James Luther Dickinson dies by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

Posted on 8/17/2009 by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

(Memphis, Tennessee) I am sad to report the passing of a legendary Memphis musician, songwriter and record producer, 67 year old James Luther Dickinson, who passed away in his sleep early Saturday morning.

Jim Dickinson
was my friend, an inspiration to musicians and artists across the globe. I am sorry I did not get to spend more time with him.

Jim Dickinson, photo by my friend, Joe Teri

He is heard on a 1966 Sun Records single by the Jesters, "Cadillac Man," which is said to have been the last great Sun release. Jim played on the Rolling Stones' "Sticky Fingers" album's cut "Wild Horses" and performed with notable musicians throughout his life.

Jim plays with Arlo Guthrie on the hit, "Riding on the City of New Orleans," and was a close friend and colleague of Bob Dylan, who said of Jim, "If you have Dickinson, you don't need anybody else."

Jim played on Dylan's "Time Out of Mind," which won a Grammy in 1998 as the Record of the Year.

Bob Dylan, Daniel Lanois, Jim Dickinson

Jim was a notable producer, who worked for both Sun's Sam Phillips and STAX and American Studios' Chips Moman. Jim received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Engineering and Production from the Americana Music Association in 1997. Jim produced Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers, one of Rolling Stone magazine’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”

From Jim's biography from his site about his sprawling home/studio complex, the Zebra Ranch(pictured above):

"He participated in the now-famous Memphis Country Blues Festivals at the Overton Park Shell with Furry Lewis, Sleepy John Estes, and Fred McDowell.

After getting his first real break from Bill Justis in Nashville, he began his work in the Memphis music industry, playing sessions at American Studio for Chips Moman, '65/'66; then for John Fry at Ardent Studio, '66/'67; then Sam Kessler at Sound of Memphis Studio, '68/'69, where he joined Charley Freeman, Tommy McClure, and Sammy Creason in the rhythm section that became know as the "DIXIE FLYERS".

In 1970, the Dixie Flyers moved to Miami, Florida, contracted to ATLANTIC RECORDS as the house band backing such artists as Aretha Franklin, Sam & Dave, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Carmen McCrae."

Mentors and friends, Professor Sid Selvidge and Jim Dickinson

Jim played throughout the following years with Memphis music greats, Sid Selvidge(Blues Foundation producer of the Beale Street Blues Caravan series), Lee Baker, Jimmy Crosswait, in a band known as Mudboy and the Neutrons. After the brutal murder of guitarist Lee Baker, the band performed rarely.

Jim and Jimmy Crosswait

Jim's sons, Cody and Luther Dickinson, have achieved great success on their own with their fine group, the North Mississippi All-Stars. Jim spent many of his last years working with them and other young talent, spreading his knowledge and love of the music.

T-Model Ford, Spam, Jim Dickinson

Jim worked with Memphis' favorites, Lucero, blues artists Otha Turner, T-Model Ford and Spam, my buddies Jimbo Mathus & His Knockdown Society, Alvin Youngblood Heart, Albert King, Ry Cooder, John Hiatt, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Amy LaVere and my band, the Reba Russell Band, recorded our last album at the Zebra Ranch with our dear friend, partner and engineer Dawn Hopkins.

When I started playing the Hammond organ, I bought an old Yamaha leslie amplifier cabinet which had belonged to superb blues guitarist, the late Larry Lee. Larry was a good friend and we played many fun gigs together with my old friend, soul shouter Elmo Lee Thomas.

This Yamaha cabinet was unique in that it had one stationary woofer and two 6 X 9" foam speakers which actually spun end over end to produce the Doppler effect. The rare item was discontinued as I understand that Leslie sued Yamaha over some copyright violations, but I used this one for many years. Somewhere along the way, I covered the sides of the cabinet with zebra patterned cloth and last year I gave the box to a genuinely amused Jim Dickinson when we recorded at his Zebra ranch. There are a plethora of zebra theme items all over every room of the studio and the joke is the old Zen exercise,

"Try not to think of a zebra" which is damn near impossible inside this place.

Sid Selvidge and Jim Dickinson

I owe a great debt to the two men pictured above. The first, my college professor and friend, Sid Selvidge, introduced me to both Jim Dickinson and the great blues music of the past. These men knew the value of the blues, re-discovering Frank Frost, Furry Lewis and some of the last remaining old school blues men in our country. Both did their best to preserve and play the music, true to its origins, themselves. True to the blues tradition, they spread the knowledge, inspired a generation of musicians and gave a ray of hope to those of us who suffered bitterly through the days of disco when little blues was seen or heard.

These men and their compatriots are giants of American art and true cultural icons. It cannot be stressed enough how important it was to all of us that they so kindly and selflessly included us all in the joy that is blues.

Jim Dickinson at the Zebra ranch, photo by Steve Jones

"I'm just dead, I'm not gone."

-Jim Dickinson

Sincere thanks to photographer and friend, Joe Teri, for allowing the use of his photographs
and thanks also to old friends Dennis Brooks and Tinker for helping me locate Steve Jones, who kindly allowed me to use this great photo of Jim.

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©2009, Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms


American Blues News Staff

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

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Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

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Jim Stick in Colorado
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