Chuck Prophet covers outlaw Waylon Jennings, and it works beautifully
Chuck Prophet is a Californian born and bred, so it's only natural he takes a few liberties with the lyrics to "Waymore's Blues," one of the songs he covers on his latest full-length-a weird, loving re-creation of Waylon Jennings' classic 1975 country album Dreaming My Dreams. "Well, I gotta leave San Francisco / I gotta spread the news," Prophet sings. "Women up in this piece / They don't wear no shoes." On Dreaming Waylon's Dreams, the singer and songwriter respects the running order of the original work as well as its emotional core, but Prophet is in the line of subversive American pop artists whose afﬁnities are shifty by design.
From Whittier, Calif., Prophet ﬁrst gained notice as guitarist for Green on Red, a band whose whacked-out Americana updated the time-honored trash aesthetic in the '80s. After their breakup, he released a series of well-received solo records, worked with Dan Penn and Jim Dickinson and produced country-pop singer Kelly Willis. Last year he released the ﬁne Soap and Water, on which he came across like the chameleonic Alex Chilton with fewer misgivings about pop's elusive soul.
Cut in San Francisco and in Nashville with producer Brad Jones at Alex the Great studio, Soap and Water took Chilton's insouciant, good-boy-itching-to-be-bad charm as its template. "I met Alex at the 688 Club in Atlanta," Prophet remembers. "He pulled out of that Buick Skylark that he had, with a Super Reverb amp and his clothes in the back, and that was it, you know? Alex sang the blues the way Mose Allison sang it-he had a great, cool way of doin' it."
Dreaming Waylon's Dreams came about as a result of Prophet's longtime admiration of Jennings' masterpiece, and turned on a bit of self-aggrandizement. "We cut it in California over a weekend, and it was really kind of done on a dare," Prophet says. "I think I started braggin', and said, `I could do that whole record from memory, right now.' Three or four songs in, we were starting to get punchy, you know, and we were bringing the words down off the Internet."
The result is a loose, lively document that sounds neither country nor pop. Prophet's humorous baritone holds notes and inﬂects lines with a sort of pathos that never gets out of hand. "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" stomps along in hard, concentrated fashion, with atmospheric guitars. "Waymore's Blues" (itself a reworking of Furry Lewis' 1928 "Kassie Jones") joins the list of inspired readings of the venerable tune by Memphis producer and pianist Jim Dickinson.
"We played it with Dickinson in 1991," Prophet says. "We did a brief tour with him and my band backed him up. Every time I would quote anything from the Waylon version, he would kinda snarl at me. He'd say, `Man, I don't even acknowledge that version.' "
However ﬁnely tuned one's historical sense might be, Dreaming Waylon's Dreams works beautifully. It turns a Nashville record (Jack Clement produced the original) into something close to the Bluff City in spirit. If Chilton's work triangulates Memphis, New Orleans and Brian Wilson's California, Prophet's vision includes Music City.
"In the late '90s, Nashville kind of saved me," Prophet says. He came to town to write with the likes of Kim Richey, with whom he penned a 2002 Top 40 country hit for Cyndi Thomson, "I'm Gone." A ﬁrst-rate songwriter with a ﬁne sense of pop classicism, Prophet might seem an unlikely cowboy standing in line to sing the blues. To paraphrase Jack Clement himself, Prophet might be a fake, but Dreaming Waylon's Dreams proves he's no phony.
It's still a stellar decade for Chuck Prophet-partly because he keeps working through the ordeal of the 15 years that came before. His white-boy blues predated Americana, and he was too sensitive to be a garage rocker. That's how he got stuck being a country-psych sideman in Green On Red. By the time Prophet matured into white-man blues, Americana was too much of a niche market to contain him. His recent string of impressive albums has depended on whatever audience finds him between the cracks.
A lot of that audience is in Europe, and Prophet could be coasting as an intellectual hillbilly. They love that kind of thing over there. Instead, last year's Soap and Water is almost a typical collection of ambitious ramblings. He's playing a little more R&B, and there are some ragged, faster songs that finally get him close to garage rock-but only because Prophet's hung around long enough for the genre to get sensitive. You could compare the record to Dylan or Costello, but that praise is a little faint nowadays.
Journeyman producer-songwriter and wife, Stephanie, sound so much like Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks, we checked to see if the two had ever sang together. They have. This is better. (Grooming)
Leave it to the ever-interesting, never- sitting-still Chuck Prophet to begin a record with the wonderfully suggestive line, "I like the way you freckle, I like the way you peel, I love to see your hair in a mess." Also leave it to the ever-inventive San Franciscan to combine apocalyptic guitar with a cherubic children's choir and remind us what rock is all about with the hypnotic repetition of "let's do something wrong, let's do something stupid" or lay open a suave, quirky love vein by saying "I've still got that box of Band-Aids from the night we patched things up." Prophet absolutely leaves the imitators and posers behind on "Doubter Out of Jesus (All Over You)," whose live video on YouTube reveals why Prophet is currently The Man in rock. He hits that San Francisco Tenderloin zone on the hilariously sleazy "A Woman's Voice Can Drug You": "She'll roll you like Duct tape, entwine you in a modern dance." If the ongoing Maroon 5-ization of rock disturbs you, Chuck Prophet is your hope for the future and the man you should listen to immediately. From the nitty to the gritty, there's nothing else out there quite like this.
Are You Sure Waylon Done It This Way?
Chuck Prophet Re-records Entire Jennings Album
Chuck Prophet has re-recorded the entire Waylon Jennings album Dreaming My Dreams With You while accidentally locked in the recording studio of Tim Mooney (Red House Painters).
Apparently, one Friday evening last January, Prophet and his band were at Closer Studios in San Fran, and studio co-owner Sean Coleman had left and set the alarm code. But he forgot to give the musicians the disarm code or the phone number of the alarm company, and as it turned out he'd also left his cell phone in his vehicle when the locked-in people tried to reach him. Prophet was justifiably steamed, but eventually the need for food (and beer) got the better of him, and soon enough everyone decided to make the best of things. Someone cued up the Jennings album, which happened to be on hand, and after still more drinking of beer... you can guess what happened next.
As band member John Murry put it, "Yes. We would do the fucking thing. We would re-record the record with all new interpretations of the songs. We were half drunk, didn't want to argue because peanut butter makes your mouth REALLY sticky and it kinda starts to hurt if you try to talk too much, and so we gave in. J.J. had all the gear up and running in no time. Guitars, amps, mandolins, basses, drums, a Casiotone key-tar thing, and assorted crap was gathered together. We started recording, beginning with "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" and going straight on through to "Bob Wills Is Still The King". Sean came back late Saturday night. We scared him; not looking so good and all: smelling like peanut butter, cigarettes, and beer and what not. The rest is history. Recorded history."
Go to the Dreaming Waylon's Dreams website for the complete story. (Don't forget to click on the box that reads "View Photos Here"—it takes you to a page at the ever-eclectic Brink.com site wherein you can look at images from the sessions.
The music is currently being streamed at the website. Meanwhile, a limited, hand-numbered edition of 1000 has also been manufactured with artwork by Bruce Licher of Savage Republic and Scenic fame, plus photographs and a chapbook detailing the recording.
Freckle Song, Chuck Prophet: A Stonesy stomp stamps Prophet's sexy rocker, one of several R&B-kissed tunes on his genre-hopping Soap and Water album
Chuck Prophet has been cranking out sly, soul-tinged Americana for more than two decades, and he's long overdue for an FM breakthrough. Soap and Water, his ninth solo offering since his days fronting Green on Red, is unlikely to earn him that. The dozen tracks gathered here have hummable hooks and brisk backbeats. But there's always some element that pushes them too far for the Arbitron zombies who run mainstream radio. On "Would You Love Me," it's the creepy keening of a children's choir. On "All Over You," it's a haunting assembly of violins.
Or consider "Something Stupid" (the song, not the cultural circumstance). It's the exact kind of insanely catchy number John Mayer might have crooned to Jessica Simpson for a VH1 special, and which would then wind up topping the charts for the next six years. But Prophet turns the tune into a kind of mini symphony, summoning a wall of sound that includes strings, keyboards, assorted background voices, and his own sinuous work on the Stratocaster. Radio might not want to risk this kind of majesty, but you should.
Homemade Blood (1997).
Forgive the lengthy post, but this masterpiece warrants it. The album that not only provides the yardstick for Chuck Prophet's own work, but which could do the same job for any and every album that falls into that enigmatic Americana bracket. Chuck's rehab album found him returning to the parental home to get himself straightened out. The result, artistically, is summed up in the title of the album: it's blood-red raw, heart on sleeve stuff; it sure ain't pretty, but it's starkly, often scarily beautiful.
Track by track:
"Credit": ("just last week a little card came in the mail, it was gold and thin as Kate Moss")... the best riff Keef never wrote, witty, self-deprecating lyric, and some terrific strangled guitar solos. The perfect encore.
"You Been Gone": ("the fair-haired boy is bald as a peach and the reprobate's got a sermon to preach"): one of those effortlessly catchy songs Chuck comes up with for every album, great backing vocals from Stephanie Finch on the chorus.
"Inside Track": ("the money-sniffing dog's barking up a child's skirt/The energizer bunny's lyin face down in the dirt"). The closest Chuck has come, IMHO, to his idol Dylan's stream of consciousness, whacked out, 65-66 lyrical style ("Laid up with a fever I'm on fire from head to toe/Before my heart bursts into flame there's something you should know..."). Great phased guitar, and a great rock'n'roll scream (around 2.20) makes this one a highlight on an album that has no lowlights.
"Ooh Wee": ("I was nine years old in 73, strung out Ritalin and colour TV"): one of those funky, swampy numbers with a jaw-dropping guitar solo around 2.41 -- 3.16. Not sure how autobiographical this one is, but, especially around the solo, it sounds ripped straight from the heart.
"New Year's Day": ("you gave me everything I wanted, now all I want's a substitute"): just one of the greatest songs Chuck's ever written. Heartbreaking lyric, haunting slide guitar, beautiful harmonizing from Stephie, and perfectly poised between hope and despair ("don't cry, it's new year's day again...").
"22 Fillmore": ("take a picture, take the whole f***ing roll...") crazed rifferama built around a maddening, obsessive, repetitive lyric. Not a favourite of mine, but a regular showstopper.
"Homemade Blood": ("pretty soon I'll be drinking, I can feel my own heart sinking, down into a sea of homemade blood: homemade blood, cheap red wine..."): appropriately spooky, treated vocal for a spooky song. Comes alive on stage more than it does on the album, with Chuck regularly letting fly with squalling solos. The one on record is fine, but really just provides a blueprint for the concerts.
"Whole Lot More": ("where the dark hall leads to a room full of doors..."): a sweet love song set on a bouncy rhythm and catchy riff. Not exactly filler, and a nice way to pass four and a half minutes.
"Textbook Case": ("he was a textbook case, but he could not read at all"): not quite as manic as 22 Fillmore, but just as crazed; an insistent, ascending riff, slashed open with fierce guitar and another desperate vocal.
"Kmart Family Portrait": ("Down to the mailbox, stand around and stare / Up into the kitchen, ain't nothing cooking there / On to the bedroom, stare at the mirror on the wall. / Well, the mirror cracked a grin and said, there's nobody here at all"): stone cold genius. Muted rhythm track, isolated vocal, a lone electric guitar. The writer of Longshot Lullaby, dissecting others' desperation and pain, looks in the mirror and stares into the abyss ("you turn your head, blink your eye, and there's nobody there at all..."). Halfway through, the gorgeous melody opens into a piercing, weeping solo. And it's a first take. Stunning.
"Til You Came Along": ("looking out for trouble, I could never find enough/ Til you came along"): see "Whole Lot More". My reading of these songs is to understand them as dedications to Stephanie Finch, sticking with Chuck through thick and thin. The lit side of the road to counterpoint the album's dangerous shadows.
"The Parting Song": ("Rider won't you pass me by now, rider won't you stop for me..."): I may be way off, but it sounds to me like the equivalent of Keats's "half in love with easeful death". I guess addiction makes you walk that fine line. Whatever: it signs the album off with an appropriate sense of unease and unresolved-ness, as the repeated chorus ("you could be a friend to me, you could be my enemy") and climb-the-wall guitar fade into a gathering, foggy gloom.
Homemade Blood was the end of an era for Chuck Prophet, it seems to me. From here, he would experiment far more freely with technology and other musical styles (notably loops and rhythm tracks), while keeping them in orbit around his rock, blues and country roots. Guitarwise, he would start to take his foot off the pedal board, a cause of some distress for his ardent fans. I'm sure he's written better songs in the past ten years, but, as a coherent work, I'm not sure he's yet surpassed Homemade Blood.
***** out of 5 stars.
New York Daily News
Chuck's new album for fun and Prophet
Every sound has a say in a Chuck Prophet song. The bass, percussion, rhythm and lead guitars each compete for attention in his tracks, all crying out to be seen as the key hook.
Take but one cut on the new CD: In "Doubter Out of Jesus," first we hear strings in the distance, setting the parameters of the sound. Then comes a whittled-down fiddle, sketching the particulars of the piece. It's followed by a bit of clicking, new wave rhythm, setting a pace that's mirrored in keyboards and a bass. If heard all together in a car, it would nearly force you to break the speed limit.
Prophet has always shown such attention to detail. His albums impress as much with their arrangements as their tidy rock tunes.
He has had time to get the style down.
Prophet first came to attention in the mid-`80s when he joined the band Green on Red. Though initially known as part of the "paisley underground," Green on Red expanded to become a solid roots-rock act - a template broadened, and perfected, by Prophet's solo career.
He has been putting out his own albums since 1990 (nine so far), in between session jobs with everyone from Warren Zevon to Cake.
The songs on "Soap and Water" suggest a more spare Heartbreakers crossed with a shrunken Stones. It's rock, but told with the intimacy of a ballad. Prophet's vocals help with the last bit. He's got a Tom Petty-like hipster drawl, but with more sexy insinuation. Prophet's new lyrics stress romantic rejection at the hands of an emasculating, or at least exasperating, woman. He's a tight writer, able to use "freckle" as a verb and to slice his meters into terse bursts.
But it's really the arrangements that make the songs move. In "Freckle Song," Prophet makes the rhythm guitar parts cluck and crunch, while a lead guitar keeps taking the melody to a new place. In "Would You Love Me?" the bass steals the show with it own warm tune, playing off a tart guitar arpeggio.
With so many bright ideas knocking around, Prophet should consider not just making records, but producing them for others, too.
IF CHUCK PROPHET has honed one skill in his 20-plus-year music career, it's his sharp lyrical style that captures direct sentiments rather than linear narratives. On "Doubter Out of Jesus (All Over You)," a track on his new CD, "Soap and Water," Prophet growls, "You could make a doubter out of Jesus/You could make a monkey out of me," with such disdain that you don't need to know the song's back story to understand how he feels.
Prophet incorporates jazz ("Downtime") and blues ("Small-Town Girl") into his songs as he continues his genre-hopping tradition. But he is at his best when he does not stray far from his Americana sound: On "I Can Feel Your Heartbeat," Prophet's twang is echoed by Stephanie Finch's sweet voice, and the result is a catchy alt-country pop song. His dry vocals capture his wistful melancholy on "Would You Love Me?" and give him the air of a weary saloon-traveling balladeer.
Hero's influence is clear in Prophet's new release
Chuck Prophet says Alex Chilton wowed him in the `80s.
Chuck Prophet recalls the first time he met Alex Chilton, the enigmatic singer and guitarist late of the Box Tops and Big Star. It was 1986 and Chilton was sharing a bill with Prophet's then band Green On Red.
"I can remember the `72 Buick he pulled into the parking lot with, and he put his amp on stage and took his shirt off and put it in the back of his amp and pulled his gig shirt out and clicked his heels four times, and bang! He was in," Prophet says by phone from New York. "I just thought he was it. I don't know who my heroes were at the time, but at that moment, it was Alex. I wanted to be Alex."
More than 20 years later, Chilton's influence has bubbled to the surface in a big way on Prophet's latest solo release, "Soap and Water" (Yep Roc), which showcases Prophet's skills as a singer and songwriter, with coloring from years of listening to Chilton's soulful power-pop tunes.
"Alex is a really great guitarist, and he's also a great blues singer, R&B singer, in the same way that, say, Mose Allison is one of my favorite blues singers," Prophet says.
The same description applies to Prophet, who has wandered through solo albums, writing projects and addiction recovery in the course of his 20-year solo career
"I spent a year goofing off and trying to do other things, thinking maybe I wasn't going to make another record," he says. But a sudden songwriting jag changed his mind, and he soon found himself with 35 songs to winnow into a record.
At the tender age of 17, Chuck Prophet (yes, that's his real last name) began his career as a guitar-slinger for `80s roots-rockers Green on Red. The kid was a total miscreant; he had seen the inside of enough loony bins and rehab centers to make Bukowski proud. But he could play guitar - really play guitar.
Prophet, now 43, has been a solo artist for 15 years and clean `n' sober for 10. Much like Dylan and Neil Young, his discography is spotty. Prophet has scored two minor hits ("Summertime Thing" and "No Other Love"), but he's also lost his way in several fleeting trends.
That said, Soap and Water, Prophet's new disc, features the singer and axeman doing what he does best: heart-on-your-sleeve, blood-in-your-mouth rock and roll redemption. On, for example, "Would You Love Me?," Prophet doesn't aspire; he soars. "Sittin' in a movie, staring at a screen," he sings. "They're dragging Jesus from the town. It don't look good to me/If I had a bucket, or better yet, a spoon/I'd go down to that river, baby. I'd bring that river home to you."
In "Let's Do Something Wrong," Prophet turns Alex-Chilton-strange when he employs an all-boy Methodist choir to sing the refrain, "Let's do something wrong, let's do something stupid."
Prophet is renowned for his live performances, but tonight's show at the Beachland is guaranteed to deliver more: the best songs of Prophet's 25-year career.
The album called Soap and Water opens dirty, with a shambling, Stones-like riff-rocker called "Freckle Song." The lecherous come-on segues right into the atmospheric, tenderly open-hearted balladry of "Would You Love Me?"
That's Chuck Prophet, who has forged a particularly rich and hard-to-pin-down solo career since his days with Green on Red, the great American indie-rock band of the `80s. On these songs about love and the lack of it - to paraphrase the John Cassavetes quote in the liner notes - Prophet is sardonic and hopeful, moody and soulful. Given the mesmerizing blend of warmth and chill - he even uses a children's chorus to subtle but still-audacious effect on some of these very adult songs - it's no wonder that the "Happy Ending" that concludes the album is anything but simple.
80'S ROOTS-ROCK SURVIVOR NOW HITTING HIS PEAK
(****) A decade ago, it looked like Chuck Prophet was finished. The former golden boy of seminal American alt-country, retro-rock stars Green On Red was hooked on crack and unravelling fast. Now, fully detoxed, Prophet has just made his acting debut in the cult movie Revolution Summer, and with his eighth solo album turned in the best work of his career. The rockier songs are reminiscent of late-`80s Rolling Stones and new wave-era Tom Petty. But best of all is Would You Love Me?, the most elegiac country-rock ballad since Ryan Adams's Gold.
San Francisco-based songwriter on killer form
(****) Back from the Green On Red reunion and studio time with Kelly Willis and Alejandro Escovedo, Prophet has been the much in demand lately. But having long dropped the sub-Dylanisms of his early work, its his solo career thats thriving. Soap And Water is his most satisfying album yet. The range of styles is impressive, from the pale hip hop of Something Stupid to the title tracks murky Southern funk and the swamp-blues of A Womans Voice. But he does the fucked-up ballad thing expertly, too, even drafting in a childrens Christian choir for Would You Love Me.
The San Franciscan guitar slinger's persuasive eighth solo album
(****) Plucked from Berkeley obsurity in the mid-`80s by psychedelic cowboys Green On Red, Chuck Prophet was always a gifted rapier to lead singer Dan Stuart's yeoman bludgeon. His Richard Thompson-indebted Telecaster squalls have subsequently decorated a litany of creditable solo albums of which this latest may well be the finest. Recorded in Nashville with innumerable guests, Soap And Water runs the gamut of Prophet's influences, from Bob Dylan (Naked Ray) to Alex Chilton (Let's Do Something Wrong) and the Stones (Soap And Water), all of it delievered with a quixotic swagger and Prophet's declamatory sneer of a voice. His quicksilver fretwork still impresses - especially on the Television-like stomper Freckle Song, though the stand-out track is the burnished, redemptive ballad Would You Love Me, replete with a Methodist children's choir and a counterpoint melody that could melt the stoniest heart.
Chuck Prophet soaks up the Stonesy vibe on his excellent new CD
Though the guitarist's narco-blasted days in indie-rock band Green on Red are long behind him, there's still something elegantly and acerbically wasted about Chuck Prophet. This collection of roots rock is Stonesy loose, which is also to say that it's Stonesy tight. The lumbering A Woman's Voice aside, Soap and Water's tracks impress ‹ from the sex-drenched Freckle Song to Let's Do Something Wrong, where his Tom Petty-ish vocals are puckishly augmented by a kids' choir on the lyrics "Let's do something wrong/Let's do something stupid." A-
Carving an independent path through country, soul and rock
(****) The eighth solo studio album from Californian singer, songwriter and guitarist Chuck Prophet oozes character and confidence. Prophet's delectable guitar work and world-weary but sharply expressive vocals, along with backing from his own outfit the Mission Express and guests the Spinto Band, ensure that these tracks are packed with rich, flavoursome detail. Brad Jone's intelligent production has brought a dustily textured finish to the album; this brooding, sun baked sound is the perfect compliment to Prophet's casually memorable way with words. But despite an overriding sense of direction and coherence, SOAP AND WATER never once threatens to fall back on basic sylistic similarity to keep its twelve tracks knitted together. Each song brings with it a genuine feeling of discovery, from the witty, infectious country-rock opener Freckle Song with it's irresistible twang and punchy rhythm section, to Happy Ending, a subtly shaded and atmospheric rootsy number that provides a gently philosophical conclusion.
The most innovative moment of all comes with All Over You, a sublime blend of heady dance beats and earthy guitar-based Americana. Led by Prophet's captivating vocals - nonchalant one minute, exhilarating the next - it layers into the mix a bewildering number of additional ingredients, from ominous strings and twinkly percussive effects to the improbably successful use of a children's church choir. There is simplicity too; in the form of the dreamy, sinuous ballad Would You Love Me, and its delicate arrangement featuring distant, angelic backing voices and haunting, understated farmonica. A dryly effective female guest vocalist joins Prophet to exchange the clever lyrics of Soap an Water, an angular blues-rock foot-tapper, while taut blues rhythms also form the basis of the intricate but exuberant Down Time, a hugely enjoyable paean to getting away from it all. `A woman's voice can drug you like an AM radio/Like a motorcycle preacher/Like a Sunday far from home', these vocals warn Prophet on A Woman's Voice, at times tapping into a near Dylan-esque drawl, The song's effect is hypnotic, driven by a smouldering slide guitar groove, and its strolling pace builds to a euphoric, bluesy sing-along chorus.
Chuck Prophet's last solo album may have appeared three years ago - he has since toured Europe with a revived incarnation of his former band Green On Red, collaborated with Kelly Willis and made his cinematic acting debut - but the wait has proved worthwhile. Charming, fiercely imaginative and brilliantly executed, this is contemporary roots-rock of the highest quality. A European tour is planned in support of SOAP AND WATER during September and October, which will surely demonstrate the vitality of these songs in a live setting.
(*****) Even in this iPod era, albums can be journeys of discovery. When I started out on Soap and Water I was armed with a huge admiration for San Francisco-based guitarist and songwriter Chuck Prophet, his work with seminal alt. everything band Green on Red, and his large body of solo work. Soap and Water, however, seemed cloaked in obscurity and the music was oddly rootless. A few dozen plays later and there is not a track I'd change - though I might argue a backing vocal here or a guitar lick there. This is a monumental album of constant surprise, chilled intelligence and quietly assured song writing skill, singing, playing and production. Prophet has said it was inspired by wayward rock icon Alex Chilton, but I also hear Randy Newman's caustic amusement at the human condition, especially on the epic New Kingdom. Wonderful, but time is required.
JUNGLE JIM AND THE VOODOO TIGER
Nostalgia ain't what it used to be. Dwelling on the glories of the past, whatever the decade currently in fashion, pales before the glories of the present with its paradigm shifts and all-access Internet. One thing I do miss in the recent and current decade is "characters": that is, people who don't fall into types; folks who by dint of intelligence, mixed with experience and a unique vision of the world, carve out a personal place in it—men like Jim Dickinson.
It would be easy to write him off as a mere roots-rock legend. The legend would start at the Sound of Memphis Studio in the late Sixties, where, with Charley Freeman, Tommy McClure, and Sammy Creason, he formed the rhythm section known as the "Dixie Flyers." The Flyers moved to Miami, Florida, as the Atlantic Records house band backing such artists as Aretha Franklin, Sam & Dave, and Jerry Jeff Walker. After leaving the Flyers, Dickinson returned to Memphis, and began a producing career, working with Ry Cooder and Big Star. His work with the latter no doubt appealed to later clients like Green On Red, and The Replacements. And, oh yeah, Dickinson recorded "Wild Horses" with the Rolling Stones.
In true "character" fashion, these facts don't begin to sum up the man. You might be surprised that he studied drama at Baylor University—unless you thought about it for a minute. He has released two solo records before this as James Luther Dickinson, thirty years apart (take that, T Bone). The more recent, 2002's Free Beer Tomorrow, contains a song, "Ballad of Billy and Oscar," about an imagined meeting between Billy the Kid and Oscar Wilde, written by the art critic Dave Hickey. Starting to get the picture? Pigeonholing just don't work here.
Jungle Jim and the Voodoo Tiger continues in the spirit of both the legend and the character. Having raised his own band (sons Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars) he employs them here on a romp through tunes that suit his style. One of the signs of a true character is that they can take a song that has been done to death, like Terry Fell's "Truck Drivin' Man," and inject new life into it—and not just by adding a hardly heard verse. Rarely writing his own songs, Dickinson always includes a Bob Frank tune, here opening with a rendition of "Redneck, Blue Collar," a vision of the workingman as hard to pin down as James Luther himself. The late Eddie Hinton helps Dickinson and company define Southern soul with his "Can't Beat the Kid." Chuck Prophet, one of the few new characters to emerge in the last twenty years, contributes a tender ballad, "Somewhere Down the Road."
With a voice that is more gruff attitude than mellifluous melisma, Jim Dickinson demonstrates that attitude is enough if you have the goods to back it up. Ask fellow characters like Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder, and Keith Richard—they will testify that the man has the goods in spades.