A gifted guitarist with an eclectic range of influences, Luther Dickinson has earned a reputation as an innovator in modern blues while also having a keen understanding and respect for its rich history. Dickinson came from a notable musical family. His father, Jim Dickinson, was an influential studio musician and producer who played piano with Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Los Lobos, Delaney & Bonnie, and the Rolling Stones, and produced sessions for Ry Cooder, Big Star, Toots Hibbert, and Mudhoney, among many, many others. Luther was born in Memphis on January 18, 1973 which was his father's base of operations for many years. He made his recording debut at the age of 14, adding some guitar howls to the sessions for the Replacements' Pleased to Meet Me, produced by his dad. Around the same time that Luther began recording, the Dickinsons moved to Mississippi, and Luther and his family became regulars at juke joints where Southern blues individualists such as R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough still played on a regular basis. Luther's brother Cody, who played drums, became his musical sidekick, and after briefly backing up their dad in the memorably named combo Jim Dickinson & the Can't Hardly Playboys, the siblings formed a funk-influenced punk band with bassist Paul Taylor, called DDT. But the Mississippi hill country blues had a stronger influence on the Dickinsons, and Luther began jamming regularly with Othar Turner, one of the last surviving exponents of the Mississippi fife-and-drum tradition; Luther helped produce and compile a collection of Turner's unique music on the album Everybody's Hollerin' Goat, released in 1998. DDT had periodically performed acoustic blues sets under the name Gutbucket (releasing a 7" single on Shangri-La Records), and as Luther and Cody became more interested in cutting new blues music, they teamed up with bassist Chris Chew in 1996 to form the North Mississippi All-Stars. In 2000, the group released their debut album, Shake Hands with Shorty, which earned them enthusiastic reviews and a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album. The North Mississippi All-Stars developed a following as a stellar live act, and as word of Luther's instrumental prowess spread, he began doing session work, recording with the likes of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Willy DeVille, and Lucero. In 2001, the North Mississippi All-Stars teamed up with John Medeski (of Medeski, Martin & Wood) and pedal steel virtuoso Robert Randolph to form an ad-hoc group called the Word, who released an acclaimed self-titled album. In 2001, NMAS also released their second album, and Luther remained busy playing live shows and doing session work. In 2005, John Hiatt chose Jim Dickinson to produce his album Master of Disaster; Jim brought his sons in to play on the sessions, and Hiatt was impressed enough that he brought the North Mississippi All-Stars on the road with him, serving as both his opening act and backing band. While the NMAS had become a major draw on the jam band circuit with their gift for soulful improvisation, the Dickinsons proved they hadn't lost touch with their punkier side in 2005 when they joined forces with Jon Spencer to record as Spencer Dickinson, cutting the album The Man Who Lives for Love. In 2008, Luther Dickinson expanded his résumé by joining the Black Crowes, making his debut with the band on their album Warpaint. The same year, Luther backed up John Hiatt again, playing on his album Same Old Man. While Luther would release both a live album and a new studio set with the Black Crowes in 2009. The year also marked the passing of his father, and only a few days after Jim Dickinson's funeral, Luther led a musical tribute with a number of family friends and musical compatriots at the family's Mississippi studio. The recordings became an album, Onward & Upward, which was released under the group name Luther Dickinson & the Sons of Mudboy. In 2010, Luther became part of another roots music supergroup with the release of the debut album from the South Memphis String Band, which also included ex-Squirrel Nut Zippers guitarist Jimbo Mathus and Grammy-winning bluesman Alvin Youngblood Hart. 2012 saw Luther releasing his first proper solo album with a set of acoustic instrumentals, Hambone's Meditations, a second album with the South Memphis String Band (Old Times There...), and Go On Now, You Can't Stay Here, the debut of his new band the Wandering (Valerie June, Amy LaVere, Sharde Thomas, and Shannon McNally) all on the same day. The album 3 Skulls & the Truth, in collaboration with David Hidalgo and Mato Nanji, was released later the year, making a total of four releases. Dickinson spent most of 2013 working with his brother in the North Mississippi All-Stars (their acclaimed World Boogie Is Coming appeared in the fall of that year) but also found time to contribute to recordings by McNally, Jim Lauderdale, and Devon Allman. His next solo recording, Rock 'n Roll Blues, was released in early 2014.
Though Dickinson wasn't on the radar, he was exceptionally busy, touring with North Mississippi Allstars, running his label, and producing guitar slinger Samantha Fish's Wild Heart album. Throughout this period, he was also working in the studio documenting songs he'd learned growing up, revisiting previously recorded originals, and writing new ones -- getting them all on tape without overdubs. Throughout, he worked with a large but close-knit group of friends including Thomas, LaVere, Will Sexton, Mavis Staples, Hart, and JJ Grey, to name a few. The result of this journey was Blues & Ballads: A Folksinger's Songbook, Vols. 1 & 2, issued by New West in February 2016. ~ Mark Deming