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Shorty's Groove

Steeped in family and regional tradition, the brothers Dickinson create a variation on the hill-country blues for their North Mississippi All Stars

The brothers formed various bands over time, including a postpunk/thrash outfit with bassist Paul Taylor called DDT (Dickinson, Dickinson, Taylor -- get it?). They also had a jug band called Gutbucket that featured the same lineup. The trio eventually morphed into the All Stars, but as they changed musical direction, Taylor became disenchanted with the group, giving way to Chew, an old friend from Hernando High School. "As soon as he joined, the band really jelled; things started escalating and have been building up since then," Dickinson says.

Dickinson says their father did not object to the brothers' going into the family business but did impart his share of wisdom: "At the very beginning, he would just kind of forewarn us. He'd say, "Man, it's a hard life. Don't do it unless you absolutely have to.' But it's all I've ever wanted to do, and he was always supportive. That was a very short period of time when he would try and talk us out of it."

Perhaps the thing that made their pursuit of music most inevitable, though, is the countryside around Hernando, where the air was full of fascinating sounds. Luther was particularly taken with Othar Turner, the aged bluesman -- now in his 90s -- whose debut album, Everybody Hollerin' Goat, Luther would produce in 1998. He also produced the follow-up, Senegal to Senatobia, a year later. Turner is significant for several reasons, including the fact that he was the one who pointed musicologist Alan Lomax in the direction of Fred McDowell, then an unknown farmer who lived down the road. Currently Turner is famous/notorious for his annual picnic, a wild bacchanal featuring music, bootleg liquor and barbecued goat.

The North Mississippi All Stars: Luther and Cody Dickinson and Chris Chew
Chapman Baehler
The North Mississippi All Stars: Luther and Cody Dickinson and Chris Chew

"Othar was the first guy I got to know," he says. "He took me under his wing. As I got to know him, I started recording him. A couple years down the road, I took my guitar down there and played some Fred McDowell for him, and he just flipped out. Ever since then, he's been one of my best friends. He's like a grandfather to me. If I never get to do anything else in my life, at least we got to make a record with Othar. He deserves it."

Just so, Dickinson deserves the fame that is fast coming the All Stars' way. Perhaps the best thing about the group is that, despite their relative youth, they are a blues band with something new to say, not just another guitar hotshot and a rhythm section, à la the thousands of inferior blues bands that have come in the wake of Stevie Ray Vaughan.

"When we started the band, I was totally anti-gunslinger," Dickinson says. "I don't even claim we're a blues band. We're a rock & roll band. When young white kids play black music, that's just what happens, is rock & roll, be it Elvis, the Stones, Beastie Boys, Jimmie Rodgers, whatever. I'm fascinated by the race collision in music. It's a multiracial thing.

"Our main plan is to help other guys around here elevate their careers and get them known. They're fabulous, you know? Music brings people together down here."

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