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Interview: Luther Dickinson - Keys to the Kingdom

Interview: Luther Dickinson - Keys to the Kingdom

With the Allstars being usually a duo or trio, are there some pedals you use to fill things out?

Yeah, with the Allstars I like to have some delay. I am just about to get one of the Fuchs delay pedals, which my tech says looks amazing. I have been using a newer Boss Delay pedal. As long as you can tap the tempo and it doesn't sound too digital, I’m cool. Also, I have been using the Octron Octave pedal, it just has three knobs, Octave Down, Direct, and Octave Up, and it is just so vulgar. There really are no polite words to describe how the pedal sounds. I love that thing. It's gross.

Dickinson and his Gibson SG at an NMA gig in Birmingham, Alabama on December 28, 2010. Dickinson says, "I found you could make an SG sound any way you want with the pickup switch in the middle position." Photo by Christina Daley.
How do you route everything through your signal chain?

I keep it pretty simple. I have some small custom-built loop boxes. I have two loops, the first one is just the King of Tone and a wah and I have another because sometimes with the Crowes I need a phaser or whatnot. If I have to use effects I can go there, but I try not to. But even with the Crowes just cranking up the amp and working the volume knob is just so satisfying when it's there.

How so?

It took me a while to figure it out, but sometimes you end up not turning the volume on the guitar all the way up. Have you ever noticed when you are playing your guitar and aren't plugged in it responds one way but as soon as you plug it in it feels like something in the chain is fighting you? The guitar isn't responding the same way. I have always come across that. I finally realized that if you don't turn it up all the way the instrument retains some of that acoustic response.

Back when I was a kid, we used to play with a friend of mine named Shawn Lane who is just an amazing Memphis virtuoso. He never turned his guitar up all the way, and I knew that but was never hip enough to try and do it. When I was a kid, I had a jazz teacher and he was the same way. In the back of my mind that always hung around. Man, I am 38 and still learning.

I will tell you a secret about Derek [Trucks] that freaked me out. I looked at his amp and the treble is jacked so far up. I said, "What are you doing, man?" He is turning his tone knob on his guitar down some of the time. I said "Whoa, that is insane!" I have yet to try that.

How was it working with Ry Cooder?

He is a master. Ry and my dad were old friends and started working together in the '70s. So Ry was around along with Jim Keltner and that was the band, the three of them. Those were the cats and both of those guys were huge influences. They were so cool and nice.

So you know, my father passed and that song that Ry plays on, "Ain't No Grave," came to me in such a rush. I just woke up one morning and wrote it. Then that night after a show, I just grabbed my guitar and the music just came to me in one complete thought. That happened to me a lot on this record. The songs really just shot out. On "Aint No Grave," I couldn't breakthrough just being a songwriter. I could play the song, play the melody, sing it and I tried overdubbing some stuff but nothing was really transcending it. I needed a fresh interpretation and someone to take it to another place. I called Ry and he said "Of course I will play on your record," so I sent the track to his engineer who told me that Ry knocked it out on the first take. We downloaded his track as we were mixing the record and rearranged the song a little after seeing what his interpretation of it was. Ry was perfect, it was exactly what we needed, a master to just play the shit out of it.

Luther Dickinson's Gear Box

Guitars (almost all with modded pots):
’80s Gibson ES-335
’72 Harmony Sovereign with a DeArmond pickup
Baxendale Darth Vader
Hofner Thinline
’57 Supro lap steel
’59 Gibson ES-175
’71 SG with P-90s
’90s Gibson Les Paul with three humbuckers

Fender Concert (Vintage head with different chassis)
’80s Marshall Bluesbreaker
Fuchs 50-watt Tripledrive Supreme Combo
Fuchs 150-watt Tripledrive Supreme Head

Analog Man Sun Face Fuzz
Analog Man King of Tone
Alvin Youngblood Heart Blood Drive
Boss DD-7 Delay
Foxrox Octron
Dunlop 95Q Crybaby Wah
Dunlop Volume Pedal

DR Roundwound 10s and 11s depending on the guitar
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