Epic Soundtracks had proposed writing a piece on Jim Dickinson for WANWTTS – many obvious reasons for wanting to do this – he'd worked with and produced Alex Chilton/Big Star, The Replacements and Tav Falco, all of whom had featured in the magazine AND he'd played piano on the Stones' “Wild Horses” and was, accordingly, perfect for “Great Misunderstood Rock'n'Roll Legends No.5”. Alas, it was not to be. Then, the other night, I got involved in an interesting Facebook discussion on James Luther Dickinson, and I remembered a cassette I had of him on Memphis' WEVL Radio, talking about and playing many of the tracks he played on during the first stage of his career in music, from the early '60's to the early '70's. So I decided in lieu of a piece from Epic, to transcribe the interview, insert as many clips as I could of the songs played and discussed, and put it up here.
Regrettably, I don't have a name for the principal DJ/interviewer (though he is joined by Ross Johnson) and I don't have a date for the show, though I fancy it's early 1990's and certainly pre-1995, as Robert Gordon quotes, in his 1995 book “It Came From Memphis”, some of the section about Aretha Franklin. I've added a few notes here and there, filling a few gaps and fleshing out some of the references, but have otherwise transcribed it verbatim. I've ended up managing to source versions for all of the (13) tracks played on the hour long section I have on the tape – the quality of one or two isn't perfect, but all are perfectly listenable, and I hope they add to the undoubted eccentric story telling skills of someone of whom Bob Dylan said “If you've got Dickinson, you don't need anybody else.”
Photo by Tom Lonardo (from jimdickinsonslegacy.blogspot.com)
Jim Dickinson & The New Beale Street Sheiks - "You'll Do It All The Time" (1964)
Jim Dickinson & The Catmando Quartet - "Shake 'Em On Down" (1965)
Yeah, The Catmanda Quartet....
JLD - Catmando – we were into pre-Prince spellings....and there were five of us so that made it better.
Always ahead of your time!
JLD - Yeah, that's right! Used to be able to calculate and now it's just random.
Well you had five vowels to choose from!
(Laughs) The Baron (Ross Johnson) has joined us in the studio.
JLD - The mysterious Baron of Love......
When did this “Batman” record come out?
JLD - Right before the TV show – there were 52 different Batman records of which ours was one and they were all “unlicensed” by the comic book people. So there was a universal ban put on the playing of Batman record. You had to be really sneaky to get yours on the air.
Seems like I remember hearing this one on FM100 or something.
JLD – No, it was WHBQ. It was on heavy rotation even though George Klein had his own Batman record that he was pushing, which was Jumpin' Gene Simmons and was totally atrocious. We had the only one with girls. It seemed reasonable to me that it should be girls. (One of them being his wife Mary) So WHBQ played it because it was on Ardent, and Fry....we went and bought this old Buick and took it to a hearse company and had it made into a Batmobile. It had this huge 8 foot fin on the back of it and toy machine guns on the hood that shot sparks, a big bat thing across the grille. Y'know, we drove it to gigs and it was amazing how people would get out of your way when you're in a Batmobile! So WHBQ gave it away – they had a contest to see how many times they could write WHBQ on it, wherever we took it, to the fair or wherever it was. They gave it to some jerk who didn't appreciate it. I wish I had the Batmobile today.
Don't we all.
The Robins - "Batman" (1966)
JLD – Thank-you, thank-you. I was quite proud of that myself. That's the notrocious (sic) Lee Baker playing lead guitar and I was playing 12 string and the rest of the musicians were Lawson & Four More, or the Goat Dancers, depending on when it was. Actually they were Lawson & Four More.
We'll get to Lawson & Four More in a second
JLD – Or, as they called it on WRAC, “Here's another record by Lost In The Morgue”.....
The Avengers - "Batarang" (1966)
JLD – That's Baker playing lead and the organ solo is Terry Manning, Scary Terry....
We got the Lawson & Four More record here.
JLD – Which one?
Both of 'em actually. We got “If You Want Me You Can Find Me” which has a real Stones kind of sense.
JLD – That is the first one, yeah. That's not them playing on that. That's Charlie Hull, founder of Overton Square playing the guitar which is now Baker's “The Shifter”. And me playing one of the basses and Mike Alexander playing one of the basses. (Jimmy) Crossthwait playing a cardboard box with maracas. It was the first thing I ever “produced”. We cut it in Granny's Sewing Room at (John) Fry's parents house.
The ever innovative Crossthwait on the box....
JLD – That's him.
Lawson & Four More - "If You Want Me You Can Find Me" (1967)
JLD – Yeah! Great ending....”Try to find me....”. Asking the musical question “Is this what I want to do with my life”
That's the beginning?
JLD – Yeah, that was it. I'd done this....the Shelby Singleton Bill Justis record in Nashville and on that session I'd figured – y'know, we were into it like two days and Justis was doing all the work so I figured he was producing the record, right. Well in the middle of the third day the doors swing open and in comes this fat greasy guy all wearing black and sunglasses and smoking little Sherman cigarettes, which back then was strange, y'knoe, '63, and he's talking loud and the session stops. Dead. This was a serious session, had lots of Nashville cats, the Jordanaires, the Anita Kerr singers and all that kinda stuff. I was just a hick singer from Memphis who was there to be authentic right, for Dixieland folk show. And I think ”Who is that fat jerk just walked in?”. So I asked this friend of mine, a trumpet player on the session who'd written all the arrangements. ”Who is this guy? What's the deal? Why don't they throw him out” “Well, that's Shelby Singleton – he's the producer”. So I said “If he's the producer, what is Justis?” “Well Justis is the arranger” And I said “Then what are you?” Because he'd been writing the arrangements in the bathroom the whole time. "Oh, I'm the contractor”. And I thought well, now somewhere in here, there's room for me to fit in.
That's how it works....
JLD – If this guy can produce this record and not be here for three days, surely I could do that. So Lawson & Four More was my first opportunity. Little did I know that “in absentia” production was truly the highest form of the art.
I've got the other Lawson & Four More record here – it's called “Relax Your Mind”. This was written by Cornbread Red
JLD – Actually Lead belly! (Laughs) We just thought we'd get the publishing. Again, we were ahead of our time.
What was he gonna say!
JLD – Yeah, really.
Lawson & Four More - "Relax Your Mind" (1966)
JLD - “What are you gonna do when the light turns blue?” - I didn't even know what that meant then.
I assume you've found out?
JLD – It means what are you gonna do when the cops come? Really took me years to figure that out.
Some people never figure that out.
JLD – I know, too late!
We got the first session you ever played on right here, this album.
JLD – Well it's the first thing where I was the artist which got released. (Bill) Justis was the artist but I was the singer. It's the first thing I did out of town – my first session in Nashville had like, Bill Purcell and Bob Moore and all the cats on it. It was right after Sugarfoot Garland had had his car wreck and he was the only guy who wasn't there. Jerry Kennedy was brand new in Nashville. He's playing electric guitar on what you're about to play. And Bob Randolph, Justis, who else, some other heavy, Buddy Harmon. It was some heavy talent. I went up there and I was supposed to be the folk singer – the album was Dixieland Folkstyle. Fall of '63 – they'd seen publicity on the thing we did at the Shell, the first Annual Memphis Folk Festival and that was what got me the job. I went up there with Colin and Kathleen Heath, who were a local folk act. Used to sing at the Peanut Bar. That lead to my contract with Justis for the other records you played – the Beale Street Sheiks and the Catmondo Quartet.
When did the Beale Street Sheiks come out? '63?
JLD – Must have still been the winter of '63.
I'll find that old Billboard.
JLD - Yeah, I've got a copy of the review somewhere. It's pretty funny.
So from Dixieland Folkstyle, you sing on this yeah?
Yeah, “St James Infirmary”.
JLD – Yeah, we couldn't play. I took instruments up there but we couldn't play 'cause we were non Union. It was the first really tight situation I'd seen. Although there were written charts for the music. They'd hand me the charts though I could barely even read the words. The arranger was a friend of mine and he would change the titles like “Green Green Benzedrine” and things like that. A good time was had by all. I met Fred Carter on that session. That was pretty far out.
A good time was had, they call it.
JLD – Yeah, they had to call it something.
And they called this one “Dixieland Folkstyle” - this is the Bill Justis Dixieland Band & Chorus.
Bill Justis Dixieland Band & Chorus - "St James Infirmary" (1964)
JLD – Sounds like they got Jerry Kennedy down the bottom of a well!
I saw a great Nick Tosches review of a Jerry Lee album one time which started out....it was Jerry Lee's mid period 70's, Jerry Kennedy period.....and it started out “As sure as the Holy Ghost is dealing three card monte in Heaven, Jerry Kennedy will pay for his sins!”
JLD – (Laughs) Right on, right on!
I like Nick
JLD – Nick said the nicest thing about me anybody ever said.
JLD – Oh, it's in the Country Music book. He's talking about Dixie Fried and he, what is it, “loud moralless...” - it's really good. I can't quote it out of context but he got the picture anyway. And I've spent 6 months with people I know getting them paid and laid and everything else, trying to get publicity that wasn't as good as that!
(““Dixie Fried” is one of the most bizarrely powerful musics of this century: a loud moralless baptism of rhythm.” Nick Tosches - “Country – Living Legends And Dying Metaphors in America's Biggest Music (1977))
I've got this Jesters thing here.
JLD – Right, “Cadillac Man”.
This is a song that re-surfaced later on for the King.
JLD – Yes, yes, by the King.
A whole lotta people are surprised when they hear this that are used to hearing the Charly record.
JLD – Uh huh, with (Tommy) Minga singing. Well that was another one of those times. Teddy Paige is the guitar player on this record – which I recently heard that he had been at Jonestown (Massacre November 18th 1978, when 918 members of Jim Jones' People's Temple died). I don't know that I truly believe that but he hadn't been seen in a long time – but the band had a singer that Sam (Phillips) hated – and he knew that Sam would never release a record as long as this guy was singing on it, so he'd call me up and say “You come down and play piano on this demo”. I said sure – I was under contract to Justis at the time – so I went down to the studio and the singer “didn't show up”. So before I knew it, I was singing on the thing and Sam liked it and wanted to put it out. And of course I'm real proud of it now.
You didn't play bass on any of the stuff?
JLD - Oh no, I didn't play on any of the other Jesters records.
You did “My Babe”?
JLD – Yeah, there are 8 sides. We cut 4 sides that night and 4 the night when they called the session in at the union. And Sam actually only produced “My Babe” and the stuff that was cut the second night. The first night was done by Knox (Phillips). Knox actually did “Cadillac Man”. There's one little moment in there, Jerry Phillips is playing maracas and there's one little moment before the guitar solo where the beat turns over and the maracas come up, the limiter brings the maracas up, and it's one of those little things, like around so many Sun records, y'know what I mean? It makes it almost sound real although this was, like, '65. I normally don't tell people that but that's when it was! There are some other sides that are incredible that Paige wrote. Paige wrote this song “Jim Dandy Meets Sweet Sixteen” that was just scurrilous, and another, “Night Train To Chicago” or something like that. I was reading off a notebook paper. We would play another song and I'd sing the words over it. And if you'll notice the intro of this, it's exactly the same as the intro of “Monkey Man”, like my version of the “Woolly Bully” intro.
Maybe Charly will wind up putting that stuff out.
JLD – Well my theory is that when Shelby sold the masters, I think Jerry Phillips held the masters out on The Jesters. There were 4-track tapes and I think Jerry has them. I think he's forgotten that now. If Charly had the masters they would have put them out. I think they got whatever was left which was Tommy Minga, the other singer, singing the song.
I've seen the Sun Sessions files for that stuff and there's like 16 or 18 different songs.
JLD – Oh yes, they cut and cut. The bass player's name was Wolfers, the drummer was Eddie something. He played with me on the first Memphis Blues Festival. That was a long time ago. '65.
'65 and singing about '59!
JLD – Oh, it was '49 in the lyrics. We had to update it.
(in 2008 Big Beat Records released “Cadillac Men” by The Jesters with 13 tracks by the band including “Jim Dandy And Sweet Sixteen”, “Night Train From Chicago” and, of course, “Cadillac Man” - both versions)
The Jesters - "Cadillac Man" (1966)
Yeah, that's a hot one!
JLD – Yeah, that is, I'm proud of that my own self.
Sun Number 400
JLD – Yessir, Yellow Sun 400.
I like the flip side a lot too.
JLD - “My Babe”. I don't know, I have reservations about “My Babe”.
Okay, maybe we'll withhold “My Babe” right now. When did the 1st Century record come out?
JLD – That's the first thing that I ever “released” that I had produced myself. It must have come out '66 or '67. Don Nix took it to LA and sold it to Al De Lory at Capitol and I'd done it at the old Ardent Studios over on National. Sam The Sham's band without Sam The Sham and the sax player. It's Ray Stenet, Crazy David Martin and Jerry Patterson. Stenet is playing this instrument he made himself out of a hollow cored door with strings or wires basically running across it in both directions and he played it with like a metal nail driver. They had just come back from the Morningstar Commune in San Francisco, so definitely Memphis's first hippy session. We set up a tent in the studio 'cause Stenet said he was used to playing in his tent and he wanted to hear it – I said, well, we're gonna have trouble pegging it down here, Ray, y'know. We kinda tied it off and there were babies crawling around on the floor and uncontrolled controlled substances – it was quite a session. 8.00 in the morning – scared the maid to death! John Fry said “Well, I don't know about this Jim...”
Which side you putting on?
I'm gonna put on “Lookin' Down”
JLD – Oh, they're both the same. They're interchangeable.
I've never heard “Dancing Girl” though.
JLD - “Dancing Girl” was our commercial effort. There was something about a spider – I've forgotten that one. It was a concept album called “Through The Door”.
So a single was as far as it got?
JLD – That was it. (Laughs) I got a killer publicity photo though.
The 1st Century - "Lookin' Down" (1968)
Yeah, the Beatles probably heard that one and decided to go off to India!
JLD – I don't think anybody ever heard that one! That was released into the black hole in space! That's so long ago that we got the front money and Don said, Don told me, we had to kick it back, and I believed him! That's how long ago that was!
When did the Dixie Flyers form as a unit?
JLD – Well, they were....they didn't call us that until we went to Miami and in reality, the three of them, the three being Charlie Freeman, Tommy McClure and Sammy Creeson, had started playing together as a rhythm section in, oh I guess in '67 probably. I came along when they were working at (Stan Kesler's) Sounds Of Memphis (Studio). The first record I worked on with them was Albert Collins' “Trash Talkin'” (1969). That had been nominated for a Grammy and that's the thing that we got our job at Atlantic off of, was that album. We were working Utley, the other keyboard player, in at the time, and some people would hire them with Utley and not me, or them with me and not Utley. Nobody would hire all five of us except Leland Rogers, Kenny Rogers' brother, and we had done, I guess, three records with the five of us playing. James Hooker/Brown's playing organ on the Albert Collins thing, and oddly enough Slammy (sic) had a kidney stone attack on the session and Tarp (Tarrant) played drums, so in reality it was Tarp who got Slammy his job. We called it the Dixie Flyers 'cause we had to have a name and I figured that was too racially offensive for them to use. And they fooled me. The first record it was on was the Aretha Franklin record (“Spirit In The Dark”), which, y'know, took some guts for them to do.
I've got a copy of the Aretha Franklin record here – no cover for it.
JLD – Alright! I don't have that one either!
Yeah, this is a tough album.
JLD – Yeah, oh yeah, killer! Well she hadn't recorded for almost two years when they got her down there and they weren't sure she was gonna show up and they had time booked. (Jerry) Wexler and I were out on the boat and we got the call on the radio that Aretha's in. Slammy was gone – he was off fishing and they had to drag him up from somewhere. And she didn't know, here we were, a bunch of white boys, and we didn't know whether or not she was gonna stay and when we did the first song, y'know, she just moved in. Yeah, it was hot! She was eight months pregnant and nobody knew it – she ended up, she recorded with us for two weeks, and then we had to go on and do Carmen McRae (“Just A Little Lovin'” (1970) so they brought in other musicians – Cornell Dupree and the bass player from the Allman Brothers, and just a strange hodge podge of players who finished the album. She went on until she fell out from exhaustion and ended up in hospital. She's really intense though. They never turned....it was boogie at its highest level....she had an entourage that was like three deep all around her – they never turned the motor off in the limousine, they left the doors open, they parked on the grass, left the lights on and the doors open all the time. She had one of Sam Cooke's brothers with her – at the time it was very hip to know a Sam Cooke brother and she actually had two and one of them stayed through the whole session.
Which should I play?
JLD - “The Thrill Is Gone” is the best one, 'cause of Charlie. They had just done, they were envisioning some kind of guitar solo that was gonna be Clapton-esque or something, and Charlie played his little Wes Montgomery stuff and I thought Wexler was gonna die! He said “Baby, baby! I've had great guitar players before but Charlie Freeman is the only one who can take a real solo!” Which proved Wexler knew what he was talking about.
Aretha Franklin - "The Thrill Is Gone" (1970)
Yeah, that's tough!
JLD – Oh yeah, sweet Reeth.....she drank orange Tommies. She'd get a whole tray of 'em and line 'em up on the piano. Orange Tommy is like a pre-packaged gin drink for those of you who may not know. And eat pigs feet. Like Joe Cuoghi. She was amazing. She could make 14 notes, 7 with each hand.
How did you meet Duane Allman down there?
JLD – Honestly don't know where I first met Duane. On some session in Muscle Shoals? He was like the extra guy on a lot of.....I already knew him on the Ronnie Hawkins session.
Did you guys ever play at all, in any of the clubs?
JLD – The Dixie Flyers? Oh Lord, no, oh no, we never did anything but record. But see, we did 14 albums in the 6 months I was there, so we had very little time to do anything else. But no, there was no concept of playing live. Although when we were working on our solo project, which turned into my record (“Dixie Fried”), sort of, then it was in Atlantic's mind that we were supposed to tour, but it wasn't in anybody else's. 'Cause Sammy and them had been the Bill Black Combo, at least Sammy and Utley, at that point for a long time, and they were trying not to tour. And I'd never been out. I didn't go on the road till Arlo Guthrie.
When d'you go on the road with Arlo?
JLD – Oh, whenever that was, '71 or '72, “City Of New Orleans” (1972) was cut during the tour while we were back laying over in Los Angeles. That was one thing I don't regret. In my, he laughingly referred to as his career. And I don't regret Arlo. I see you're holding up a strange album there. Which cut are you gonna play from Sam The Sham?
Well we were talking about Duane Allman so I figured I'd play “Goin' Upstairs”, a John Lee Hooker tune.
JLD – During this album, McClure, our bass player had broken his hand and this is Hester playing bass on this, Freddy Hester, who was down there on a vacation, literally, and Ed Cole is playing harmonica and Duane playing the other guitar. And Sam The Sham before he saw the light.
Sam Samudio - "Goin' Upstairs" (1971)
JLD – Funny thing about it is people who are listening to it are probably thinking that the guitar I'm playing is Duane Allman 'cause everybody is playing everybody else's parts on that record. Sam The Sham was a difficult session in many ways. Then when it was over Sam didn't want my name on the record 'cause I had the wrong amount of letters in my name. He was a problem.
Sounds like Yoko Ono or something. You never worked with Yoko did you?
JLD – No, I'm innocent of that. Although (Jim) Keltner says she's a real artist. I'm not sure, I'm not sure.
How about Ronnie Hawkins?
JLD – Oh, Hawkins was great man. He was, I went down to his first Atlantic session to ostensibly pitch some songs – I really went down there to meet Wexler 'cause I was cornering him at that point, y'know. Worked like a charm. I'd seen Hawkins with Levon & The Hawks years ago with Fred Carter playing the guitar, before Robbie Robertson. He played till his fingers bled down the neck of his Telecaster. It was an awesome sight. But I halfway knew Hawkins of course – we hit it off real well. Tried to out drink each other for the better part of three days, without realising each one was too old and we were just trying to impress the other one. Hurt me real bad but we got to be good friends. The session we did in Miami with Hawkins, in many ways, at least two of the cuts, are my favourite things I did with the Dixie Flyers, 'cause they were definitive rock'n'roll. And again, they were during the period when Tommy's hand was broken and Duck Dunn is playing on them. The old tension is there and it's hot stuff. “The Treasure Of Love” and “Rooster Blues”, that's the arrangement of “Rooster Blues” that I do, that's where I stole it from, from Ronnie. It happened by accident as we were just all jacked up and we played it fast and it sounded real. But “The Treasure Of Love” I'm real proud of; Freeman's playing the acoustic guitar and Duane is playing the lead. We worked real good hat way. Hawkins is the real thing, there's no doubt about that. He's all wool and a yard wide. And wherever he is tonight, he's rocking! The Hawk! He won't come back south – he stays in Canada and he's a funny dude. But he's one of the real guys, y'know, he's a dinosaur and when you're a dinosaur you've got to watch your tail, y'know? Somewhere out there...I remember posing for a picture of me and Ronnie Hawkins, and I've asked everybody I can think of who was backstage who has the picture? I sure want it.
Here's “The Treasure Of Love” from the Hawk
JLD – Alright!
All request radio!
JLD – Yeah!
Ronnie Hawkins - "The Treasure Of Love" (1971)
You used to say that there was a trilogy of albums...
JLD - “The Hawk”....
JLD - “Hard'n'Heavy” and my album. Big surprise! I don't know exactly why – I never tried to figure it out – but they do represent a trilogy to me anyway, in that probably, if there was one thing that lead to my departure from the Dixie Flyers and Atlantic, it was the Hawkins album. Although after that I did do the Petula Clark record down there which I don't remember a single thing about. I look at it now and I don't remember anything about it except that she and her husband – she had a much younger husband – they spoke to each other in French, over the microphone and earphones, and she would say something to her husband in French, and he would come back with a joint! (Laughs) And that's all I remember about the sessions.....but he didn't give it to me!
Well, we got the “Dixie Fried” album here.
JLD – The inevitable........
I told you before about sitting in The Forum in LA, at this Bob Dylan concert, and I'm waiting for Dylan to come out, and they're playing a tape which I later found out, from our former resident Dylanologist Rob Beaumont, was a tape of Dylan's favourite versions of his songs, and on there was none other than James Luther Dickinson, from “Dixie Fried” doing a version of “John Brown”. Sitting in The Forum where the Lakers play I was in awe.
Jim Dickinson - "John Brown" (1972)