?We?re gonna take ?em on a musical journey? 

One of the most interesting and unique bands to emerge from the South over the past several years must surely be The North Mississippi Allstars.

Founded by brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson, the progenies of famed musician and engineer Jim Dickinson – who’s produced everyone from Alex Chilton to The Replacements, and played keyboards for The Stones and Dylan – The Allstars began as a simple tribute to the HIll Country blues music they loved as kids.

Over time, however, the band welcomed the guitar playing son of the late bluesman R.L. Burnside, and allowed their scope to widen. It now includes elements of gospel, R & B, modern pop, country and even alternative rock.

Their latest album, Polaris, was a huge departure from their previous two, and while that left many longtime fans a bit stunned, the brothers insist they had that in mind all along, and merely waited for their third LP to pull out all the stops.

Now, on the verge of their next release (an EP of outtakes and demos that includes covers of an obscure Jagger/Richards number and a not-so-obscure Robbie Robertson classic), they’re heading to Savannah to open for legendary funk madman George Clinton and his Parliament-Funkadelic, a group that they supported once in the past at a rain-drenched outdoor gig in Atlanta.

I spoke with bassist and founding member Chris Chew by phone about the past, present and future of his critically-adored roots band.

Connect Savannah: So what was it like playing with George Clinton?

Chris Chew: I don’t wanna jinx this gig, because last time we opened for him it started to pour right when he went on. It was a great show, though. Now, his uniforms are definitely... well, I guess George Clinton... well, you know. They’re wearin’ diapers and all that.

CS: It makes you wonder if maybe that guy simply needs to wear those diapers.

CC: Well, that’s what I was wondering, too. (Laughs). I just be quiet about that, you know?

CS: How is touring behind Polaris different from those earlier albums?

CC: Well,the music is totally different, you know. So, watching the expressions on fan’s faces that were kinda stuck on Shake Hands With Shorty or 51 Phantom... some are diggin’ it, but some of aren’t. I guess we’ll gain a few and we’ll lose a few, but you know, it all works out. The older blues type fans don’t really seem to understand our musical tastes. You can’t please everybody.

CS: Well, Polaris is by no means a one-track record.

CC: Exactly. Exactly. This is a good record. If people would sit down and listen to it, they’d probably see where we were coming from. Some folks want us to just stay playin’ the old Hill Country blues. Now, we love that, but we gotta test the boundaries, you know?

CS: Do you think you’ll continue in this experimental vein, or will you go back to making very regimented records?

CC: We just did some demos last week, and the new songs are definitely closer to the foot-stompin’ bluesy-rock stuff. It’ll be more like just one element of our music.

CS: What’s it like to be in a band with two brothers?

CC: (Laughs) That is definitely a challenge! Because they’re great musicians. They’re actually musical wizards in their own right, but sometimes, you know, they feud and fight like a madness. ‘Cause you know one boy think he’s right, and the other boy think he’s right... and there’s the fight, you know what I mean? Fussy, fussy, fussy. But it’s great to watch, because they’re both really intelligent and they’re only worried about the same thing, which is the music. Both of them have different tastes. I mean, Cody is more into pop icons, and Luther is Hill Country blues all the way. I’m sure he likes some pop, but if you listen to his MP3 player, it’s a lot of old blues and slide guitar. If you listen to Cody’s iPod, you gotta lot of pop, like Justin Timberlake. It’s two totally different directions.

CS: So you’re tellin’ me that Cody listens to Justin Timberlake?

CC: Oh, Cody loves Justin! He loves Justin.

CS: (Laughs) That’s funny.

CC: That is funny. (Laughs)

CS: So what’s played on the bus stereo?

CC: The stereo’s up there just for decoration, as far as we’re concerned. I got my iPod, Luther got his MP3, Cody’s got his computer. So many different taste buds. Our stage tech likes Johnny Cash, and our soundguy likes Widespread Panic.

CS: You guys do a few covers on your new EP, so I assume there must be some groups you guys agree on.

CC: Oh, yeah. Well, we all like The Stones. We all like The Band. Those guys were great. They were so talented. I’m talking really talented. And the Replacements, well, Luther’s dad worked with them a lot back in the day, so we thought we should put one of their songs on there. We all agreed those were great songs.

CS: It must be wonderful to be around someone like their dad who has such a history in this industry.

CC: I tell you, he’s in the studio working with us on the next record, and to me, his vibe or his scene is just like sunshine. It’s like a burst of energy. He’s an older guy, but he’s all about it, and he’s gonna be behind the boards for this new album. I respect his wisdom.

CS: This seems like a fun band to be in.

CC: It is. The road can get hard for me, because I’m the good boy. I don’t do anything but play music. I don’t party at all. Some nights there’s a bunch goin’ on in the front of the bus and I’m the quiet guy in the back. That’s just me. I did all that in college. (Laughs). But once I put my bass guitar on, that goes away. I’m there to give you my best. I’m ready to go.

CS: Where do you see this band headed?

CC: We’re just grass roots, but we’re gonna be around in twenty years. We don’t wanna be no one-hit wonder.

CS: What can people in Savannah expect from you upcoming gig?

CC: We’re gonna go from the first album to the third album. We’re gonna take ‘em on a musical journey. If you like rock, we’ll give you some. If you like blues, we’ll give you some. If you want to hear some gospel, we’ll throw a little of that on you.


The North Mississippi Allstars open for George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic in Forsyth Park on Friday night at 7 pm. The show is free and open to all ages.


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Jim Reed

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