues. âWe were on tour opening for Plant when he was just doing his first shows with the Band Of Joy. And he was putting them through the paces, really making them work and learning a wide repertoire, some of which they didnât even play. I think he wanted them to have the same music under their fingertips. And what Phil doesâ flying all these musicians in, working all day learning songs and arrangements, then playing shows at night, then starting all over again with a new crewâ requires an incredible amount of work, patience and dedication.â