When Memphis session player and producer Jim Dickinson passed away at age 67 from heart complications on Saturday, August 15, few music fans may have realized how vast his résumé was — one that included work with several notable San Diego musicians.
In May of 1988, Mojo Nixon’s career was on the upswing and, as stated on his website’s timeline, he was being “pressured by the record company to find a ‘name’ producer. After being turned down by Tom Waits and Keith Richards, Nixon contacts [Jim] Dickinson. Luckily Dickinson turns out to be a fan and kindred spirit. [Soon] Nixon heads to Memphis to record an album with Dickinson. Learns the joys of Graceland on mushrooms, local wrestling shows, blues jams in Mississippi, and church with Rev. Al Green.”
The result was Root Hog or Die, with Dickinson on keys as East Memphis Slim; he’s seen playing in Nixon’s popular Elvis tribute video “(619) 239-KING.” Nixon returned to do his 1990 Otis album with Dickinson.
On their 1998 RFTC album, Rocket From the Crypt worked with Dickinson (contributing piano and Hammond organ), who regaled the attentive young musicians with tales of producing the Replacements’ Pleased to Meet Me (1987) and Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers (1974). RFTC went to Memphis and got Dickinson’s piano stylings on 2001’s Group Sounds for the closer “Ghost Shark.” As the album’s press sheet stated, “Jim plays Jack Nitzsche to Speedo’s Lee Hazelwood and everyone descends into a tale of lost sacred ritual.”
Before either of those acts, though, singer-guitarist Javier Escovedo of South Bay punk ’n’ roll pioneers the Zeros worked with Dickinson when he produced the eponymous debut album for the True Believers, the Texas-based ’80s band Escovedo co-fronted with brother Alejandro. “He just had a good warm vibe about him but also a tough, seen-it-all vibe, too,” recalls Escovedo.
“He played piano on a few songs, [but] we were known as this big three-guitar army…so he didn’t want to mess with that too much.… I dug him.… I had always hoped we could work together again. [And] he got one of our songs onto the Blue City movie soundtrack. It’s mainly…Ry Cooder songs except for a Johnny Cash song and a Javier Escovedo song [True Believers’ “Marianne”]. Very cool. And he made it happen.”