Death to Trendy Pomade Cretins!
Q: How many rockabilly guys does it take to change a light bulb?
A: One to change the bulb and all the rest to stand around talking about how much cooler the old one was.
The repulsive veracity behind this well-worn witticism has not been lost on Deke Dickerson, rockabilly genius emeritus. Dickerson—my most favoritest guitarist currently on the scene, regardless of genre—has been largely rutted in a quagmire of trendy pomade cretins since his career took flight in the early '90s. This is a pigeonhole from which Dickerson would like to flee, from which he deserves to flee, from which he must flee if his career is to transcend a tiny and appallingly pea-brained niche market that tolerates no deviation from its music and fashion templates.
Dickerson loves rockabilly. I love rockabilly. If you're reading this, chances are you love rockabilly, too. This is not to bag on rockabilly per se, which is perfectly wonderful, exciting and vital music. But, Bunky, if you trade strictly in rockabilly, you're surely never going to transcend playing in small clubs for scowling, gas station-employed butterheads who cluck their tongues at any sign you're not as rockabilly as thou.
This is a shame, as Dickerson's muse—brilliant by any standard—cuts through generic partitions as Uday Hussein's razor slices through the trembling, violated flesh of his domestic critics. Music fans of just about every conceivable stripe would find a lot to like in Dickerson's dazzling guitar playing and good-humored but deceptively adroit vocalizin'. Deke loves his small, devoted fan base, but he wants and warrants several million converts; he's eternally frustrated that more folks don't free their minds and let their byoo-tucks follow.
"A lot of people have a hard time understanding who and what I am," he says with a sigh. "There are a lot of rockabilly kids who don't 'get' the hillbilly stuff; there are country people who don't like the rock & roll stuff; and so on and so forth. If people are gonna be closed-minded, there's nothing you can do about it. The one thing that bolsters me and makes me think I'm on the right track is that a lot of so-called 'normal' people, when they see a rockabilly band, they think, 'What is this shit? This shit is terrible!' But I get a lot of those same people walking in off the street and saying, 'Well, this is unusual. I've never heard music like this before, but I really like it.' Or I'll do a rockabilly festival, and one of the guys running sound or doing security will walk up and say, 'Man, I hate this rockabilly crap, but I really like you.'"
Dickerson's latest CD—the brilliant In 3 Dimensions!—follows his usual course of expertly executed rockabilly, hillbilly, and plain old-fashioned rock & roll material, but the music has been neatly compartmentalized into sections and labeled for easy digestion.
"My other albums have had three different kinds of music on them or even more, but sometimes, people don't get it unless you kind of hit them over the head with a hammer," notes Dickerson. "When I put out this new record, people were like, 'Hey, that's a really neat idea!' Okay, well, that's what I've been doing all along, but I didn't really spell it out before now."
Although In 3 Dimensions! is a self-released effort following three albums on the roots-specialty label Hightone, his plan seems to be working. According to Dickerson, his new CD has already sold more units than his last Hightone effort in the two months since its release. He just returned from playing dates in Europe when he found a complimentary feature about himself in the April issue of Guitar Player magazine, which usually reserves such coverage for more metallic-minded shredders. In general, things seem to be going all hunky-dory for our hero these days. "To be honest, I've been real lucky in that this record has gotten more publicity and sold more in the past couple months than anything Hightone was ever able to get me," Dickerson says.
Luck may have something to do with it, but Dickerson is one of those musicians so skilled that you just know he was either a total dork-ass who locked himself in his bedroom and studied guitar throughout his formative years while other kids were out doing normal things like fornicating and experimenting with drugs, or he was simply born a prodigy for whom peeling off licks to thrill and amaze came as naturally as scary, squinty-eyed buttholism comes to Donald Rumsfeld.
"I was in the first category, most definitely," reveals Dickerson. "I wanted to do it so bad. I grew up in Columbia, Missouri, where there's absolutely nothing going on. It was out in the country, and there weren't even any kids my age, just old farmer guys and stuff. I had nobody to play with—I couldn't drive or anything—so all I did in my early years was basically sit in my room and play guitar.
"On the other hand, I consider myself very fortunate to have grown up in that town," he adds, "because there was so much music coming through there. It was a college town, sort of conveniently located between St. Louis and Kansas City. In those years before I turned 21, I went and saw people like Willie Dixon, Junior Wells, Bill Monroe, the Ramones, the Beat Farmers, the Stray Cats, the Blasters . . . It was really a multifaceted exposure."
Those were heady days indeed, and Dickerson shares my opinion that they're largely over now. A good part of the reason contemporary rockabilly and other roots music gets such a bad rep is because there are so many horrible bands out there hitching their collective star to the scene. "That's exactly it," says Dickerson. "There's an awful lot of crap going on out there. Some god-awful rockabilly bands."
Meanwhile, Dickerson harbors no delusions about becoming the next Eminem, but he also looks forward to transcending his current residence well on the outskirts of the mainstream. He views In 3 Dimensions! as sort of a weigh station product between his years on the indie circuit with Hightone and perhaps signing with a label that can someday take him to the next level.
"Obviously, you know what major label A&R guys look for," he says. "They want people under 30 who are perfect physical specimens and play commercially viable music. I don't fit any of that criteria. So I'm realistic about it; I don't think I'm gonna be knocking on 'NSync's door any time soon. But at the same time, there are guys out there like Junior Brown and Steve Earle and Lyle Lovett, people who are not beautiful young people but they still do really well. They go out there and play theaters, and they have a nice big tour bus, and they sell records. What I really want to do is take it to that next step up. Maybe that's not possible, but I sort of think it is."
Me, too, Deke; me, too. Sic semper tyrannus.
Deke Dickerson & the Ecco-Fonics perform with the Dynotones at the Doll Hut, 107 S. Adams St., Anaheim, (714) 533-1286. Sat., 9 p.m. $10. 21+.
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