These days, Memphis’ Beale Street is a blues-lover’s Disneyland in all the worst ways. It’s been sanitized and sanctified, then thoroughly commercialized. Once upon a time, however, it was the “home of the blues,” as Memphis was officially – if somewhat dubiously – declared by a 1977 act of Congress.
Fortunately, James Luther Dickinson was wise to all this. As the original Beale Street was being razed and then plowed under for urban renewal in ’76, he got busy capturing the sounds of the faded street for posterity.
Dickinson should need little introduction. He’s played with the Rolling Stones, Ry Cooder, the Cramps, and more, plus produced albums by Big Star, Alex Chilton, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and the Replacements – simply to scratch the surface. Suffice to say, he had good ears.
He recorded these original Beale Street artists at clubs, Memphis’ Orpheum Theatre and Ardent Studios, and even in the musicians’ living rooms. The result is a time-capsule collection that’s invaluable today.
The album includes cuts by Sleepy John Estes, Furry Lewis, Teenie Hodges, Grandma Dixie Davis, and more. Like the old Beale Street, the tracks are grimy and gritty, and thoroughly real.
Hidden among the cuts is one especial gem: “On The Road Again” by Mud Boy and the Neutrons, Dickinson’s own band and a storied one at that. Including guitarists Sid Selvidge and Lee Baker, the band cut three impossible-to-find LPs, then broke up. Here’s a welcome reminder of a seminal group.
The collection here was originally released in ’78; this CD reissue makes it happily available again.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s October ’15 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.