For those looking for an introduction to Jim Dickinson’s impressive body of work, below are 11 essential recordings he produced and/or played on.
Jerry Jeff Walker: Bein’ Free (1970)
“It’s the first record his band the Dixie Flyers made for Atlantic, with Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd,” says Luther Dickinson. “It’s beautiful early-‘70s folk rock. I love it.”
Aretha Franklin: Spirit in the Dark (1970)
The same year they backed Walker, the Dixie Flyers also played on the soul legend’s classic Spirit in the Dark, with Dickinson on keys.
The Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers (1971)
That’s Dickinson laying down the notorious piano lines on “Wild Horses,” adding immense romanticism to Jagger’s vocals.
Big Star: 3rd/Sister Lovers (1975)
Dickinson granted Alex Chilton, by then the band’s de facto frontman, the freedom to do whatever he wanted in the studio, which in this case was to make a fractured pop album as beautiful as it was strange. At the time it proved notoriously unmarketable and was shelved for years. Today 3rd has assumed the status of weirdo-pop classic, influencing acts as disparate as Jeff Buckley, Teenage Fanclub and Ryan Adams.
Alex Chilton: Like Flies on Sherbert (1979)
The Memphis music scene of the 1970s was marked by a deconstructive urge, as musicians took apart the city’s musical history and reassembled as shambling, devil-may-care rock with grooves so loose they fall apart right in front of your ears. Like Flies on Sherbert, which roughs up hits by Ernest Tubb, the Carter Family, Lonnie Mack and even KC & the Sunshine Band, is key to understanding that period in the city’s history.
The Replacements: Pleased to Meet Me (1987)
The Twin Cities band stumbled down to Memphis hoping to work with Alex Chilton and instead found themselves in the studio with Dickinson, who helmed their best album and some of their signature hits: “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “The Ledge,” and of course “Alex Chilton,” arguably the best song about fandom ever written.
Toots Maytal: Toots in Memphis (1988)
The Famed reggae musician came to Bluff City in the late 1980s and made, to quote Luther, “a straight-ahead southern soul reggae record that’s completely badass.”
Mudboy & the Neutrons: They Walk Among Us (1995)
A possibly apocryphal story that floated around Memphis in the late 1990s, about the recording of Dylan’s Time Out of Mind: All of the session musicians, including Dickinson, had all been warned not to engage Dylan directly in conversation, that he was notoriously prickly in the studio and just wanted to lay down the tracks. So everyone was quiet when he came in one day, and Dylan walked right up to Dickinson and asked where he could get a copy of Mudboy & the Neutrons’ They Walk Among Us. An album so good that Dylan loves it, so rare that even Dylan had trouble finding a copy.
Bob Dylan: Time Out of Mind (1997)
Lucero: Nobody’s Darlings (2005)
It was more or less inevitable: Memphis’ best bar band working with Memphis’ best rock producer down at his compound-cum-studio Zebra Ranch. Dickinson respected the band’s rough edges, but played up the narrative quality of Ben Nichols’ lyrics on “Bikeriders” and “Noon As Dark As Midnight.”
Amy LaVere: Anchors & Anvils (2009)
LaVere’s second album showed the range of her tastes as well as of her abilities, as Dickinson helped her cover Tex-Mex, funk rock, folk and smoky lounge pop.