North Mississippi Allstars' 'Electric Blue Watermelon' The North Mississippi Allstars formed to play "hill country blues," but the tunes on their new album, "Electric Blue Watermelon," recall the feel-good Southern rock of the Allman Brothers from the 1970s, or the anthems of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
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North Mississippi Allstars' 'Electric Blue Watermelon'

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North Mississippi Allstars' 'Electric Blue Watermelon'

North Mississippi Allstars' 'Electric Blue Watermelon'

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(Soundbite of song)


There's something sweetly familiar about the sound of the North Mississippi Allstars. It's kind of a feel-good Southern rock that recalls The Allman Brothers from the 1970s or the anthems of Lynyrd Skynryd.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. LUTHER DICKINSON (North Mississippi Allstars): (Singing) Hurry up, sunrise.

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Hurry up, sunrise.

Mr. L. DICKINSON: (Singing) See what tomorrow brings. It may bring sunshine...

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) It may bring sunshine...

Mr. L. DICKINSON: (Singing) may bring rain.

YDSTIE: Guitarist Luther Dickinson says he formed the band to play hill country blues. Not the whining and moaning and crying blues, he says, it was about having a good time.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. L. DICKINSON: (Singing) ...rain.

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Where were you when the rooster crowed for days?

YDSTIE: Luther and his brother Cody Dickinson, who plays drums, are sons of legendary Memphis producer Jim Dickinson. They grew up in Hernando, Mississippi. Bass player Chris Chew rounds out the trio, which has been around for nearly 10 years now.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. L. DICKINSON: (Singing) Got my work to do. Wouldn't have been here if it had not been for you. Hurry up, sunrise.

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Hurry up, sunrise.

Mr. L. DICKINSON: (Singing) See what tomorrow brings. It may be sunshine...

YDSTIE: North Mississippi Allstars have just released their sixth CD, "Electric Blue Watermelon." When they haven't been busy making music all their own, they've been valuable players on other artists' CDs. They've played with pedal-steel phenom Robert Randolph and Medeski, Martin & Wood on a gospel CD titled "The Word" a few years ago. More recently, they backed up John Hiatt on his latest CD, "Master of Disaster," and they're currently in Europe touring with John Hiatt. Luther and Cody Dickinson join us from the studios VRT radio in Antwerp, Belgium.

Welcome, Luther.


YDSTIE: Hey. Hello, Cody.

Mr. CODY DICKINSON (North Mississippi Allstars): Hi.

Mr. L. DICKINSON: Thanks for having us.

YDSTIE: You guys are a long way from northern Mississippi.

Mr. C. DICKINSON: Yeah, no kidding, man.

Mr. L. DICKINSON: Yeah, you got that right.

YDSTIE: Are there American roots fans over there?

Mr. L. DICKINSON: Oh, yeah, definitely. (Speaking with accent) `Oh, you play guitar very good.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. L. DICKINSON: Yeah, we've been getting a lot of love this tour.

YDSTIE: Let's talk a little bit about your new CD. It is sort of more than a collection of feel-good Southern rock and hill country blues. It's really a tribute album, beginning with the title, "Electric Blue Watermelon." Tell us a little bit about it.

Mr. L. DICKINSON: Well, yeah, like you said, the CD is a memorial to some people from our community that we grew up with, one being Lee Baker, who played guitar in Mud Boy & the Neutrons. Mud Boy & the Neutrons is our father's band that we grew up watching. And Lee Baker was murdered back in 1996, and it was a real shock to the community. He was one of my first inspirations to play guitar.

YDSTIE: Lee Baker had a unique way of opening the show, too.

Mr. L. DICKINSON: Yeah, he did. He rode out of a outhouse on a motorcycle, and he was wearing a dress. And that's all right there on the album cover.

YDSTIE: It is, yeah. It's a great album cover.

Mr. L. DICKINSON: And Electric Blue Watermelon was a name of a band they had together in the '60s when they had the Memphis Country Blues festivals. And these guys--our father and his friends--they were so fortunate. You know, they were playing with Furry Louis, Sleepy John Estes, Booker White, Reverend Robert Wilkins, Fred McDowell, all of the great bluesmen of the time and being rediscovered in the 60s. And Electric Blue Watermelon was the name of the backing band that they would have at this festivals, so that's where the title comes from.

(Soundbite of music)

YDSTIE: You guys have really grown up in the midst of the blues, and there are a lot of people that you are memorializing in this album who have passed on, including Otha Turner...

Mr. L. DICKINSON: That's right.

YDSTIE: ...a legendary fife player.

(Soundbite of music)

YDSTIE: Luther, you talk about the influence he had on you as almost like a grandfather.

Mr. L. DICKINSON: That's exactly right. And he was one of my best friends and, you know, he passed away two years ago, and he was 94. But he taught me so much about music and life and old-fashioned living, and he was a very amazing human being. And...

YDSTIE: You used to sit on the porch with him.

Mr. L. DICKINSON: That's right. We'd sit on the porch and play guitars and drink moonshine and talk trash. And when he got excited, he would start singing. And some of the lyrics on the record are from--directly from his front porch. And, you know, like "Moonshine," that's part of what that song's about, sitting there with Old Gabe.

(Soundbite of "Moonshine")

Mr. L. DICKINSON: (Singing) Old Gabe used to blow up and down the picnic ground with Bobby Ray Watson and young Kenny Brown. People asked what it was like out in the country on a Sunday night. You'd see how mighty few know how Old Gabe used to blow, with the moonlight shining through the trees and honeysuckle on a Southern breeze, against the moonshine and the old times, sitting in with the house band and the bootleggers of the bottomland. Against the moonshine and the old times, sitting in with the house band and the bootleggers of the bottomland.

And, you know, and then after--just recently, Mr. R.L. Burnside passed away, and with his passing, it really is the end of an era.

YDSTIE: And R.L. Burnside was a great blues player who you also had a connection with through his sons. You played in a band with DuWayne Burnside, right?

Mr. L. DICKINSON: That's right.

YDSTIE: How about Junior Kimbrough?

Mr. L. DICKINSON: We didn't know Junior, per se. We know his sons, Dave and Kenny, who played with him. But we would go down to Junior's, but those early years before Junior passed, we were out--we were just kind of staying in the shadows, you know. And it wasn't until after he passed away that we actually started to play down at Junior's because his son was trying to keep the juke joint going. But Junior, he had the real trance thing about the Hill Country blues; everybody calls it the trance blues. And to me, I think it's that moonshine is almost a psychedelic-type high. You know, those old cats, man, they were drinking that corn liquor and getting pretty spaced out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. It keeps going and it keeps going. Right.


YDSTIE: Groovin'.

Mr. L. DICKINSON: Junior would play those songs for all night long, literally.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm.

Mr. L. DICKINSON: They'd say he'd pass out in his chair and wake up and start playing again and then start the song he played before he fell asleep.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. L. DICKINSON: Those were good times, man. We were fortunate.

YDSTIE: What do--what was it about R.L. Burnside's playing that we can hear now in your music?

Mr. L. DICKINSON: Just the experience of it is so much growing up. 'Cause as I explained, our father and his friends had this experience with the generation before of bluesmen. And then when--you know, I grew up, you know, admiring and loving all that music, and then I just didn't never realize that we could have the same experience with as R.L. or Other or Junior Kimbrough.

And the thing that I think more than anything that I learned from R.L. is that he just had this vibe at his shows, and he just--it was just a party. You know, it was like you said earlier about the feel-good blues, you know. It's just R.L. just smiling and telling jokes and shaking his shoulders and getting the girls dancing. I think that uplifting party-juke joint vibe is a pretty invaluable thing that we learned from that experience.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #2: Play!

YDSTIE: I was in Memphis a couple of years ago, and I was going to come and see you down at--I think you were in Clarksdale. But I was warned by someone, `Don't even show up. You won't get in 'cause the line was so long out the door, you'd just be standing in the rain.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

YDSTIE: So I didn't make it. I went to a juke joint up in north Memphis, I think it was. I can't even remember what it was called now.

Mr. C. DICKINSON: Wild Bill's, maybe?

YDSTIE: Wild Bill's. It was Wild Bill's.

Mr. C. DICKINSON: Yeah, it's a great place.

Mr. L. DICKINSON: Yeah, man.

Mr. C. DICKINSON: Honestly, it's one of the only places that I know of that's still around that has that feel.

YDSTIE: Yeah, you walk in the door. You can't even get in because the band is sitting all around the door.

Mr. C. DICKINSON: Right, right by the door. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

YDSTIE: You gotta make your way through the band to find a chair. Well, that was a great night, one of the greatest musical nights in my life, I'll tell you.

Mr. C. DICKINSON: I'm glad you got to go.


Mr. L. DICKINSON: You know when they serve homemade food that you're really juking.

YDSTIE: That's right.

Mr. C. DICKINSON: Yeah, and beer by the forty-ounce bottle.

YDSTIE: That's right. And you get a bottle--Right?--as I recall.

Mr. C. DICKINSON: Yeah, exactly, in a quart. Maybe a quart.

YDSTIE: That's right. It was great.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. AL KAPONE: (Rapping) Girl, do what you do. Don't shake that. Don't shake that. Don't break that. Girl, do what you do. Don't shake that. Don't shake that. Don't break that. Girl, do what you do. Don't shake that. Don't shake that. Don't break that. Girl, do what you do. Don't shake that. Don't shake that. Don't shake that!

Mr. C. DICKINSON: Al Kapone is some--an artist I really want to mention. He's an incredible rapper from Memphis who's been--he's been doing it for a minute now. My dad, Jim Dickinson, who produced the record--he wanted some Memphis rap on there, and Al was just the perfect choice. He's also featured in "Hustle & Flow," which is a film that came out this year on MTV.

YDSTIE: Well, what about you guys? Are you going to incorporate more rap and hip-hop into your music, or are you going to carry the torch for hill country blues and that sound?

Mr. L. DICKINSON: We were just talking about that the other day, and the slate is pretty clean right now. It's--who knows what the future holds for the North Mississippi Allstars. But I'm sure we'll keep experimenting. But we'll always try to keep that down-to-earth, you know, hill country blues feel going.

YDSTIE: Well, Luther and Cody Dickinson from the North Mississippi Allstars. They joined us from the studios of VRT radio in Antwerp, Belgium, where they're on tour with John Hiatt.

Thanks very much.

Mr. L. DICKINSON: Thank you.

Mr. C. DICKINSON: Hey, thanks for having us.

YDSTIE: "Electric Blue Watermelon" is on ATO Records. There's more information and music on our Web site,

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Liane Hansen returns next week. I'm John Ydstie.

(Soundbite of music)

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