In 1990 I was summoned to Memphis, Tennessee to play on Mojo Nixon's first solo record to be titled "Otis". Mojo and his manager Bullethead told me about the record. Mojo had put together his dream band of roots rock guys. John Doe on bass, The late great Country Dick Montana on drums, Bill Davis and myself on guitars. The record would be done at a studio that used to belong to Chips Moman that had been built in a big old purple old firehouse just off of Beale Street downtown.
This was all pretty darned exciting. I knew John Doe from my pre Joan Jett & the Blackhearts Hollywood days and the Del-Lords had done a bunch of shows with Country Dick's Beat Farmers. I'd also seen Dash Rip Rock but hadn't really met Bill Davis. I had been producing some bands in NYC and I was really excited about playing guitar on this record for Mojo. I got a call asking about gear for the sessions. I told 'em I'd bring a Les Paul and my Parsons-White equipped Telecaster. They asked me about amps and I said that if we had a '62 Bassman, a '65 Deluxe Reverb and a 50 Plexi Marshall we should have the basic food groups of the rock and roll amplification very well covered.
The first time I ever saw Mojo he was the guy in the local band when the Del Lords played in San Diego. We had a little tv in our van and we had convinced ourselves the Miami Vice was a fantastic thing. I got out of the van a little into the show and walked into the club to see a possesed rock and roll madman holding court frenetically on stage in a full bunny suit. That was in '84.
Back to the Mojo record. They explained I'd be flown to Memphis and met at the airport. I'd have my own room and I'd be making more money than I'd ever made playing guitar in my life. That and the record would be produced by The Jim Dickinson.
Back then it took a little more work to be a rock and roll fan than it does at this point with 'teh internets' and all, but I was pretty acquainted with a fair amount of the Dickinson cannon (and I mean Cannon) of work but I got filled in on the fine points by my upstairs buddy "The Hound" who was a rock writin', record colectin' DJ. (you can read an amazing piece on Mr. Jim Dickenson written by the hound here). I got the music and the history down and some Dickinson likes and dislikes too and prepared to go to Memphis.
I got there and went straight to the studio. The rest of the band had already been there for a day and had cut a song already. Dickinson told me to have a seat in the control room with him and the engineer Bob "Cruiser" Krusen. I had a guitar in there and started to take some notes on the songs then I got the drift from Dickinson that that wouldn't be needed. I heard that Jim liked to smoke a little weed so before I flew down there I had sourced out 2 bags of the 2 best varieties that I could find in New York City. Jim and the engineer had been nursing a joint so when that one was done I offered to roll one of mine. Turns out my 2 new best friends were the only other guys on the session that liked that stuff so things were pretty comfortable in the control room. I could see that they had the band going pretty good so I continued listening from my position on the couch..... for days. I mean days.
I watched Dickinson (lot of people called Jim "Dickinson" it wasn't a sports thing, it was a name) work the band. He had a blackboard out there in the studio and they'd work up the arrangement of the songs with the map on the big blackboard. They'd keep the first track that didn't have any huge fuck ups and maybe do one more. We'd stop and have a break, stories would be told (relevant ones weather you knew it at the time or not) then it was back to work. I'd heard stuff about Dickinson's producing usually including his one Shakespearian "Freakout" but there was no freakout on this one.
I sure as hell got to hear some good rants and raves in the control room. One in particular was his rant on "Co-Production". Jim was going off about what fucking egotistical insult and waste of time it was for an artist to "Co-Produce" their own record. He said it was never a good idea and that whenever anybody asked he just told 'em "Your name goes on the front, My name goes on the back"
A couple years later I was at my parents house in Illinois visiting for Christmas talking to Nils Lofgren on the phone about producing his next record that would become "Crooked Line" when he asked me what I though about co-producing. I remembered Dickinson's rant and calmly said "Look Nils, you are gonna write the songs, sing them and play lead guitar. I'm gonna help you make a great record. Your name goes on the front and mine goes on the back". I sorta held my breath until I heard "Ok" come from the other end of the phone.
Ok, so I've been in Memphis for days making the most money ever, sitting in the control room smoking pot and watching this amazing guy make this record come together.
And on the seventh day........ there was a gig. A gig at the Omni New Daisy just a couple blocks away. Jim had me go into the studio with the band and rehearse. In addition to the rest of the guys I was on guitar and Jim was playing keys. We went over did the soundcheck. Jim and I were on the same side of the stage. A couple hours later we did the gig. It was a blast. Memphis was always good for Mojo and this night was really good.
After the gig Dickinson gave everybody the next 2 days off but told me to be at the studio the day after next. I got there and
we ran through all the songs. All the songs that I'd been listening to all the week before from the control room. At the gig playing next to me Jim recognized that I'd heard what everybody else was doing and had pretty much naturally come up with my own part that fit in with what everybody had done.
There was some whacky stuff. At one point they were talking about the harmonies for this song "Big Foot Trucks". Mojo was there and said "Roscoe can sing the high stuff". I went in there and sang my idea which was pretty darn high and I saw Dickinson's face light up. He hit the talkback button and his cracking laugh kept him from speaking for a minute then he was like "That is fucking Great! I haven't heard anything like that since Danny & The Juniors! Can you double it?"
At one point he asked me to do a Hendrix-like fill in the middle of Don Henley Must Die and I really couldn't get it. Just couldn't get it. I'm just not a Hendrix guy. A little later Jim introduced me to his boy Luther who came down to do the Hendrix part. He played it cool. It came out cool.
The day after my overdubs I went back to the couch as some other overdubs were going down. The day after that Dickinson came to the studio with a couple little Supro amps and told us we were gonna be "Blues" today. He showed up with the tiny amps and we were "Blues". After that I was done with all of my stuff but I was invited to stay till the tracking was done, hanging out, making the most dough ever so far for me.
It was a great couple weeks. When I got back to NYC I knew I had been "Produced by Jim Dickinson".
Jim Dickinson got the best out of me.
I kept in touch with Jim Dickinson. Never had the opportunity to work on another record with him but after the Hound and I had opened our bar the Lakeside Lounge in the East Village he called to tell me that his kids had a band and if it was cool he'd like to have them come to NYC to play. He wanted them to play at my place. They had a band called the North Mississippi All Stars. They played at the Lakeside as a duo that first time. Their bass player Chris Chew couldn't make it up to NY. It was a fantastic gig with a great crowd. Cody and Luther played great together then and that was in '96.
Few years later when Jim was putting out his first solo record in a long time he called to see if he could come up and play a gig at the Lakeside with my band as his. That was ridiculously fun. Keith Christopher, Steve Holly and I backed Jim who was playing Wurlitzer and some guitar. I'd heard him refer to both tuning and rehearsal as "Decadent European Concepts" before. We did rehearse the night before but I don't think we played any songs that we played the next night at the gig which turned out to be Jim Dickinson's NYC debut. It was mostly some musical messing around and some stories.
Jim told great stories. After he had been invited to come and play on the Bob Dylan's "Time Out of Mind" he had a few good ones. That record was the first time Bob Dylan had gone back to working with Daniel Lanios after Oh Mercy which was recorded 8 years earlier. Legend has it Bob had gotten into a few rubs with Daniel when the Producer asked him to 'redo' things. Jim and Bob were the same age but had never really met. They'd been on different long, musical roads for years but they had never met and for some reason Bob picked Jim to be part of this particular record. Anyway, they get down to Criteria in Miami with this big band. 2 drummers, 2 bass players, guitar players, keys including Jim. Everybody is getting ready to get it going.
So a Daniel Lanios, the Producer, comes over to Bob to say hello and starts talking to Bob, the artist, about the "plan" for the album. When Daniel stops talking Bob says simply, "You'll have to talk to my friend Jim"
I sure am thankful I got "Produced" by Jim Dickinson.
My heart goes out to his boys Cody and Luther and his lovely wife Mary Lindsay.
Jim Dickinson RIP