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Dickerson puts out "Number One Hit Record!"

By Jon Jonson, October 1998

If one was to create a short list of respected young rockabilly guitarists, at or near the top would be 30-year-old Deke Dickerson.

Dickerson, releasing his first solo album, "Number One Hit Record!," on Hightone in October, is best known for two highly regarded albums recorded in 1994 and 1996 with the now-defunct Dave and Deke Combo.

The group had the then-novel approach of playing rockabilly with a distinct mix of rural twang and '50's west coast instrumental flash. Co-led by Dave Stuckey (the group's principal songwriter) and Dickerson (whose lightning-fast Joe Maphis/Jimmy Bryant-influenced picking on his double-neck Mosrite left musicians in awe), the group was regarded as one of the top U.S.-based rockabilly groups when their summer '96 breakup took fans by surprise. All the more so since the group wasn't regarded as having come close to peaking.

"It was one of those things where Dave and I both had very specific ideas about what we wanted to do," says Dickerson, an LA resident. "He really wanted to have a full-on western swing band, and I wanted to have more of a straight-ahead rock 'n' roll/rockabilly type of thing with a country edge to it."

Fans of the Combo will find a lot of familiar ground on "Number One Hit Record!" More than half of the 15 songs would have fit in perfectly well with the Combo's repertoire and, of course, there's Dickerson's guitar work, more phenomenal than ever.

Particularly noteworthy is "Jumpin' Bean," an instrumental duet with Larry Collins, who first gained attention in the '50's (along with older sister Lorrie) as half of the Collins Kids.

"I was very surprised that he agreed to do it. He wrote a couple of hit songs ("Delta Dawn" and "You're the Reason God Made Oklahoma"), and he's very well-off financially. He lives in this very nice mansion in Reno, and it takes a lot of money to get him out of the mansion. That's why the Collins Kids don't play that much. I didn't really have anything to offer him other than a plane ticket down to the studio and he's like, 'Yeah, sure, I'll do it.'"

In addition to Larry Collins' contribution, the new album also features appearances by saxophonist Joey D'Ambrosio from Bill Haley's Comets, Treniers vocalist Claude Trenier, Big Sandy pianist Carl "Sonny" Leyland and Lucky Stars/Wayne Hancock steel guitarist Jeremy Wakefield.

Dickerson is backed on the album by his new group, the Ecco-Fonics, which includes British drummer Brian Nevill, bassist Brent Harding, and guitarist Johnny Noble. Dickerson took his time finding the right musicians between the '96 breakup of the Dave and Deke Combo and the formation of the new band earlier this year.

"You'd be surprised, man. When it comes down to getting guys who want to do it full-time for very little money, it's not like I can say to somebody, 'Hey, I'll give you a thousand dollars a week to play with me.' You've really got to love to do it and build it from the ground up. It was tough, but I was very lucky to find the guys I wound up with."

Dickerson has been lucky enough to meet and sometimes play with many of his musical heroes. His respect for the Collins Kids and the Treniers is instantly apparent, and has also had the chance to meet older performers such as Rose Maddox, Charlie Feathers, and Cliffie Stone, all of whom died during the past year. How aware were they and other older artists of the influence they'd had on younger generations?

"Well, it sort of runs both ways. There's a couple of them who think, 'Oh, here's my chance for a giant new career.' And then you have to tell 'em, 'Well, you can play a lot of $200 gigs, but it's not going to be much more than that.'"

"And there are the kinds that don't want to have anything to do with you. 'What the hell are you talkin' about? I was 17 years old when I made that record! I've done much better music since then!"

How does Dickerson see himself in 30 or so years when young people start trying to track him down?

"I don't know. A lot of people never made any money at it, and I think it would make it a lot easier if you'd made some money. If you're poor and really bitter, it probably affects how you feel."

"You know, Cliff Gallup (the notoriously reclusive Gene Vincent guitarist) refused to sign autographs. I love guys like that. There's more mystery when there's this whole antisocial part about it."

"The great story I heard about Cliff Gallup was that Brian Setzer actually went to his house, knocked on his door, and pleaded with Cliff to talk with him."

"Cliff grabbed his rifle and said, 'Git offa muh property!"