Reba Russell Band records at the Zebra Ranch by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

Posted on 2/08/2010 by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

(Memphis, Tennessee) We venture south this week into northern Mississippi, home of my friend, the late Jim Dickinson, his sons, Luther and Cody of the famous North Mississippi All-Stars, and his sweet wife, Mary Lindsay. In the past couple of months I wrote articles about Jim and his artistic and scholarly contributions to music, particularly BLUES. This week my band worked in the very sanctum sanctorum of the man himself, his recording complex at the Zebra Ranch. I am endeavoring this week to share some of the experience of the place and the trials of our recording with you, my beloved readers.

The Zebra Ranch is about an hour's drive from my home in Memphis and we ventured down the highway everyday this week to load in recording gear and lots of musical gear to do the job. This will be the seventh Reba Russell Band CD and it is shaping up to be the finest one we have ever recorded. There were songs proffered from many fine song writers and the inspirational value of the Zebra Ranch is not to be discounted either. We even recorded a couple of Jim Dickinson's favorite songs in his honor and simply because they are so damn much fun. Jim loved to laugh and his wit was exceptional. His insight continues to unfold to me like the never-ending geometric permutations of a kaleidoscope.

(above)The legendary Jim Dickinson
photo courtesy of Tom Lonardo

guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Josh Roberts

Doug McMinn

the last big hit on SUN was by Jim Dickinson singing with
The Jesters

surrounded by awards at the Zebra Ranch

Today's article consists mainly of photographs (about 120 of them) because I was enthralled with all the visual stimuli at the Zebra Ranch and since most of you will likely never visit here, I thought you might enjoy a look around the grounds. It rarely ceased raining after our first day or so in the studio and we stayed for almost a week cutting songs all the livelong day and night. It was great to be able to hang out with my friends, my old band mates, in such a remote relaxed atmosphere and I knew that Jim was looking down on us and smiling throughout the week. He was always there with sincere advice, a witty quip or a ponderous opinion and his legacy among musicians across the world remains strong.

Lightening, Jim called him, "the long and the short of it."

For our band, this may indeed be one of our greatest efforts to date, at least from my perspective. It is a tastefully crafted recording true to our blues roots and inspired by our surroundings. The last day of recording will be today, Monday, and then our beloved Dawn Hopkins is off to Wayne Russell's secret Fortress of solitude to do the mixing. The record will be out this year, likely in a few months time before we begin our touring schedule for 2010.

The mighty BEB Production team produces the magic CD
Dawn Hopkins, Reba Russell

the Creature from the Black Lagoon is prominent on the wall

Jim's favorite chair, a barber chair in the back room

the Shrine

the wall

bassist Wayne Russell reads the wall

magic star with a lucky ladybug crawling on it

This is the rear isolation room for guitar amps. That's Luther's brown Fender Concert in there and Brother Duane looks down upon the happenings. Luther got that amp in honor of the late Lee Baker who played one just like it.

Wayne Russell on bass

Reba and Mary Dickinson

Wayne and Doug

Zebra drums!

an old Farfisa organ, one of the first portables

Listening on the speakers after cutting a track

Doug strokes the zebra skins

The good luck horseshoe seemed to work as we cut 14 sides in about 4 days and then I overdubbed my parts on the big piano on the next 2 days. In order to keep the tracks separated properly we could not cut with the acoustic piano as we would get too much bleed-over on the other tracks.

Level Devil

buckaroo Doug McMinn dons his hat to stay dry in the torrential monsoon

holy mojo candles from Tater Red on Beale

this holds up the ceiling and the roof

This beautiful piano is provided by the fine folks at Baldwin, a division of Gibson Guitars
this was my battle station

Mr. D's concept of the vast geographical expanse of Memphis


Vital coffee supplies rest on the Yamaha Zebra Leslie that I gave to Jim a couple of years ago.

Josh Roberts

a sculpture of me as a younger man

my friend Luther Dickinson, son of Jim, is a world class guitarist

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
Chef Jimi.

And of course, we will surprise you sometimes!

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