I’m Just Dead, I’m Not Gone chronicles Jim Dickinson’s extraordinary life in the Memphis music scene of the fifties and sixties and how he went on to play with and produce a rich array of artists, including Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Ry Cooder, Duane Allman, Arlo Guthrie, and Albert King. With verve and wit, Dickinson (1941-2009) describes his trip to Blind Lemon’s grave on the Texas flatlands as a college student and how that encounter inspired his return to Memphis. Back home, he looked up Gus Cannon and Furry Lewis, began staging plays, cofounded what would become the annual Memphis Blues Festival, and started recording.
The blues, Elvis, and early rock ‘n’ roll compelled Dickinson to reject racial barriers and spurred his contributions to the Memphis music and experimental art scene. He explains how the family yardman, WDIA, Dewey Phillips, Furry Lewis, Will Shade, and Howlin’ Wolf shaped him and recounts how he went on to learn his craft at Sun, Ardent, American, Muscle Shoals, and Criteria studios from master producers Sam Phillips, John Fry, Chips Moman, and Jerry Wexler.
Dickinson is a member of the Mississippi Music Hall of Fame and an inaugural inductee of the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. He has received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Engineering and Production from the Americana Music Association, a Brass Note on the Beale Street Walk of Fame in Memphis, and a Heritage Marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail. This memoir recounts a love affair with Memphis, the blues, and rock ‘n’ roll through Dickinson’s captivating blend of intelligence, humor, and candor.
“A memoir of sorts by the late Memphis musical legend, Dickinson (1941-2009) may not be a household name, but in those households where he is, he is revered: session pianist for the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and other luminaries; producer for Ry Cooder, the Replacements, and Alex Chilton; patriarch of the North Mississippi Allstars. He’s also a world-class storyteller, from the evidence here, a mix of homespun philosophy, hipster poetry, ribald anecdotes, and humanizing reminiscences about pretty much everyone who was anyone in southern musical circles.”
“Jim Dickinson, the maestro of Mud Boy, holds the keys that unlock the mysteries of the blues, Mississippi, Memphis, and the processes of creating and recording music. You want to know how it all got like this? Start reading.”
–Joe Nick Patoski, author of Willie Nelson: An Epic Life and Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught in the Crossfire
“The late Jim Dickinson entered the Memphis music scene in the years following Elvis Presley’s initial success, helping to extend the spirit and sound of Elvis’s music synthesis to the city’s expanding middle class and suburban population. Jim’s career and style linked raw Memphis blues and rockabilly of the 1950s to the folk and rock movements of the 1960s. He not only lived and worked as an insider in this important and highly creative music scene, but he was a keen observer of it. In later years researchers and journalists were constantly asking him for comments or pithy quotes on this or that Memphis musical event or personality, and he always seemed to have an answer for them. Here he shows that he could also write about the scene at length and with the same wit and insight.”
–David Evans, professor of music, University of Memphis
“Jim Dickinson was the great instigator of rock ‘n’ roll. From the Rolling Stones to the Replacements, from Alex Chilton to Aretha, his fingerprints are on some of the twentieth century’s most singular recordings. But who knew that Dickinson, one of music’s most mind-blowing raconteurs, was also an extraordinary writer. In his memoir, I’m Just Dead, I’m Not Gone, Dickinson’s prose leaps from the page, packing as much emotional punch as his piano licks on ‘Wild Horses.’ His eye for detail and his acute observations on his Chicago childhood, his coming of age in Memphis and Waco (as a Baylor student), and his early music career in Tennessee, Miami, and L.A., provide a stunning portrait of a seeker’s odyssey in 1950s and ’60s America.”
–Holly George-Warren, author of A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, From Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man
“An endlessly fascinating ride with one of the greatest artists the South ever produced. Jim Dickinson drew upon everyone from Faulkner to Furry Lewis to make his own unique sound and then share it with the world. These pages you hold in your hands are the very personal tale of that incredible journey. Above all else, Dickinson was a master storyteller. I’m Just Dead, I’m Not Gone is a trip into the depths and soul of Americana. I was mesmerized and inspired by Dickinson’s final gift.”
“Jim Dickinson communicated in parables. Stories were his tools and weapons–for teaching, entertaining, inspiring, for offending and defending. He drew not just from his musical experiences but all experiences, and his lessons, ideas, and suggestions, even if they were about a song, were about much more than music. Jim may be dead, but he ain’t gone–and this collection of his life’s stories ensures that those who never knew him can yet experience him. Insightful, hilarious, emotional, Jim writes the way he played: from his heart, through his soul, to the gut.”
“Jim Dickinson was both student and creator of the finest in American music. As a musician and singer, he brought out the best in the songs he served. As a producer, he brought out the best in his artists. From his early work singing and playing at Sun Records, to producing brilliant and influential rock bands like Big Star and the Replacements, Jim left an undeniable mark on rock ‘n’ roll and roots music in a time when the two weren’t so easily separated. A lot of the music I love simply wouldn’t exist without Jim’s legendary work.”
–Jason Isbell, two-time Grammy winner
“Jim Dickinson stood at the intersection of many contradictions: a modern visionary steeped in old-time music, an intellectual who valued instinct. It all made sense because Dickinson was so thoroughly rooted in the music he loved and was so thoughtful in his assessments thereof. This book is a treat that engages on all levels: head, heart and guts.”
–Alan Paul, musician, journalist, and author of One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band
“Jim Dickinson was the keeper of the crazy flame.
The mad genius of Memphis music.
A real rock ‘n’ roll raconteur.
A truth speaker and bullshit detector.
John the Conqueror root in human form.
The Conjure Man from another land.”
“Like deep blues, this book was in Jim Dickinson and it had to come out. Like his music, Jim’s prose is inspiring, a tad weird and evermore true. For rocker and rollers, this makes a great read. For readers, it’s a rocker. We won’t see Jim’s likes again but that’s okay because, as he assures us, he’s just dead, he’s not gone. This eloquent and haunting book, conjured by a true original, is living proof of that.”
–Jim Dees, host, The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour, and author of The Statue and the Fury: A Memoir
About the Author
Jim Dickinson (1941-2009) worked with the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Alex Chilton, the Replacements, and T-Model Ford, among others. His sons, Luther and Cody, are the founding members of the North Mississippi Allstars.