Thursday, 20 August 2009

Jim Dickinson - Times Obituary

Memphis music man Jim Dickinson has died at the age of 67. I only really know about him from the Jesters Sun single, Cadillac Man from 1966. In a band that included Sam Phillips' son Jerry, Dickinson was the singer and pianist. Other than that, Dickinson always seemed to be interviewed for any rockabilly/Memphis based documentary. Read the Times obit below and then check out the youTube clip of Cadillac Man.

Times Obituary: As a producer and in-demand session musician, Jim Dickinson helped to mould the gritty, roots-based sound of American southern rock. With the Memphis-based crew known as the Dixie Flyers, he played the piano on records by Aretha Franklin with a syncopated, soulful sound, which belied the colour of his white skin. Combining an intuitive feel for the traditional sound of southern blues with a contemporary rock’n’roll sensibility, he also recorded with the Rolling Stones, Ry Cooder, Bob Dylan and countless others. As a producer, he took charge of acclaimed albums by Willy DeVille (obituary, August 11), Mudhoney and the North Mississippi All-Stars, formed by his sons, Luther and Cody.

He was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1941 and after brief spells living in Los Angeles and Chicago his family moved to Memphis when he was 8. His mother taught him to play the piano as a youth, although what he later described as a “kind of dyslexia” prevented him from learning to read music.

He joined his first band in the early 1960s while studying drama at Baylor University in Texas, where he played drums in a group called Where’s Charlie?. After graduating he returned to Tennessee and enrolled at Memphis State University, principally to avoid the draft.

He briefly ran a drama company called the Market Theatre, but a career as a professional musician beckoned when in 1963 he was invited to record an album in Nashville of folk songs reinterpreted in the style of a Dixieland band. Back in Memphis there were further sessions at Chips Moman’s American Studios and for Sam Phillips’s Sun Records, which released the 1966 single Cadillac Man by the Jesters, featuring Dickinson playing piano and on lead vocals.

In the late 1960s he joined fellow Memphis musicians Charlie Freeman, Michael Utley, Tommy McClure and Sammy Creason in the Dixie Flyers, an informal group of crack session musicians who worked for Atlantic Records, backing singers such as Aretha Franklin on her 1970 album Spirit in the Dark, as well as Rita Coolidge, Jerry Jeff Walker, Albert Collins, Sam the Sham, Carmen McRae and Ronnie Hawkins.

At about the same time he found himself in the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, where the Rolling Stones were recording. Dickinson was asked to add the plaintive piano part on Wild Horses, which appeared on the group’s 1971 album Sticky Fingers. He also began a long association with Ry Cooder, playing piano on the guitarist’s 1972 albums Into the Purple Valley and Boomer’s Story. In the same year he released his first solo album, Dixie Fried, and in 1974 he began a parallel career as a producer, taking charge of Big Star’s album Third.

Over the next two decades he became a highly respected operator, opening his own Zebra Branch studio in north Mississippi and producing albums by Alex Chilton, Willy DeVille, Green on Red and the Replacements, among others. He once described the producer’s role thus: “Record production is a subtle, covert activity. The producer is an invisible man. His role remains a mystery. During the recording process there is an energy field present in the studio — to manipulate and to maximise that presence. To focus on the peculiar ‘harmony of the moment’ is the job of the producer. Music has a spirit beyond the notes and rhythm. To foster that spirit and to cause it to flourish is the producer’s task.”

He was always in demand as a session player and one of the highlights of his career came when Bob Dylan asked him to play the piano on his 1997 album Time Out of Mind.

In recent years the Dickinson family name has been kept in the limelight by his two sons, Luther and Cody. They made their first public appearance at the 1990 Memphis Blues Festival with their father as Jim Dickinson and the Hardly Can Playboys. The brothers then went on to form the hugely successful North Mississippi All-Stars, with their father producing and playing keyboards on their albums. The pair in turn played on their father’s idiosyncratic solo recordings Free Beer Tomorrow (2002) and Jungle Jim and the Voodoo Tiger (2006).

Dickinson underwent triple heart bypass surgery in June and failed to make a full recovery. He is survived by his wife, Mary, and his two sons.

Jim Dickinson, musician and producer, was born on November 15, 1941. He died on August 15, 2009, aged 67.

1 comment:

Mike Licht, said...

August was a rough month for American music.