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A Thanksgiving holiday North Mississippi Allstars feast

North Mississippi Allstars
Minglewood Hall
Memphis, TN
November 29, 2013

As the North Mississippi Allstars took the stage the Friday after Thanksgiving, it was clear that this would be a night to remember, a show for the ages.

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The Allstars’ holiday Memphis shows have long been a storied tradition, a recurring page in the book that is their career. But, as the band’s drum line meandered through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at Minglewood Hall, one couldn’t help but notice that the vibe in the packed room was different.

For one, there were video cameras – everywhere. The band was shooting the evening for a concert video, and along with the two hand-held cameras that roamed the stage throughout the show and the platform-mounted steadycam in the photo pit, the band encouraged the audience to shoot with their cell phones and submit the videos.

But, for all the hoopla, the music is always first with the Allstars, and there would be plenty of music – three-plus hours, to be sure. The band took the stage from the back of the room – they had a drumline that started at the back and made their way through the crowd and up to the stage with the traditional “Shimmy She Wobble > My Babe > Station Blues.” From there, they proceeded to do what the Allstars do – take Mississippi Hill Country blues and kick it in the ass.

“Turn Up Satan,” a song from the new World Boogie Is Coming, was one of the few newer songs that made its way into the setlist, and it was a good way to lead up to the always-fun “Shake ‘Em On Down.”

Guitarist/vocalist Luther Dickinson’s stage presence was front and center, and as he unleased note after beautiful note during “Shake ‘Em,”  the smile on his face was infectious. He was clearly in his element, in full command of his hometown crowd. When musicians bring their A game (as Dickinson always does), and do it with a smile, it certainly makes for a more enjoyable show.

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The band was at its finest when it turned the stage into a full-on party, though. “Meet Me In The City” had the first “guest” of the evening, Duwayne Burnside, on backup vocals. These holiday Allstars shows are never just the Allstars, and they’re not meant to be – they’re family celebrations.

“Mean ‘Ol Wind Died Down” was huge as usual, starting slow but building into a monstrous jam. However, it was also one of the songs where it was abundantly clear that the band misses Chris Chew’s immense presence on stage.

Chew’s background vocals leant themselves well to some of the band’s more gospel-blues-sounding tunes, and when the Allstars perform them today, something’s just not there.

There was certainly nothing missing from “Jumper On The Line,” though. By this time, Cody Dickinson had shed a layer of clothing or two, strapped on a Viking helmet, and was running from side to side of the photo pit, washboard in hand. Ever the showman, he climbed onto the rail more than once to play in the crowd.

At this point, there were literally eight people on stage. T-Model Ford’s grandson Stud had taken over on drums, Luther had Lightnin’ Malcolm’s bass, and Malcolm, Kenny Brown, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and Duwayne Burnside were all on guitar. It was probably the jam of the evening, and fortunately caught on video for posterity, because it captured the essence of what the Allstars are about – family.

Burnside left during “Jumper,” only to return in costume – the Red Rooster – for “Snake Drive,” and the band closed their set with “Granny, Does Your Dog Bite.”

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By this point, the band had been on stage for nearly two hours, and the crowd began to thin. When they returned from their encore break, the room had began to empty out, but the band would soldier on for about another hour.

“Po Black Maddie > Skinny Woman” was as phenomenal as ever, and Luther did his best Jimi Hendri impression on “Hear My Train ‘A Comin’ > Goin’ Down South.”

As good as the music was, the band probably played about 30 minutes too long. Sure, they were recording a video and wanted to capture everything, but by the end of the show, the crowd probably about 50% of what it did at the beginning of the show. It’ll sure be interesting to see how they cut the video, because any shots from the stage out onto the crowd from late in the night will show a mostly empty room, which is in sharp contrast to the start of the show.

Either way, the night was chock-full of amazing moments that were fortunately captured on video. The Allstars are a band that always delivers, especially at their traditional holiday show in front of their friends and family. 2013’s event was no different in that respect.

Set:  Shimmy She Wobble > My Babe > Station Blues, Turn Up Satan, Shake ‘Em On Down, Meet Me In The City*, Shake, Goat Meat, Psychedelic Sex Machine > Mystery Train ,  Back Back Train, Boogie**, Hodown, Mississippi Boll Weevil, Mean Ol’ Wind Died Down, World Boogie, Jumper On The Line***, Snake Drive****, Granny, Does Your Dog Bite*****

Encore:  Rollin’ ‘n Tumblin’, Let It Roll, The Meeting, Up Over Yonder, Po’ Black Maddie^ > Skinny Woman^, K.C. Jones, Goin’ To Brownsville, Hear My Train ‘A Comin’ jam > Goin’ Down South > Lord, Have Mercy On Me > Stay All Night outro, All Night Long^^, Goin’ Home

* Chantell and Cherise, Duwayne Burnside and Sharde Thomas on vocals
** Stud on snare drum, Alvin Youngblood Hart on harmonica
*** Duwayne Burnside, Kenny Brown, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Lightnin’ Malcolm on guitars, Luther Dickinson on bass, Stud on drums, Cody Dickinson on washboard
**** Kenny Brown, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Lightnin’ Malcolm on guitars, Duwayne Burnside on vocals and guitar
*****  Sharde Thomas on fife/vocals, Luther on bass drum, Cody Dickinson, Lightnin’ Malcolm and Stud on snare drums
^ R.L. Boyce on bass drum
^^ Lightnin’ Malcolm and Kenny Brown on guitars, Cody Dickinson on guitar/washboard, Stud on drums, Luther Dickinson on bass

Click the thumbnails to view the photos by Josh Mintz

Home for the holidays with the North Mississippi Allstars


North Mississippi Allstars / Jason Isbell
Minglewood Hall
Memphis, TN
November 25, 2011

Every family has its own holiday customs. For the North Mississippi Allstars, a band whose sound and soul were bred on the grounds their forefathers walked on, that tradition is the Thanksgiving Memphis show. The Allstars’ hometown holiday shows are always a festive occasion, marked by cover tunes and special guests. On November 25, they played to an audience full of rowdy fans, local music icons, and one rock and roll hall of famer.

Jason Isbell warmed up the crowd despite having their trailer of equipment stolen days before in Dallas. Using the Allstars’ gear (except for Jimbo Hart, the bassist…Allstars’ bassist Chris Chew is a lefty), Isbell and the 400 Unit were phenomenal.

Playing choice numbers from the 400 Unit and Drive-By Truckers catalogue, Isbell dazzled with his intoxicating guitar work and poetic lyrics. The set-opening “Go It Alone” set the bar for the night, and the band’s cover of the Meters’ “Hey Pocky Way,” sung by drummer and Memphis local Chad Gamble, was spot on.

Isbell’s set-ending “Try” was a blistering display of just how potent a band Isbell has put together. Mid-song they threw a few instrumental bars of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” into the tune…ironic given that the legendary Zep frontman, Robert Plant, was in attendance at the show.

The Dickinson family has long been central to the rich Mid-South musical community. Memphis has watched the Dickinson brothers grow up, from their DDT days to being joined by Chew and morphing into the North Mississippi Allstars. Their music is steeped in the tones and accents of the region, and the Allstar sound is a bi-product of taking something as personal as the Mississippi hill country blues and making it their own.

It’s special to have the band in town, playing to a room packed with family and friends. But, expectations are always high for a Memphis Allstars show, so when Allstars drummer Cody Dickinson strutted out in a white suit, viking helmet, and goggles, it was clear that, at the very least, the band had dressed for the occasion.

As Cody laid down the intro to “Shimmy She Wobble,” the audience instantly began to move, and by the time the band got to “Mississippi Bollweevil,” the crowd was a unified mass of bodies, boogieing off every one of those extra Thanksgiving pounds. The Allstars segued from “Bollweevil” into “Preachin’ Blues,” bringing the gospel to Memphis, and followed it up with a cover of The Impressions’ “People Get Ready,” led by Chew. “Shake” turned into a crowd sing-along as the band brought the music down to a mere whisper, so the crowd could sing the chorus.

“Mean ‘Ol Wind Died Down” was the first song where Luther Dickinson got to stretch out and show why he is one of the best guitarists touring today, and why the North Mississippi Allstars are at their sharpest as the trio. For a band that has toured sporadically over the past few years, it sure doesn’t take long to round into game shape. As Luther slid his glass slide up and down the neck of his guitar, delivering note after singing note, and Cody and Chew laid down the steadiest of backbeats, the crowd stood at rapt attention, soaking in all of that sickly sweet slide guitar goodness.

The audience was taken to the garage on the subsequent “New Orleans Walking Dead,” a barrage of drum beats from Cody leading the way as Luther unleashed a furious solo while Chew kept a tight bass groove. The Allstars then took the audience to New Orleans, with Chew handling lead vocals on the Lee Dorsey nugget, “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On).” It was an amazing take on the tune, sped up to a near frenetic pace, showcasing the band’s ridiculous instrumental proficiency. It’s amazing how many notes can be shoved into two minutes without clogging up the sound.

Luther picked up his acoustic guitar for “Goin’ Home,” and Cody — the consummate musician — played his drums and guitar simultaneously…the guy never ceases to amaze. Local washboard legend Jimmy Crosthwait, an old band-mate of Dickinson patriarch Jim, took the stage for “Horseshoe” and “Moonshine.” It was a warm but bittersweet moment, but Jim was undoubtedly watching down from above with a huge grin.

The band stepped on the gas with “Po Black Maddie,” bringing the boogie back after the quieter portion of the show. Powered through the R.L. Burnside number, the trio seamlessly segued into a verse of Taj Mahal’s “Chevrolet,” played their way back into “Maddie” and out again into “Skinny Woman,” briefly stopped for a thunderous drum solo, and finally landed at “Psychedelic Sex Machine,” Cody’s vehicle for electric washboard bliss. It was a true testament to just how tight of a group the Allstars are. When they’re locked in and hitting the note, there are few acts who can do they do…at least not with an electric washboard…no one else is doing that.

The back half of the set was reserved for classics, and nothing was left out. The crowd roared when Luther asked if “y’all want to shake ’em on down a little bit,” and “Never In All My Days” was north Mississippi hill country boogie at its very finest. Crosthwait came back out for “KC Jones,” and the band put a slightly different spin on “Sugartown,” playing the tune with a slightly quicker backbeat and a marching bassline that brought a different dimension to the tune. With “Drinkin’ Muddy Water” — during which Cody played his drums with huge red whiffle ball bats and Luther set his guitar down to play a four-stringed cigar box guitar  — the set was over and the band left the stage.

When they returned for the encore, the Allstars had Jason Isbell in tow, and he and Dickinson traded vocals on a cover of Justin Townes Earle’s “Harlem River Blues.” Then, Alvin Youngblood Hart took the stage for a powerful take on his own “Big Mama’s Door” that nearly brought the house down. Luther and Alvin have a great musical connection, and it was showcased on the song. The band closed their encore with “Hear The Hills” and “Let It Roll,” left the stage, and returned yet again, closing the show with “All Night Long > Snake Drive,” and with that, the night was finally over.

The holidays mean a lot of different things to a lot of people, and for Memphis, it has come to mean the Allstars. The night truly was a celebration…a celebration of family — blood and adopted — and friends, old and new. But above all, it was about the musical legacy of the Dickinson family and the North Mississippi Allstars.

 

More photos from the show by Josh Mintz

North Mississippi Allstars

Jason Isbell

From the Back Porch with Luther Dickinson

luther-lead.jpgOn a gorgeous Sunday evening in downtown Annapolis, I made my way to the back of the Rams Head on Stage to meet up with guitarist Luther Dickinson before his show that evening with his new project the South Memphis String Band.

After some small talk about the weather Dickinson led me through the backstage area, past the stage where Baltimore singer-songwriter Caleb Stine was warming up the crowd, past the kitchen area (stopping briefly to talk with band mate Jimbo Mathus), and eventually settling into a small backstage room where we could chat.

In conversation the Mississippi bred Dickinson’s Southern roots show through.  He is unfailing polite and speaks with a slow, thoughtful delivery that is peppered with a lot of “yeahs” and “mans.” Each answer comes across with his slight Southern drawl, which serves as a window to his Mississippi Hill Country home.

Continue reading From the Back Porch with Luther Dickinson

Diddley brings his friends to Seattle

Bo Diddley/Alvin Youngblood Hart/Ruthie Foster

Benaroyal Hall 

Seattle, Washington 

October 3, 2006

 

words/photos by Candise Kola 

 

 

When Bo Diddley comes to Seattle, one can expect to see a memorable blues show.

When it’s billed as “Bo Diddley & Friends” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bo’s musical career, it’s easy to get excited about the occasion.

You have to suppose that when Bo was deciding who he would like to have on the road with him to make this milestone tour remarkable, he thought to call on modern blues artists who have kept tradition alive while striving for originality in their own careers.  This tour is sure to remind Bo’s fans, young and old alike, that his music’s influence has spanned generations.  There are contemporary musicians who will incorporate his music’s legacy long after he departs his earthly role of Musical Lifetime Achiever.  

 

The show began with a 30 min acoustic set by Ruthie Foster. Ruthie's vocal delivery has a soulful, gospel-influenced sound.  She plays guitar confidently, accompanying her singing with just the right amount of gently strummed, well-grooved rhythm.  The highlight of her act is an acapella cover of Son House's “Grinning in Your Face.”  Her willingness to put her guitar down and explain that she is going to sing the way her “grandmother likes it” shows the audience that this Texas-born performer is sentimental, and wants to share the music she was brought up to believe in.  The audience shares back, and joy is expressed in the room with background claps to keep the girl in time.  She is casual, genuinely thrilled to have been invitated to join the tour, and the pride she expresses in her performance makes watching her sing an absolute pleasure.  

 

Alvin Youngblood Hart

 

Alvin Youngblood Hart is also given 30 minuntes to delight, rock, shock, and inspire the audience. His set is a bold departure from the female acoustic greeting the audience warmed up to, and displays a more rugged approach to keeping the blues roots healthy and alive.  Alvin’s guitar playing was abundantly backed by Bo’s band members.  He was given the spotlight – his gritty guitar playing and vocal rumble demand it – and definitely shined in his power to bring boogie noise and edge to the stage.  Songs from his most recent CD, Motivational Speaker, were played with well-rehearsed assertion.  The audience was served a heaping helping of homegrown and heartfelt rock and roll to get them ready for the main course being served by Bo. 

 

Bo Diddley

 

Bo Diddley is 77 years old this year.  It made me grin from ear to ear to take a good look at him as he made his way across the stage to his chair.  His wide eyed smile, his flashy red guitar, and his traditional classy hat were all worn with poise.  He was greeted by a very loving crowd and reciprocated by making sure he invited everyone in the house to get up and shake what their mama gave 'em, and within minutes of playing there was dancing in the aisles.  As I looked around this full symphony room setting and studied who compromised the night's audience, I was moved to see the variety of ages represented.  The fans were concentrated in the 60+ range but it was great to see that no matter what age the fans were, they were all celebrating Bo’s career with joy in their hearts.  It was extremely inspiring to see this man take pleasure in the fruits of his labor by sharing stories and jams from his rock and roll vaults, speaking honestly about his increased efforts to take good care of his health,  Rapping up a sexy 10 minute storm, Bo shifted gears into a smoothly sung political message to America to wake up to its leadership.  Bo’s guitar playing and vocals are as sharp as ever, and he brings 50 years of fun from his pocket to the act.  He is living proof that a lifetime of rockin' can be done with class. 

 

The show closed out by bringing out Alvin on guitar and Ruthie to sing, while Bo works his way back to the drum set for the last notes of the night.  He seemed satisfied in making sure his audience remembers him best for that "Bo Diddley beat" as the show ends.  

 

This tour is a must see for any blues enthusiast, you are guaranteed a song in your heart and smile on your face when you leave.