Saturday, August 15, 2009

Jim Dickinson: The Cadillac Man Has Driven Away

James Luther Dickinson⎯Dixie Flyer, Cadillac Man, ivory tinkler on the Stones’ “Wild Horses” (see him in the doc Gimme Shelter listening to the playback at Muscle Shoals), Big Star producer, one of the masterminds behind Alex Chilton’s genius/stoned-out record Like Flies on Sherbert, Replacements producer⎯on and on his credits roll⎯died today after several months of illness. He was 67.

I got to see him play once, in 1996, at Barrister’s in Memphis, a back alley club once owned by Jerry Lee Lewis. His kids, the North Mississippi All Stars opened the show, this back when their set consisted almost entirely of Fred McDowell covers. Once finished, Pops joined ‘em onstage, along with Andrew Love of the Memphis Horns, to play guitar and sing and rip through a set of Memphis obscurities served up raw & shambling. My impression was that Dickinson seemed a bit stiff and gruff at first, but loosened up as he played, to become visibly transformed by the music. The songs got more and more raunchy, so much that eventually Love bailed, packing his horn and fleeing the stage. I put it up there with one of the best Rock ‘n’ Roll shows I’ve ever seen.

Check out Robert Gordon’s great book It Came From Memphis (1995, Simon & Schuster) to read more about Jim Dickinson, and how, as a kid, hearing jug bands play raunchy in Memphis back alleys inspired him to start playing music himself. Also be sure to check out the Sepia Tone CD reissue of Dixie Fried, Dickinson’s 1972 solo album for Atlantic, vinyl copies of which are pretty hard to find. The title cut is Dickinson's reading of the Carl Perkins rocker. Among other greats, the LP also includes a version of the Nite Caps' "Wine."

Of course, Dickinson's playing, production, and all-around southern genius figures prominently in Axl Chitlin's great Like Flies on Sherbert, as well as most of the Panther Burns records.

here's "Cut Me at 7 1/2," a sort of jazz-poem thing, from a mid-nineties EP titled Hambone's Meditations, released on Andria Lisle's great Sugar Ditch Records.

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