In 1996, Cody and Luther Dickinson formed the North Mississippi Allstars blues-rock band, and in the twelve years since, they have honed their wailing blues harp, electric washboard, and sorrowful guitar sounds to perfection and toured relentlessly. Last year Cody felt ready for a new change and had time on his hands, after Luther joined the Black Crowes for their tour.
The result is Hill Country Revue, a “hungry, angry” little sibling to the Allstars that lets Cody step out from behind the drum kit where he'd passed the last twelve years, taking on a new creative role as frontman. By his side were some of the most influential and talented musicians in the historically-steeped blues music of the north Mississippi Hill Country.
Preparing for the launch of this year's tour - Cody took time to speak from his home in Coldwater, Mississippi, to tell Gigbot all about where last year took him and why he's looking forward to 2009. The tour will bring the band through Denver on Jan 30th and 31st.
(Gigbot has free tickets for you!)
F/F - Let's start with trying to unravel the story behind the formation of Hill Country Revue – was it related to Luther being on tour with the Black Crowes?
CD - Well, the Allstars have toured so much over the past ten years that I never had time for the luxury of exploring new musical things on my own. When Luther joined the Crowes, I found myself all of a sudden with more time on my hands than I knew what to do with. I just felt like I needed to continue playing and I saw it as an opportunity to start a new project. But I also made up my mind to keep doing what I had been doing all along, to try not to miss a beat, and experiment with some new people and some new music along the way. So I handpicked the best musicians that I knew, that I had been wanting to play, some of them for a long time and others that I had just met. We got this motley crew of incredibly talented guys together in our studio in Coldwater, MS, and started playing.
Let's Talk About Me And You
Live at the Mile High Music Festival, Denver Co - July 19, 2008
F/F - How did you pick the guys to be in the band alongside you?
CD - Gerry Burnside is R.L.s youngest son, and an amazing, prolific songwriter with a great band in his own right called the Burnside Exploration. Kirk Smithhart grew up in Jackson, MS, and I met him in church of all places (laughs). As far as starting a rock band, I think that's pretty cool! Our drummer Eddie Cleveland grew up playing Memphis contemporary gospel scene with quite a few amazing guitarists. You know, all the guys in Hill Country Revue are really so deserving and professional, it's just an honor to work with them.
Once the lineup solidified into its final stage, we really connected and started making leaps and bounds musically, and then we just went in and did the last final session for this album that's gonna be coming out (Hill Country Revue Make a Move). The songs tell a story about desperation, heartbreak, bein' on the road, and also some social and political statements on the record as well. It's really something I'm proud of.
F/F - What has the creative transition been like for you from drummer for the All Stars to guitarist and singer for Hill Country?
CD - At first I planned on just playing drums and keeping the lineup more the same. It wasn't until a few months down the road with Hill Country that I moved to guitar – and when I made that shift in this band I realized that there was no going back. It's been so fun; musically it's such a great creative release, a new form and a fresh take on something I've been doing for a long time. Music feels new again.
F/F - Amidst guitar, drums and piano, you also say you play the electric washboard. Can you tell me a little more about that? How about the cigar box guitar?
CD - The electric washboard has defined me as an artist, no doubt. It's a homemade instrument, I plug it in like a guitar and run it through a wah-wah pedal and various other guitar effects. I play it with sewing thimbles. And it's just about the most psychedelic, sexual thing I've ever heard. It has a life of its own.
The way I play it comes from the jug band tradition, although there are other styles, like zydeco. A kid in Georgia first showed me how to put the pickup on the washboard. I was amazed at how it sounded; it was an incredible gift to me.
F/F - The kind of music you play and love has a very rich and storied history. Do you see your music as carrying on the blues traditions of the Mississippi hill country blues in any sense?
CD - At first I felt no responsibility at all to preserve the music necessarily because I thought it was presumptuous to assume that I was an “authentic bluesman” when I was 20 and just starting to play, even though I did grow up around it, and absorbed it completely, and was trained in the music. It was still important at that time we tried to go out and interpret it – it was more about interpretation than preservation for me at first.
But as time passed and the longer I do it, the more I realize that there's a folk tradition that is important to pass on to some degree, as untouched and unchanged as possible. So I think we have a nice combination and balance of the two, playing roots music but doing it in a new hyped-up way that feels fresh.
F/F - What is it like to inspire a younger audience to explore a historic genre of music?
CD - It's incredible. Here in North Mississippi there's a young generation of musicians coming up that are so inspiring to me. It's so alive and vibrant, the blues scene in the hill country is so modern and still happening. I see it wherever I go, for sure, but to grow up in this area – I can't tell you how many incredible musicians there are in this region, in Memphis and in North Mississippi.
F/F - Colorado is a long way from Mississippi, but you guys have been out here a lot to play, like at the Mile High Music Festival this summer, and this area seems to have really embraced your music. Any ideas why?
CD -Colorado has an incredible live music scene, and the people there really support bands and catch on to music early, they have an ear for good new stuff. It's always a blast playing in Colorado and we have found ourselves there a lot, happily.
F/F - What has it been like build the Hill Country Revue to a national level through your live performances?
CD - We're just thrilled at the reception we've gotten and the support from our new fans all across the spectrum. The live show is absolutely a critical part of that support as well, connecting with the audiences. Also, having radio stations playing our single “Alice Mae” so much, it's been a huge morale booster. We have our debut record coming out in April, and I'm proud to say we just signed to Razor & Tie records!
F/F - When you come to Colorado at the end of this month, North Mississippi All Stars are playing a joint bill with Hill Country Revue. How do these tandem shows work? How would you differentiate between the two groups?
CD - Aw, it's a blast to play together. There's certainly more similarities than differences between the two bands, but HCR is a little heavier, a little harder, and there's this edge – more of a hungry, angry beast. Hill Country is a little bit rawer and more rockin' than the All Stars. The shows together are great because at the end of the night, the All Stars and the Hill Country Revue all jam together. I'm on drums for that, and so Edward and I are double drumming.
Music is my passion and my love, but when I'm on stage and performing it, I love the focus that it brings to my life, to giving my whole being to those three hours on stage. It's a different way of communication, a conversation that I have with the other musicians that I admire and all the kinds of people that come to see us.
People you'll see at the show
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