Southern Lullabies:
Exploring The Softer Side of Luther Dickinson

Words by Audra Tracy
Photo by John ‘NuNu’ Zomot

Luther Dickinson is doing things a little differently these days. The man known for laying down some heavy electric licks with the North Mississippi Allstars and The Black Crowes is now exploring a softer side of the artistic spectrum. Earlier this year he released a solo record, Rock n’ Roll Blues, a collection of acoustic numbers of a more personal nature, and soon he’ll be getting intimate with audiences too.

This month Dickinson will head out on a West Coast tour with fellow roots rockers JJ Grey, Anders Osborne, and Marc Broussard, who’ve joined together to form a super-group aptly coined the Southern Soul Assembly. The artist-in-the-round performance series finds the foursome sharing tunes and tall tales amassed from each of their storied careers.

The Southern gentleman opens up about going unplugged, and why playing roots music makes his world go ’round…

Tell us about Rock n’ Roll Blues…what inspired you to make a solo record?

Luther Dickinson: Rock n’ Roll Blues is a story I had to tell, an album I had to make, before I turned 40. The songs reflect my life story, and I felt an immediacy to record them before I entered a new phase of my life.

The Rock n’ Roll Blues song cycle was too personal to be a NMA record. I wanted to showcase the lyrics as well as the acoustic guitar as a RocknRoll instrument. Playing with Amy Lavere and Sharde (Thomas) is my heart, is as easy as breathing and feels so good. The ladies have the mother earth groove.

How did the recording process differ from your previous studio albums with North Mississippi Allstars?

We recorded the album in two days, playing all acoustic instruments, singing live to an 8track tape machine with double muted drums and no cymbals. We mixed straight to 1/2″ two track tape with no compression or EQ. This record was made to satisfy my aesthetic.

North Mississippi Allstars is a collaborative music based on a regional style and repertoire from which we interpret and improvise. I regret having ever indulged personal agendas onto NMA. NMA is strongest and most enjoyable when we stick to the original concept- playing Hill Country blues with a collective group of our friends from home, loud as hell.

This will be your second tour with Southern Soul Assembly – what does the phrase ‘Southern Soul’ mean to you?

We are all Southern gentlemen, to some degree. Our songs reflect our lives and our heritages growing up in the modern south. The songs are the stories, fantasies and folk legends we grew up with, the lullabies our mothers sang to us.

The emphasis is on Soul. Relating to the soul of man is how a song can transcend the singer’s geography and become universal. Soul Music is a what we all strive to create. Soul Music is meaningful to me, music that comes from the heart. The act of riding a song into an inspired moment that everyone in the room can feel. That moment can be reached through deep singing or a touching lyric or a musician instrumentally touching your spine.

Roots Music is where I dwell. American Roots Music is a tree from which every branch nurtures a different flavor of roots music soul fruit. Swinging on the vines from branch to branch is what makes my world go ’round.

How’s the dynamic on the road with JJ, Marc, and Anders? Who’s the brain of the outfit? The muscle? The wild card?

It’s hilarious! Who is preaching, who is napping, who is working out, who is DJing? SSA will never tell! We tell a lot of jokes and stories on stage but that is tame compared to the jive going down every day on the bus.

Which artists do the four of you ‘geek out’ over? Any plans to throw some classic cover songs into the set-list?

We have tried to avoid cover songs, but Donnie Hathaway is favorite as is Toots (Hibbert).

After years in the music industry, what advice would ‘2014 Luther’ give to ‘1996 Luther’?

Put everything in it’s right place. Each side of you is stronger by itself than all mixed up with each other. Work within parameters and find different outlets for ideas and aesthetics to blossom. Hell, it’s never too late.

Catch Luther Dickinson performing with Southern Soul Assembly this November. See all tour dates here! | Southern Soul Assembly