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Dickerson goes 3-Dimensional with 'Major' label music

By Ken Burke, January 2003

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Deke Dickerson explains why his latest disc is self-released on the curiously named Major Label Records imprint.

"I've done all these other things so I could tell my grandchildren that I've had a 'Number One Hit Record' (an allusion to his facetiously titled 1998 HighTone album) I might as well tell 'em I had a Major Label contract."

Speaking from his home in Burbank, Cal., Dickerson also offers a diplomatic explanation of why "3-Dimensions!" isn't on HighTone, where he released three highly regarded albums.

"Well, my deal with HighTone is up. I'm a big fan of the label. I think they put out great stuff. But I had a three-record deal with them, my contract was up, and I wanted to put something out on my own before signing with another label for a two- or three-album deal."

The fact is, in recent times, HighTone has suffered the same financial woes as the rest of the recording industry. In 2002, they severed ties with their outside publicity firm, cut label staff and are concentrating on only a few releases for 2003.

"3-Dimensions!" is the 34-year-old Dickerson's second self-released LP in a row.

Although there exists a loss of prestige of not being with an established label, taking charge of one's own discs has its up side.

"I've already made more money in the first four months selling this record on my own than I made with all three of my records combined with HighTone. But career-wise is it going to do me any good? Probably not. Right now, everybody from the smallest guy on up to the major labels seems to be having a hard time selling records."

The lack of label support hasn't hurt the quality of Dickerson's efforts one iota. Recorded at three separate venues and tied together with the post-production skills of Mark Neill, "3-Dimensions!" proves to be a zesty blend of New Orleans style rock 'n' roll, bass-slappin' rockabilly and free-wheeling western swing. According to the Missouri-born songwriter, the varied approach came about accidentally.

"I did this tour with (electric guitarist and steel-player) Dave Biller and Jeremy Wakefield back in December (2001). We had a couple of days off in Denver, where a friend of mine was just putting together a little home studio (Wormtone). I honestly didn't have any plans for it, but I thought, 'We're not taking this line-up out to California, and I want an audio record of what they sound like.' So, I recorded a bunch of stuff, and it turned out so well that I kept listening to it and thought, 'I really should try and put this on my new record.' But there were really only seven or eight songs I thought were good enough to actually be released."

Fresh renditions of Eddie Noack's "Too Hot To Handle," Merle Travis' "Gambler's Guitar," Red Foley's "Pinball Boogie" and Faron Young's defiant "I'm Gonna Live Some Before I Die" accentuate the singer's tremendous rapport with his fellow musicians. Indeed, Dickerson sounds right at home egging the sidemen on with his un-scripted comic asides, though he makes a point of not flat-out imitating the western swing icon who made that technique famous.

"I really hate it when there's a western swing band and the guy's up there doing all the Bob Wills things 'Ah Ha' and all that kind of stuff. Because in my mind Bob Wills is like holy ground. You don't touch it. I think it's disrespectful, as well as totally unoriginal. So, my only conscious thing is to not say any of the things Bob Wills actually said."

Dickerson's next step was to book a session of sax-honking rock'n'roll with one of that genre's true pioneers, Earl Palmer. A major influence on generation's of rock and soul drummer, Palmer pounded the skins on Little Richard's greatest Specialty sides, Fats Domino's massive string of Imperial hits in New Orleans during the '50s.

After moving to California, the legendary black sideman enlivened countless sessions including those featuring Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran, the Beach Boys and one of Dickerson's primary influences, steel-guitar virtuoso Speedy West.

"When I got the idea to do the thing with Earl Palmer, finances kind of dictated, because you have to hire Earl through the musician's union, and he's very expensive," recalls Dickerson. "I've gone to see him do this jazz trio gig many times. I went there to get some of my records signed, and I was blown away at how great a drummer he still was at 70-something years old. He's still got all of his chops, he's really strong, and you would just never ever think of him as an old guy. But I didn't know if he was still willing to play rock'n'roll."

"So, he showed up and I was really on edge thinking, 'Man, what if he can't play in that style any more?' I just told him, 'We're looking for that New Orleans second-line feel like you did on the Little Richard records,' and bam, it was there. It was unbelievable, we were all looking around at each other and we couldn't believe this was happening live in the room with us."

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