The evening opened with The City Champs of Memphis, Tennessee. Their sound—instrumental funk and soul-jazz—was the perfect warm-up for the North Mississippi Allstars and before long the Allstars had the crowd swaying their hips to “Write Me a Few Little Lines”. As it gained momentum it ultimately molded into “Drop Down Mama”, which paired Phish-like harmonies with a jamming southern rock drive all topped off with a Luther Dickinson guitar solo—the first of many.
Luther’s playing had a distinctly curved tone; it sounded as if he was simply bending the strings on his instrument as opposed to picking. At times his phrasing reflected Duane Allman, of the Allman Brothers Band, crossed with a little Taj Mahal. Chris Chew (electric bass and vocals) was smooth yet animated. One moment he would be swinging with the melody before suddenly growing a funky attitude. When he sang, particularly on “I’d Love to be a Hippy”, his voice possessed a dose of soulful rasp.
Rounding out the trio was multi-instrumentalist, and Luther’s brother, Cody Dickinson. Not only could Cody drive a nasty beat, but he completely rocked out on washboard during “Psychedelic Sex Machine”. The results were explosive as he scraped and skidded his hands across the ridges. After seemingly climaxing and exhausting all possible washboard virtuosity, Cody hit the wah-wah pedal taking his washboard shredding to the next level.
Soon after the City Champs joined the Allstars onstage. The collaboration added drummer George Sluppick, organist Al Gamble and guitarist Joe Restivo while Cody of the Allstars joined the Restivo and Luther on guitar. Together the bands projected the attitude, and sounds, of roadhouse blues with a Memphis emphasis.
During the Allstars main set they played nearly every track on their 2000 debut, Shake Hands with Shorty, ending it with a cover of R.L. Burnside’s “Snake Drive”. The band naturally returned for an encore, culminating in the hypersonic “Preachin’ Blues”, each member soloing at a rapid pace, only to unite for a composed ending.
Photos by Allison Taich
Joe Restivo and Luther Dickinson
Luther and Cody Dickinson