Trio combines diverse backgrounds for unique sound
Steamboat Springs — The trio that makes up North Mississippi Allstars found themselves out of their climactic element Tuesday afternoon as they arrived in Park City, Utah.
“It’s cold. We just came from Phoenix and it was 75 degrees,” bassist Chris Chew said.
As northern Mississippi sees temperatures in the high 60s and a humidity level at about 90 percent this time of year, the Allstars cannot begin to prepare for every type of climate as they head on month-long tours across the nation.
Guitarist Luther Dickinson, drummer brother Cody, Chew and guest guitarist Dewayne Burnside have conformed a tour bus into a home as they sing, sleep and soul search along desolate and crowded highways. The band is traveling through the South, Midwest and up and down the West Coast.
After 13 shows in 15 days, the band is dead tired and taking a night off in Park City to rest and watch crews prepare for the upcoming Olympics.
“We try to go six days and take a day off. It’s pretty hard,” Chew said.
Previously referred to as more of a blues and jam band trio, the Allstars now look to their rock ‘n’ roll roots and influences to gain a new image.
Although they are still the same men who grew up in rural Mississippi, Chew said music and situations may change every day, but they do not.
“At the end of the day, we’re still four good ol’ boys from the hills of Mississippi. We’re grateful because it doesn’t change who we are,” Chew said.
While other boys were listening to rock ‘n’ roll and watching MTV, Chew was living with his grandparents in a house full of gospel, “every day, all day.”
And their musical differences and loyal companionship are what keep the Allstars together after so many years. Cody, 25, may find Creed to have a certain musical quality that he envies; Luther, 29, may be inspired by Black Flag; and Chew finds a profound respect for Garth Brooks.
But typically fans can find the Allstars on stage with members of Widespread Panic, John Medeski, Lucinda Williams, Jon Spencer and Robert Randolph.
“But if (listening to the Campbell Brothers) doesn’t move you, something’s wrong. It really brings tears to your eyes,” Chew said. “But we have all different opinions. That’s a great way to make a successful band. That’s how we grow as a family.”
Whether they’re traveling 195 days in a year or going down the road to a popular bar to play for locals in Hernando, Miss., heading toward a mainstream image or career doesn’t suit the boys who strummed their first guitar or created their first lyric in a garage.
Chew and the Dickinson brothers share memories of middle and high school, learning from the Dickinsons’ father, Jim, who has made his career in music.
“They’ve always been so loving to me. I always knew their dad and mom,” the 28-year-old Chew said. “(Jim) gave us insight and said, ‘If this is what you want, it can be done.'”
Jim is a producer and musical historian who helped the Allstars with their first and second albums “Shake Hands With Shorty” and “51 Phantom.”
Chew referred to “Shake Hands With Shorty” as a traditional record and also from the hills of Mississippi. However, “51 Phantom” produces a more rock ‘n’ roll style and a new title they would like to see stick.
Chew said the Dickinson boys began with a head start in the music business while he was still directing choirs at age 13.
“My fingers were too big to play guitar and I had a really good ear. I could hear soprano or alto parts and sing it,” said Chew, adding he picked up the bass guitar soon after his directing days were over.
Now the men find a brotherhood among themselves. They continuously build relationships on the road as they progressively do with fans across the world.
After playing in European venues seven times, the Allstars are proud they’ve reached people whose language they could not fathom to pronounce.
“Music is pretty much experience,” Chew said. “It’s what’s on your mind at the time and what’s in the future. It’s through the course of years.”
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