MusicMusic Features

North Mississippi Allstars

Once again, road warriors North Mississippi Allstars are tour-bound. This time the band is chronicling its bluesy journey with a video camera alternately mounted on the grill of the van or in the hands of longtime friend Shelby Baldock. These videos, known collectively as “the road series” (streaming on, offer candid snapshots of the band on and off the stage, chatting about an impending tornado in Tennessee or playing quick samples of guitar that will leave you thirsty for a full-length jam.

The brothers Dickinson, Luther and Cody, banded back in 1996, along with Chris Chew on bass. If you’re wondering, yes, they’re from Mississippi, just over the line from the home of Memphis’ greatest blues legends—one being their father, producer Jim Dickinson, a man they pay proud tribute to on their album Keys to the Kingdom.

In transit to their next gig, Luther graciously pauses from making music to talk about his creative process. The mobile connection on the highway fades in and out, and the sound quality is nothing like a cigar-box guitar hooked up to two Fuchs amps. In between the interruption of road noise, there’s a quote or two we can attach to the guy Rolling Stone magazine labeled a “guitar god.”

“Music is so home-based—the style and tradition that we draw upon. The music is about our home. We were so fortunate to have a great relationship with our dad and play music with him for so long,” says Luther.

The record was written, recorded and released in early 2011, after Jim Dickinson passed, and every word of every song speaks of love, peace and blues. The songs are the stories, born naturally from what came naturally, which may be what makes the melodies so universally relatable.

Luther sings and plays lead guitar like it’s his mission to carry on the tradition, like his blood won’t pump if he’s not playin’ Memphis blues. When asked how many guitars he has, the guitar enthusiast laughs it off, naming only his favorite, a Gibson 335 that was given to him by his Black Crowes bandmate Chris Robinson.

Luther’s guitar rig is meticulously set up yet also constantly changing, as he is searching perpetually for the perfect tone—a journey that has no destination. But amid his mountain of amps and pedal board toys, he follows the advice of his father: “Just trust the sound and play it.” NMA fans and peers appreciate this honest, organic approach and the quick-fingered, mind-numbing slide skills that Luther displays onstage.

Receiving both Blues awards and Grammy nominations, NMA draw the Southern rock/jam band crowds to small, Southern-fried towns and big, rocking cities alike. Drawing from the gospel he heard as a child and lessons learned from blues legends, Luther has taken his unique sound across the globe with rarely a pause—touring the U.S. and Europe with the Black Crowes for the last four years and touring with North Mississippi Allstars in between. And, this May he’s also set to debut a new acoustic project called The Wandering, which features musicians Shannon McNally, Amy Lavere, Valerie June and Sharde Thomas.

The progression of Luther’s career, as well as the way he describes his creative process, might visually resemble the peaceful rolling hills that he and Cody drive on their way to and from their barn-turned-studio, Zebra Ranch, in Coldwater, MS. Just check out the band’s new video for an old classic, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” and a window onto the group’s Mississippi origins. You’ll get the itch to go bonfire dancing and guitar pickin’ near the swamp, but if you can’t make it to Coldwater, try the Georgia Theatre at the end of the month.