The Cody Dickinson Interview
Cody Dickinson’s latest band, The Hill Country Revue, prepare to hit the road behind their new CD Make A Move. Cody assembled the band comprised of Chris Chew on bass, Daniel Robert Coburn on vocals and harmonica, Kirk Smithhart on guitars, and Edward Cleveland on bass.
Cody and his brother Luther grew up under the musical shadow of their father, Memphis luminary Jim Dickinson. Over the years, the Dickinson family has become the nucleus of a community of musicians from the Memphis-Mississippi environs. Best known for his washboard playing and drumming in The North Mississippi Allstars, on Make A Move, Cody proves he ranks as a talented guitarist and piano player. He also serves as a producer for many Memphis based musical endeavors.
When we spoke last Tuesday, Cody was riding on the bus from Memphis to Toronto to kick off the tour. This will be the first of many interviews and insights from Cody Dickinson.
Cody Dickinson: James!
James Calemine: Hey man—what’s up?
CD: Sorry I missed you last week…
JC: It’s no problem.
CD: Well, we’ll get after it today.
JC: I have to tell you—I told Luther and your dad this story when I interviewed them; in 1990, I attended the Blues Heritage Festival in Memphis with Stanley Booth. That Saturday you and Luther were jamming with your dad as The Hardlycan Playboys—you were probably 12, just wailing…
CD: Oh man. The Hardlycan Playboys—no way! That’s amazing man. First of all Stanley is a character. I think that was my first gig ever.
JC: We were there for that…
CD: That’s incredible…so weird. Did it sound okay?
JC: Hell yeah it sounded okay (collective laughter). I remember saying to Stanley, ‘I wonder where these guys will be in 15-20 years?’…well, here we are.
CD: James, that is great man. I won’t be able to sneak anything past you.
JC: Well, I’ve done my homework.
CD: Yeah, you’ve been down since day one.
JC: So, how is your dad doing?
CD: Dad is doing much better. I’m glad to have some good news to report. It was bad for a while. He had a heart attack. He had triple by pass surgery. He had stints put in and he had a reaction to that, but he’s come to and he’s talking—his personality is in tact and he’s in rehabilitation…
JC: I talked to him on May 22.
CD: You must have talked to him right after he played with Elvis Costello.
JC: Right. Then I think the night I spoke with him you guys were all going to play a show together…The Revue, The String Band, The Allstars. The next thing I know, I get a call from Stanley Booth saying Jim had a heart attack.
CD: It went from bad to worse for a while.
JC: Well, I have to congratulate you on The Hill Country Revue’s new CD, Make A Move. It sounds great.
CD: Thank you so much. Our heart and soul went into that record. It was a labor of love—good bit of labor and desperation the way it comes across on the record. To me, it’s the most vital work I’ve done since Shake Hands with Shorty. There’s an urgency there.
JC: How long did it take to record the record?
CD: It was recorded over the course of four or five months. We did the majority of the record in two days. We did it in Memphis in two days. We did it in Memphis at Young Avenue sound and a couple of big sessions at Dad’s barn. There were two days—one day at Young Avenue and one day at The Barn where we tracked almost everything. We recorded 20 songs when we first got together.
JC: You know when I talked to your dad in May he mentioned your piano skills. You’ve started playing more guitar and piano…
CD: Right on. I really want to incorporate more piano and organ for The Hill Country Revue so we can make it stand out. I really love playing the instrument. We just haven’t worked it into the show yet. That will be something we’ll do next year on the next record.
JC: Where are you on the road right now?
CD: We’re going straight north—from Memphis to Toronto. On this run we’re just going to have some local bands open for us. Someone different every night…
JC: I got to see you briefly backstage at the Widespread Panic show in Orange Beach in April, but you guys tore it up that night. It was the Mississippi gang onstage. Talk about the Mississippi music community down there…
CD: Yeah, no doubt. Kenny Brown’s Picnic is called The Hill Country Picnic and it’s cool to see all the musicians get together and it’s a tight knit community of musicians who definitely stick together. There’s a common thread that we play a lot of the same songs. Each band has a different look on it. The Hill Country have this southern rock sound. The Allstars have more of a gospel slant on it. There is no doubt it’s like a militia of musicians that all vibe off each other. The camaraderie and support for each other is there. Luther and I have been so lucky to be able to surround ourselves with super-talented folks and be able to take our friends all across the country and all over the world. The farther away we are from Mississippi the more interested they are in our music.
JC: Talk about a couple of other recent side projects you have going on. It’s always something…you produce a lot of sessions.
CD: Yes, absolutely. I love what I do and I stay busy. Luckily, up to this point I’ve been able to have a lot of great opportunities. As far as side projects go—just yesterday I was working with Valerie June. She’s an artist from Memphis and she’s so good. She’s a blues singer. I met her during $5 Cover, the MTV show. Valerie is the girl with dreadlocks. She’s so good. She’s a superstar. She’s a blues singer. She sings that song “I Don’t Wear No Drawers”. She’s great. Anyway, we got together yesterday and went in with Chris Austin and the two of us and we wrote a song. I was producing, but my style is more like when I was putting Hill Country Revue together—I really enjoy, not just musically, putting odd groups of people together that wouldn’t normally be around each other. I think I have a gift for that. It usually gets weird and interesting. I thrive on that. That’s when I’m really in my element. Just off the top of my head—obviously the Allstars, The Hill Country Revue, this band 30DB I’m working on with Humphreys Magee, The Word is getting back together in January. I’ve also been working with this guy Jerry Hannon this singer from California he wrote some music for into The wild with Eddie Vedder. Jerry’s an amazing songwriter. I was hanging out with Jackie Green a lot. We’d been talking for a while, but we made some plans at Rothbury to record some more in August. Being a musician is part hustler. You have to keep the wagon rolling towards the future. Some of the projects really materialize into successful, lucrative projects and other things just fall by the wayside and you go with what works.
JC: But even if it’s not lucrative you can go back and say that was some great shit—like an old Fred McDowell-Johnny Woods album. Fred couldn’t keep the lights on, but that music still stands up…
CD: That’s a good point. It’s almost like a responsibility to document…
JC: It’s always going to be on the paper, the tape, the canvas…whatever. So, how long will The Country Revue stay out on the road?
CD: Hill Country is hitting it hard for the rest of the year. We’ll take a break in August and then go back out in September for seven or eight weeks. We’ve been letting Make A Move simmer a little bit and let it get out there so people can get somewhat familiar with this and get us some name recognition. Usually bands put out a record and tour immediately. We decided to let it simmer for about six months. We’re gonna hit it hard in the Fall.
JC: With Luther now being a full-time member of The Black Crowes, is it hard not to be in the Allstars or has it been good to take time off?
CD: Man, I gotta be honest, yeah—the Allstars was so much fun. It was easy for me. Drums are second nature to me and Luther made all the decisions and I was just along for the ride. I cruised through the past ten years of my life. When Luther joined The Black Crowes it was a time for me to man-up a little bit. I made a conscious decision to continue doing what I was doing…just because Luther joined another band that won’t stop me. That’s why I started putting this band together. I gotta say, it’s been a year and a half and it’s exceeded beyond my wildest dreams. Just because I play drums in the NMAS does not guarantee anything for my next band or my next endeavor. It’s all totally separate. I think in the long run it was a blessing. It was the best thing that could happen. Ever since I’ve had the time to explore my own artistry I’ve been better off. When we go back and do the Allstars like we did last Friday in Chicago—it was better than ever. In fact, it was kind of back to the way we used to play when we were a little scrappier. I suppose with any band if you play together too long you get set in your ways and go through the motions a little bit. The Allstars aren’t on cruise control anymore when we get together.
JC: I want you to contribute something to Swampland’s Mystery and Mannerslike your dad. We’re going to be constructing a Six Degrees of Jim Dickinson…sort of like a musical family tree, which traces the lineage and influences of all the players he’s worked with…
CD: I’m always fascinated by that stuff. When something interesting or exciting happens I try to trace back to what led up to it.
JC: Yeah, if someone is reading liner notes to The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and under “Wild Horses” it says Jim Dickinson-piano. If you don’t know who he is, you know he’s a badass if he’s on a Stones record and should be sought out…then you find out he played or worked with Furry Lewis, Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder, The Dixie Flyers…you know…
CD: James, that is badass. It’s exciting. I’m flattered you’d ask me to contribute.
JC: So, let’s catch back up in a couple of months. It will be high-grade fun, and we can leave a story behind…
CD: Yeah, man. Exactly. I promise you I’m going to contribute. That’s bad ass. I love it. Let’s get it rolling…