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I have to confess, I hadn't heard of Jim Dickinson before. I should have. I surely heard some of his work, knew some of it very well. But despite my wife calling me a walking talking Shazam, and my kids accusing me of being a music snob for loving deep cuts, I did not know Jim Dickinson. But his book looked good when I saw it on NetGalley, and now, as a music lover and a lover of music history, I'm better for having read it.
Dickinson grew up in Memphis at the time Elvis Presley and Sun Records were inventing rock 'n' roll, Stax was defining soul music with Otis Redding and Co., and blues guitarists young (B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf) and old (Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Memphis Minnie) were being discovered or re-discovered by a younger generation.
His memoir chronicles how the changing times and music influenced him to find a path in the arts, first trying to break into theater as a college student at Baylor in Texas, then in Memphis as the producer of theatrical and musical events (co-founding the original Memphis Country Blues Festival in 1966), trying to write novels, and finally focusing on music as a session player and record producer.
There is much made at the start about Dickinson not wanting this to be a There I was with Ringo memoir. So he spends a good half the book talking about his youth, when he was in and out of school, trying to find his way. This is really fascinating, especially when you get to see how a typical 50s-era southerner morphs into a beatnik-hipster-folkie type, searching out Blind Lemon Jefferson and learning what he can about other blues legends who had long been forgotten.
As interesting as it is, it started to feel like too much time, too much detail, for the formative years of a support player -- I don't know as much about the youth of John Lennon or Mick Jagger as I now do about Jim Dickinson. Then he gets to the point where he becomes a regular session guy for big name recording artists, first in Memphis, then in Miami, eventually in L.A.
That should be the heart of the book -- &quot;How I helped record some of the great records of the 60s and 70s&quot;. A one-man Wrecking Crew. But there are only glimpses -- how Jim got Gregg Allman to hit the high notes on Midnight Rider, how he negotiated with Dr. John to play piano on Wallflower, how he landed the career-making piano part on the Rolling Stones' Wild Horses, how legendary recording engineer Tom Dowd gossiped him out of his job at Atlantic Records.
But for every one of those juicy tales, there are five stories with no juice at all, just a list of session guys who played on this song or that record, this from the guy who didn't want to namedrop big stars, repeating over and over names of players you never heard of before. And these seemed rushed -- after the long, overly-detailed biography of his early years, the most important part of his career goes rushing by too quickly.
Nevertheless, as a music buff, and as a musician with a huge interest in country blues, I enjoyed delving into the life of someone who was so much a part of it, getting to understand how the times had shaped him into a musician, how his career evolved through its heydey, and how Americana music as we know it today came together through the efforts of players like Jim Dickinson.
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