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Dickerson goes 3-Dimensional with 'Major' label music

By Ken Burke, January 2003

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Recording at Powow Studios, owned by Pete Curry of Los Straightjackets, Dickerson and crew felt pressured to get five songs recorded with Palmer in the union-dictated three-hour session. As a result, they didn't have much time to plumb stories of Palmer's legendary sessions. However, some of the drummer's incidental reactions delighted the singer-songwriter.

"When were doing "I Get So Lonely," which is an old Johnny & Jack country song, I wanted to do (it) with a New Orleans feel. So, I played Little Richard's version of 'Baby Face,' which has a similar feel. It was really cool because when I started playing the record he got this warm smile on his face. And when the sax solo came in he said, 'Aw, Lee Allen man, I miss that cat so bad.' Then he talked about all the other guys who played on those sessions and how much he loved them as musicians and brothers. You could tell that just hearing it made him really happy."

The "3-Dimensions!" rockabilly sessions were held at Mark Neill's Soil of the South studios in San Diego. Neill used his sonic expertise to coax a Johnny Burnette Rock 'n' Roll Trio aura from the Dickerson-penned "Wear Out The Soles Of My Shoes" and the Roy Orbison Sun-era flavor from his cover of Johnny Horton's "Take The Long Way Home." These tracks are the sort of high polish roots-music that typifies Neill and Dickerson's in-studio partnership. Yet, the set's most riveting moment comes from an archival ballad that could best be described as rockabilly noir, "Bitter Tears."

"When I was growing up, I was tracking down all these artists from Missouri that recorded back in the '50s and '60s," remembers Dickerson. "There was a guy known as 'St. Louis's Elvis Presley Rodney Scott.' He cut a couple of really good rockabilly records and 'Bitter Tears' was the B-side of one of these cult rockabilly things called "Granny Went Rockin'. I was actually doing that song with Dave & Deke during our very first incarnation back in '91 and '92, and I had all but forgotten about it, but Bobby Tremble of Big Sandy & his Fly-Rite Boys kept bugging me, 'Hey, you need to do 'Bitter Tears,' I love that song.'"

The obscurity's sonic reinvention necessitated that Dickerson make his debut as a session pianist playing the song's moody, icy high-note piano fills.

"I was trying to make 'Bitter Tears' like a Link Wray song in a real haunting minor key. A lot of Link's records have this completely distorted grunged out guitar and piano at the same time. So, when we recorded it, I thought, "Damn this needs a piano." But Carl (Sonny Leyland) had already come and went, so I said 'It's just two chords, I can figure it out.' I literally played it like a typewriter, but I got it on the record."

The deftly executed blending of genres on "3-Dimensions!" is what Dickerson has been all about from his days with the surf/garage combo Untamed Youth, tenure with the hillbilly bop of the Dave & Deke Combo, up to his present status as western swing maestro and rockabilly. Though such diversity is artistically satisfying, the double-necked guitar-slinger finds his image occasionally frustrating.

"I think that rockabilly is kind of a double-edged sword. Once you get identified with that rockabilly tag, it's good in the sense that there's this really hard-core crowd that will always come to see you and support you. However, to a lot of industry type people rockabilly is the ultimate dirty word."

Dickerson has found this to be particularly true when it comes to getting Americana airplay.

"When those people hear stuff that's supposed to be '50s or rockabilly, man they hate it! They just won't give it the time of day. In '98, HighTone was pitching both us and Hot Club of Cowtown to the Americana people. There were certain stations who said, 'Hey, these are both great bands we're going to play both of these.' Then, there was a lot of what I term the bearded, '70s folkie-type guys that were just like, 'We love Hot Club, but we hate this Deke Dickerson stuff, and we're not going to play it.' What cracks me up is if you look on the Americana charts, they play Junior Brown all day long, and he's doing Hendrix medleys. So, somehow Hendrix medleys are okay, but '50s rockabilly is not acceptable."

Refusing to give up hope, Dickerson foresees a time when rockabilly will be played unreservedly by the Americana crowd. He also believes that within 20 years, it will be as popular a festival attraction as folk, blues and bluegrass.

In the meantime, an instrumental LP with Larry Collins of Collins Kids-fame is in the planning stages, and he has a yen to record a Slim Gaillard/Harry "The Hipster" Gibson type novelty album with frequent sideman Carl Sonny Leyland. Dickerson even dares to dream of working with a "nice budget" and record a well-produced set of ballads.

Still, the accomplished veteran artist realizes that one can only go so far without sufficient backing

"When I was young and impressionable, I thought that all you had to do was just be really, really good at what you did, and people would sit up and notice it. Unfortunately, this far into my career I've realized, 'You're only as good as your publicist and the current music fad that's going on at the time.'"

At present, Dickerson is doing most of it himself while hoping the fads, and perhaps a genuine major label, will catch up with him.

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