For the very first time, in a music career that spans five decades, James Luther Dickinson -- Jim Dickinson’s recording artist alter ego -- has made an album that will be released by the same label as his previous record. It was just last year that Memphis International unleashed Jungle Jim & The Voodoo Tiger on an unsuspecting world and that album was only his third in 34 years. Now, a little over a year later, comes Killers From Space, a new set of songs collected and cultivated by Dickinson and produced by the artist, along with Memphis International’s David Less.
Dickinson, producer (Big Star, Green On Red, Ry Cooder, The Replacements, Mudhoney, Alvin Youngblood Hart, etc.); session man (Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Duane Allman) and cultural observer (“Memphis Saturday Night”) says Killers is different from his previous albums in another way. “This is the first of my own records that wasn’t agenda-driven; I had nothing to prove. Like Topsy, this one just grew. I’m thinking that either nobody will ‘get it’ or it’ll be declared my best record ever,” Dickinson predicts. “The album’s title is derived from a notion we have that whatever band is on the bill with you is, inevitably, a group called something like ‘Killers From Space.’ In this case, the songs seem to have come from outer space so the title applies in that way.”
The odds are that most will draw the later conclusion based on the eclectic song selection that Dickinson culled, mostly, from a bunch of tunes he had filed under the heading “Too Good To Record.” The twelve tracks on Killers From Space, recorded at Dickinson’s Zebra Ranch facility in rural Independence, Mississippi earlier this year come from a variety of sources and none of them are so well known that it can truly be said that Dickinson makes them his own.
As was the case with “Jungle Jim” the backing band on “Killers” centers around sons Cody (drums) and Luther (guitar) of North Mississippi All Stars fame and Paul Taylor who was the bass player in the boys’ pre-NMAS punk rock band, DDT. Dickinson, the elder, handles keyboards, some guitar and, of course, the idiosyncratic vocals that are a JLD hallmark. Sax parts on Killers are handled by Johnny Reno who came up from Ft. Worth for the sessions. “Johnny brought some pure rock ‘n roll with him; there’s nothing like a Texas tenor to my way of thinking,” says Dickinson of the Lone Star import who has played with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Chris Isaak and Anson Funderburgh, among others. Another guest player of note was Chris Scruggs (dobro steel guitar), the grandson of the legendary Earl Scruggs. “That’s real royalty,” offers Dickinson.
“Texas Me” is a Doug Sahm tune which Jim says reflects “the failed hippie dream,” adding, “since the first time I heard it, I completely identified with it.” Dickinson recalls producing The Texas Tornados, the band that featured Doug, Augie Meyers (one of the writers of “Texas Me”), Freddy Fender and Flaco Jimenez. “Doug and Freddy used the same mic; they were so close they were almost touching noses and they’d argue around correct Spanish pronunciation. “
“Dirty On Yo’ Mama” was written by the late John Hurley who had a hand in the Dusty Springfield hit “Son of a Preacher Man,” as well as “Love of the Common People,” recorded by everyone from Waylon Jennings to Paul Young. “He cut great demos” says Jim of Hurley whom he met through Chips Moman many years ago.
“You Better Rock Me Baby” was written by Jerry Lynn Williams, the enigmatic composer whose songs were recorded by Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King and Delbert McClinton. “Jerry had a rock ‘n roll voice,” says Dickinson who met him at least 35 years ago in Tyler, TX.
“Nature Boy” found its way into Killers as a result of the fact that DDT used to perform it. The song was written by Tommy Hull, a Memphis punker who was in a group called The Randy Band.
“Lonely Nights” includes the evocative line “these hotel walls are blue and I’m so far away from you.” It was a song from the repertoire of Green on Red’s side project, Howard Hughes’ Brain.
“Roly Poly” was written by Greg Spradlin, a Little Rock writer who had a band called The Skeeterhawks. He’s also the writer of “Out of Blue” that can be heard on Jungle Jim.
“I Was A Champion” was written by Allen Jacobs and Andrea Skinner a/k/a Bunky & Jake. “I bought the album because of the picture of the cover,” says Dickinson of that 1969 release. “I had to wait to record it until my kids could play it.”
“No, No Never Again” is a song that Jim first heard when he was producing an Australian group called The Big Don’t Argue. “They were the most primitive white guys I’d ever met,” he recalls of his late 80s sessions with the band.
“Sweet Peace Within” was first heard on Mylon Lefevre’s album “Holy Smoke.” “It was the first Christian rock record,” Jim declares, “and Mylon was the first guy I ever saw who wore embroidered blue jeans.”
“I Need You” is a song that Jim first heard when he produced a band up from Mississippi who called themselves The Sugar Cube Blues Band back in 1966.
“Morning After The Night Before” is a Jim Dickinson original that was written for an unreleased film entitled American Saint starring Fast Times at Ridgemont High’s Vincent Schiavelli. It’s not often that Jim deigns to record a song of his own creation so this is of special note.