Allstars offer unique mix steeped in tradition

Allstars offer unique mix steeped in tradition

Sunflower headliners promise to ‘do their thing’

CLARKSDALE – “We’re going to be doing our thing,” at the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival next weekend,” promises Luther Dickinson, chief of the North Mississippi Allstars headlining the Saturday night stage.

“It may have a slightly different approach, but we’ll be doing our thing,” repeats the 32-year-old composer/guitarist/ vocalist speaking for himself, his brother Cody, 30, (drummer) and Chris Chew, 32, (bassist)

Athough the Allstar “thing” is a unique mix of hill country blues and Southern rock, it is steeped in the musical traditions of the late Othar Turner, R.L. Burnside, and Junior Kimbrough playing at Junior’s near Holly Springs, in Como, and at goat roasts at Gravel Springs.

“I grew up listening to recordings of Delta blues and Chicago blues when I realized what was happening at Junior’s Juke Joint was happening right now,” says Luther.

“I met Othar (founder of the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band) when I was about 15 and was so fortunate” to know and experience him while I was growing up, continued the musician.

“Othar used to sell moonshine in the church yard, and said that’s what the deacons wanted,” said Luther with a grin.

Turner, recipient of the Mississippi Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, and his daughter, Bernice Pratcher, who booked their gigs and served as manager, died on the same day: Feb. 27, 2003.

Othar was 94, and Bernice, who had fought cancer for years, were memorialized at a double funeral service in Como.

Clarksdale’s 2003 Sunflower Festival was dedicated to them, since the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band played every year since the celebration began in 1988.

“They were such spiritual people,” says Luther. “They taught a big lesson to me ‘ that passing is a happy thing ‘ a part of life ‘ and mourning is selfish because we wish we had spent more time with them.”

“At the funeral, someone said that Bernice always went on all the trips with Othar,” recalls Luther.

Following graduation from Hernando High School with Chris Chew, Luther began hanging out at Junior’s Juke Joint near Holly Spring where crowds were divergent and ranged from Ole Miss coeds to much older local farmers.

“It was positive to see such racial harmony,” comments Dickinson.

Today the Allstars are back home near Coldwater following a recent concert in Japan and a cross country tour with singer songwriter John Hiatt who once played with Ry Cooder and their famous Memphis musician dad, Jim Dickinson.

“We recorded with John on his “Master of Disaster” album,” says Luther.

Asked if their dad pushed them into the music world, Luther replies, “He didn’t force us, but he’d say, ‘You’ve got a car, and a guitar, and an amp.'”

In January 1994 before north Mississippi’s legendary ice storm, John Hiatt and his band recorded a music video in Clarksdale publicizing his song, “Buffalo River Home.”

The footage filmed inside numerous homes and landscapes aired on MTV and VH1.

Surrounded at home by a huge collection of tapes and CDs gathered on tour, Luther says, “I love listening to the old stuff ‘ Muddy and Wolf, and Robert Johnson; but I also listen to ZZ Top and Jimi Hendrix, and Mose Allison who’s a hipster.”

Allison, a native of Tippo, Miss., played the third Sunflower River Blues Festival.

How are the Allstars handling international acclaim following three Grammy nominations, appearances on national television, and the near cult-following from young college fans?

“We are just so thankful to be doing what we love to do,” says Luther. “We start over every day.”

Luther was pleased to hear about the Sunflower’s tribute to Sam Carr and said they were honored to sit in several times with Sam and Frank Frost.

The Allstars will be preceded on stage by a procession of the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band led by Othar Turner’s granddaughter, Shardee Turner.

The Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival jn downtown Clarksdale is free and open to the public. Scheduled August 11, 12, and 13, the celebration features four stages including two acoustic stages, a main stage, and gospel stage.