Moving into much rootsier territory than their former punk band DDT, brothers Luther (guitar, mandolin, vocals) and Cody Dickinson (drums, sampling) formed the North Mississippi Allstars in 1996 with bassist Chris Chew. The sons of legendary Memphis producer Jim Dickinson were born in Fayette County, TN, and their family later moved to northern Mississippi, where the boys soaked up the country blues sound of the region from artists like Mississippi Fred McDowell and R.L. Burnside. That became the chief inspiration for the Allstars, but the group also mixes in a rock edge, an alternative aesthetic (comparable to outfits like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and the Black Keys), and a road-ready rock & roll sensibility akin to jam bands like Phish. After touring as an opening act for a variety of artists and honing their chops as a unit, the North Mississippi Allstars issued their debut, Shake Hands with Shorty, in the spring of 2000. The album was a significant success, earning a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album, as did their 2001 sophomore set, 51 Phantom. Later in 2001, the North Mississippi Allstars teamed with John Medeski and pedal steel player Robert Randolph to form the Word, an instrumental gospel-blues band, for an album and tour.
The North Mississippi Allstars regrouped with the addition of guitarist Duwayne Burnside, the son of R.L., for 2003's Polaris, which was followed by the concert album Hill Country Revue: Live at Bonnaroo in late 2004. Electric Blue Watermelon, which featured guest spots by Lucinda Williams, Robert Randolph, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Otha Turner, and others, appeared in 2005 from Ato Records and earned the band its third consecutive Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Also in 2005, the group spent time supporting John Hiatt, who showcased the Allstars on his 2005 album Master of Disaster. This was the first of many extracurricular activities for the Allstars: in 2007, Luther Dickinson became the lead guitarist for the Black Crowes, juggling those duties with leading the Allstars, and while Luther was with the Crowes, Cody Dickinson and Chris Chew pursued their own side project, Hill Country Revue. The core trio of the Dickinson brothers and Chew returned in 2008 with Hernando, the first release on the band's own Songs of the South label. A year later in 2009, the Allstars issued Do It Like We Used to Do, a two-disc set of live performances that also included a third disc featuring a video documentary on the band.
Luther and Cody's father, producer Jim Dickinson, passed away in late 2009. The brothers and fellow NMA member Chris Chew gathered in March of 2010 at the family-owned Zebra Studios to record a tribute. The band had help from a number of family friends who included Ry Cooder, Mavis Staples, Spooner Oldham, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and Jack Ashford. The end result was Keys to the Kingdom (on Songs of the South), a collection of new songs with a lone single-chord blues cover of Bob Dylan's "Stuck Inside of Mobile (With the Memphis Blues Again)" added to the mix. The set was released in early 2011. In the summer of 2012, James Luther Dickinson''s posthumous I'm Just Dead, I'm Not Gone was released. Recorded live in Memphis in 2006, it featured the NMA as his backing band. Arguably the band's masterpiece, World Boogie Is Coming appeared at the end of the summer 2013. ~ Steve Huey & Sean Westergaard