A memoir of sorts by the late Memphis musical legend.
Dickinson (1941-2009) may not be a household name, but in those households where he is, he is revered: session pianist for the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and other luminaries; producer for Ry Cooder, the Replacements, and Alex Chilton; patriarch of the North Mississippi Allstars. He’s also a world-class storyteller, from the evidence here, a mix of homespun philosophy, hipster poetry, ribald anecdotes, and humanizing reminiscences about pretty much everyone who was anyone in Southern musical circles, from stars to “the Bullet,” a black quadriplegic who would be carried onstage during an R&B revue to the chants of the white audience, “Bring on the Bullet, Bring on the Bullet!” Writes the author, “surely, he hated the audience that called his phantom name. He blew them away with screams from hell, like a dragon breathing fire. His howl’s burning sound seared the audience’s soul in a moment of ultimate release.” Such visceral detail and emotional intensity distinguishes Dickinson’s writing, as it did his playing and approach to production. He also recalls his theater days at Baylor, his visual art, his formative musical years in Memphis, his marriage to the love of his life, and his extended session work with the Dixie Flyers, a band that was largely dysfunctional in terms of vices and personalities but often came together much better in the studio. Here’s how the author remembers his introduction to rockabilly’s Ronnie Hawkins, whose comeback bid the Flyers would back: “A man among men. Hawkins got off the plane in Muscle Shoals with a cardboard box full of liquor bottles and a woman who looked like a cross between a Playboy bunny and a serial killer.” Unfortunately, the memoir pretty much ends in the early 1970s, with the release of his largely ignored solo debut and co-production of the second Cooder album.
There’s plenty of material, both in this book and from the decades the author doesn’t cover, to suggest that a full-scale biography is overdue.