JIM DICKINSON a/k/a JAMES LUTHER DICKINSON
DINOSAURS RUN IN CIRCLES
I no longer think only of Jim Dickinson as a guy who makes music like no one else, thought that sure enough true. I think of him and the music he makes as something a lot bigger. - Nick Tosches / Dinosaurs Run In Circles liner notes
This is the only record I’ve ever done that I can listen to over and over. - Jim Dickinson
Jim Dickinson’s third album, in as many years, for Memphis International is very much a stylistic departure from anything he’s previously recorded in a music career that spans five decades. Dickinson, producer (Big Star, Replacements, Green On Red, Ry Cooder, Mudhoney, Alvin Youngblood Heart, etc.); session man (Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Duane Allman) and cultural observer (“Memphis Saturday Night”) is, to say the least, one of the most idiosyncratic artists of our time. Here, he is joined only by the rhythm section of Sam Shoup (bass) and Tom Lonardo (drums) for an outing that celebrates his non-rock and roll roots.
“I’m so old that my musical tastes developed before there was rock and roll,” Jim explains. “This is the music that’s in my heart. Only this late in my so-called career and only with Sam and Tom could I have done this.” This is an album not specifically of standards but, rather, a collection of songs that have been around a long, long time and offer something evocative, recalling a time when a voice and piano were entertainment enough for a young boy growing up in the Deep South. Co-produced by Dickinson and David Less, the album’s intimacy, its very understatement, is its compelling strength. It’s pop music in its purest, most unfettered incarnation. Because it is so elemental, it can inarguably be considered jazz, roots or blues in light of its elemental.
While the sidemen are undeniably stellar -- “Sam is probably one of the best musicians in the city of Memphis and Tom has just got a feel; you’d have to dig somebody out of the ground to find somebody who has his brush technique; it really exists no longer on earth” – Jim’s naturalistic approach makes this one of the most intimate albums from a musical icon released in modern memory. Dickinson reveals, “the piano” (a high polish red Baldwin baby grand that is the centerpiece of his Zebra Ranch studio in rural Independence, MS) “was intentionally not tuned for these sessions; “it was flat and so was I.”
Jim’s mother was an accomplished pianist and collected sheet music that gave Jim an early appreciation for both musicianship and composition. Her inspiration and in-studio inspiration and innovation made “Dinosaurs” come to life. At the heart of the effort is the song selection. Jim offers a look at the album’s tunes.
Early In The Morning – “It’s a Louis Jordan song but the version I know best is by Harry Nilsson. For some reason, I associate it with Los Angeles; it makes me think of Hollywood Boulevard. That last verse about the ‘two old maids’? You heard it in camp.”
Coleslaw – “I have a friend who runs a radio show that highlights music from Arkansas and he played this and reminded me what a great song this is. In Memphis, they serve coleslaw on barbeque sandwiches. There was a woman working at Top’s Barbeque on Union Avenue and if you said ‘no slaw’ she’d look at you like you were out of your mind.”
Easy Street – “I wish I could find the version I heard as a kid, maybe it was by Jimmy Dorsey. My mother would play from her sheet music for hours to calm me down and I’d pretend I was a disc jockey and this was my theme song. Bob Dylan played our band’s (Mudboy & the Neutrons) version of “Dark End of The Street” on his Theme Time Radio Hour when he was doing a road theme and, just after that, he played an instrumental snippet of ‘Easy Street” that he talked over. I took that as a message.”
The Gypsy – “Sam had come up with a set of changes from a record but we played it off of my mother’s sheet music that I still have.”
Save The Bones For Henry Jones (Cause He Don’t Eat No Meat) – “I heard it by Johnny Mercer and there’s a New Orleans version of it, too. This is the closest thing to an overt pop song on the album and that’s an area I don’t normally venture into.”
Who Threw The Whisky In The Well – “My band used to play it in high school and the frat boys would sing ‘Raise Hell!’ It’s sung in the voice of the preacher and poses the unanswered existential question. David (Less) encouraged me to do a second verse and I contended there isn’t one. Turns out there is.
It’s The Talk Of The Town – “This is from Thomas Pinkston, the child prodigy violist in W.C. Handy’s orchestra. He had a quartet called, for some reason, The Thomas Pinkston Trio. One of my greatest memories is seeing them play this at a country picnic – a truly cosmic experience.
A Chicken Ain’t Nothing But A Bird – “Furry Lewis went on the road with Don Nix’s Alabama State Troopers and Don would refer to Furry’s primitive mistral-style version of ‘Turkey In The Staw’ as ‘A Chicken Ain’t Nothing But A Bird.’ Think about this song; who can argue with an undeniable truth?”
Hard Times (No One Knows Better Than I) – “I owe this to my son Cody (North Mississippi All-Stars) who dug it up off of Ray Charles’ ‘The Genius Sings The Blues.’ I pulled it out of the flat key and played it in parallel fifths like Randy Newman. When Cody started playing it, a light bulb went off.”
When You Wish Upon A Star – “We did this in one pass and I feel a little funny about it; you’re hearing me pick out the melody and Sam leading me through it. Ukulele Ike’s Disney version is a truly beautiful song coming out of a grotesque bug; a lot of my art is based on that principal. Line for line, word for word, it’s a great song. It was David’s suggestion to do this and I learned on the job. There was an Eddie Condon record where you could hear lots of studio talk and that kind of humanized the process. I really appreciate the opportunity to do this.”