Zebra Ranch Part Two

Posted on 2/15/2010 by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

(Memphis, Tennessee) After a very warm response from our kind readers we have bowed to public sentiment and returned to the Zebra Ranch where we wind up our recording of Reba Russell's new CD. We cut 14 sides in a little over a week and it sounds like a good blues record is born. The photo above, by my dear friend, Jo Teri, is of a performance by Sid Selvidge of the Blues foundation and the late Jim Dickinson, founder and guru of the famed Zebra Ranch. Sid was my professor in college and he taught me a hell of a lot about blues and American music. He is a world class professor and a good friend. Thanks, Sid. Sid heads up Blues Caravan program which is heard throughout the known universe and other solar systems as well.

The Zebra Ranch is sequestered in a very relaxed atmosphere located off the beaten path to allow for musical creativity without worldly distractions. Only the lovely distractions of the ranch itself are required to produce some good music within its confines. It's incredibly quiet out here and at night you can see a million stars. There's no telephone, television or other unwanted distraction in the studio, just friends, instruments and time to make music. The Zebra Ranch is a magical place.

Musician, songwriter, award winning producer, Zebra Ranch creator,
Jim Dickinson

above, some of the last Reba Russell CDs including our "greatest hits "record, "Rewound"
You can buy them at the band's website:

Sometimes the post office box is a superior option.

Open gates reveal the fecundity of human creativity, the Zebra Ranch

After a couple of days the monsoon rains set in so we got cozy inside and cut songs for about 12 hours or so a day. We were fully prepared with adequate food and drink to survive unassisted for several days. toward the end of the week the rain started to freeze and so we had to halt operations for a couple of days. We don't have snow plows down south and most people down here can't drive worth a damn in the frozen stuff so we laid low at our respective cribs until it thawed.

Outdoor seating went from dry to wet to icy during the week. I love these old gliders. This one looks as if the two seats have become closer friends over time.

Time to head inside and make a joyful noise

This ceramic Mississippi mojo panther exudes music power.
I saw a live one of these driving south on I-55 toward Natchez one day.

reels of recorded 2 inch tape

Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms (photo by Wayne Russell)

the many textures of the Zebra Ranch

The ju-ju beams forth from the Zebra Ranch during night tracking.

Cody Dickinson's percussion instrument collection is vast.

Doug's sack-o-sticks

beautiful designs on this conga

action figure riding an alligator protects the ranch

Dawn Hopkins replays a take as Reba listens. After a long day of overdubbing I fell asleep in my chair after taking this picture. With age one learns to value a nap.

Wayne and Reba through the crazy lens

Tater Red mojo candles radiate a groovy mood throughout the expanse

Josh and Wayne tire of the author's flash attachment
yet the author forges on fearlessly. I knew they were unarmed.

Batman keeps his lamp at the Zebra Ranch.

Josh Roberts

The zenith of hipitude, the zebralava.

Wayne Russell dines on delicious stuffed peppers made by Jolene Roberts which were AWESOME. Thanks Jolene!

Josh listens to the replay

The author consoles himself at the Hammond console, deep in overdub mode,
basking in the doppler effect of the whirling 122 Leslie

goat-a-phonic diddley bow

This is what is known as a steamer trunk. It's what you packed to carry on a steamship.

Rhodes suitcase piano next to the big Baldwin grand

This, the "Powder Keg of Imagination" is available for visiting artists. It is stored next to the ash tray and tends to erupt throughout the day and night.

Glow in the dark stars and planets illuminate the ceiling.

I love this picture of Hef and the ladies. Viagra was specifically invented for Hefner.

King Biscuit flour sack hearkens back to the days of KFFA radio and King Biscuit Time which was sponsored by these fine flour and corn meal making folks. Gourmand Wayne Russell says it makes a fine biscuit. He would know.

There's a Free World sticker on the wall. They recorded their last CD here with Jim.

autographed poster from the family of Biggie

Yoda keeps this piano floating about 4 inches off the floor at all times. His powers are amplified by this text about masked wrestlers.

The mirror also floats.

Voodoo doll sans pins

Yes, it's a zebra puppet.

beautiful old pump organ

outboard gear and a Macintosh decoy

This provides the shaka-lacka in the boom-shacka-lacka in case you have ever wondered.

Here's a poster for our friends the North Mississippi AllStars who are Cody and Luther Dickinson and Chris Chew. They are currently touring the USA in a big bus and playing to sold-out crowds where they perform. For more information or to buy music and tickets, check out their cool website:

My friend, Luther Dickinson,
guitarist for North Mississippi Allstars and the Black Crowes

Nothing gets past the keen ears of the super producer/engineer Dawn Hopkins. She has created award-winning CDs and is the other half of the Blue-eyed Bitches Production Company.
We have made records together for 20 years. She is my trusted friend and colleague.

A set list from one of Jim's last live performances is still taped on his guitar.

arrrr! I love the rug, matey!

inscription "Be still and know that there is God" over the Shrine

Skydog rests comfortably in the confines of the Shrine

I was too scared to open this.

So many cables (photo by Wayne Russell)

Detail from a supercool old barber chair from way back in the day, a favorite of Jim's

These were made in St. Louis with pride. The thing weighs about a ton.

In this photo Wayne is either tuning his guitar or contemplating some snacks.

Lee Baker and Furry Lewis adorn the walls.

I saw Jim Dickinson perform at a show with Furry at Southwestern at Memphis around 1976. It was a truly great show that I shall never forget, particularly his cursing of a guy from Nashville who preceded him using a phase shifter on his guitar. Jim had a clever play on words for the man's phase shifter. He never was politically correct but always made you laugh.

old advertising illustrations

Two silvertone heads with matching cabinets, and Ampeg B-15 flip-top, Super Champ, Marshalls, a Deluxe and Luther's brown Concert join my old Bassman in audio isolation

evidence of Jim's or perhaps Jed Clampitt's whittling

Doug McMinn, Wayne Russell, prepare to ride the range in the rain.

that's an old school pencil sharpener

Wayne tries to trade his bass for whatever Dawn is eating

Reba Russell cuts a late night vocal track

Leaving after a long day of productive music-making(photo by Wayne Russell)

cool old travel trailering yard art

This may be a time-travel trailer.

yard art and ranch storage area- a good place to hang your hat

Snow melts outside the fence

We have to grow our own snow in the South.

Beautiful old gnarled limbs out at the ranch

As the last of the snow leaves the landscape we pack up our gear and head back for home. We are indebted to Jim Dickinson and his wonderful, kind family for allowing us to share in this incredibly fun atmosphere where giants walked and great recordings have been and shall be made. If you or your band would like to record while basking in the sublime groovitude that is the Zebra Ranch then you may contact Mary Dickinson at the website below:

This is a great website full of information, pictures and history and I highly recommend that you all check it out by clicking above.

If you missed my first article on the Zebra Ranch from last week, well, that's just a damn shame, but rejoice, here's a link to the article:

©Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms, 2010


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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