Deke Dickerson on Musicians With No Arms, His Three-Cent Royalty From Pandora

Deke Dickerson, the lightning-throwing roots-rock guitarist and champion of those old honky-tonking tunes your grandfather boogied to, plays tomorrow night at Big's Grill in Fullerton.

If you want to hear genuine hillbilly, rockabilly and rock-n-roll, check him out! 

We caught up with the Missouri native and longtime California resident, who is working on a new album and doing what he always does--touring America's b
and clubs, leaving a trail of pomade and sweat on 
the dance floor.

Tell me about this three-cent royalty check you got from Pandora.

(Laughs) Well, you know, I get this BMI statement every quarter and I actually make really good money on the things that I've had on TV shows and movies and other bizarre payout things like when they play your songs on airlines and things like that. I licensed all my stuff to Pandora and Spotify and I really didn't know what their payment scheme was, and like the first statement I got since I've had my stuff licensed with them, it's like, wait a minute, one of my songs was played 5,000 times, I make three cents? What the fuck? (Laughs)

It's not actually getting paid. I'm not really cryin' the blues, I'm doing OK, and the other things are definitely paying the bills, but I was just kinda shocked at how little those Internet subscription-type service things actually pay. 

Can you tell us about the project with the Trashmen you just wrapped up? 

The Trashmen are my favorite band of the 1960s. I know that probably sounds weird to a lot of people, but I think "Surfin' Bird" is the greatest rock-n-roll song ever recorded and to me, I place them on a higher pedestal than the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or whoever. 

Be that as it may, you might think that's weird, but I've been after them forever to let me sing "Surfin' Bird" with them. And then I was really just trying to get them back into the studio because they haven't been in the studio since 1988. Finally got them in the studio and it all turned out really good. They're playing great, sounds like the Trashmen, picked some cool songs to do and wrote a couple new originals. I'm really lookin' forward to puttin' out the new record. 

And what's on the horizon for you, as far as studio stuff? 

Well, I'm actually working on another solo album, trying to get the songs together for it and I think I'm actually gonna do a record that's a hundred percent rockabilly, which I've never actually done before, even though people think of me as a rockabilly artist or whatever. All my records are a hodge-podge of styles. I should probably make one record before I quit that's a hundred percent rockabilly, so that's the plan for the next one. 

You do a lot of covers on your records. Are you going to do some covers for this one?  

I generally try to do about half originals and half covers, but when I do cover songs, they're not Top 40 hit songs, they're really, really obscure covers that I dig out from some record nobody's ever heard, so it'll be kinda the same. In fact, one of the songs I want to do is a doo-wop song by a group called the Five Keys

What do you make of the roots-rock scene now and are there any new artists that you're into? 

I actually think it's stronger now that at any time since the Stray Cats, because you've actually got some artists like Imelda May and JD McPherson that are sort of flirting with mainstream success, and obviously you've got people like Brian Setzer and Reverend Horton Heat that have always been big-name draw artists, and so I think whatever is the reason, whether it's the Internet drawing everybody together and being able to keep a scene like that alive or whatever it is, it seems pretty damn healthy right now. 

What's the lineup going to be for the Fullerton show coming up? 

I know it's going to be Mr. Chris "Sugarballs" Sprague on drums, and I'm not quite sure who is playing bass on that. My old bass player, Brent Harding, is playing a lot with Social Distortion now and I was planning on using him, but it looks like they're going to be really, really busy this summer. I may not be able to get him. 

What can people expect at one of your shows? 

We always try to do a fun, fast-paced show. Even if you're a jaded rock-n-roller, we still provide enough action to make it interesting and fun. 

Can you talk about the equipment you use in the studio and what you like to play live?

I've sort of been known as the guy that likes all these weird, wacky old guitars, and the funny thing is that in the last year or two, I've been playing a brand new guitar that's made by a company called Hallmark Guitars out on the East Coast, and a re-issued Fender Stratocaster, and after so many years of dragging out funky old guitars, they were always breaking on me. I still use those guitars at home and in the studio. But most of the time when people see me play, I'm using two guitars that are virtually brand new. 

So what's your obsession with armless musicians, gospel midgets and one-man bands?

It's funny that you mention that, because just today I got a hundred-dollar book off of eBay that I'm really looking forward to getting, about this guy named Little Richard Miller who was basically born with no arms or legs, just like, little stubs, and became this world-renowned musician that could play mandolin, guitar and organ, and made a bunch of albums and had a tour bus and did the whole gospel circuit thing. So just today I added a new piece to the collection that I'm looking forward to getting. 

But you know, when I started that whole thing, it was really kind of a freak show type thing where I just thought, wow, this is really bizarre and weird. I like freak show type stuff and bizarre things, and that was really what sparked my interest. And then as I realized that there's literally hundreds of these people who don't have arms or legs or whatever, and you wouldn't think they're able to play an instrument, and yet they somehow have managed to learn how to play an instrument and do it well. And all of a sudden it totally changed and became a really inspirational thing, so I have this thing on my website about people who have music inside of them and have to get it out of them. 

Are your crowds getting younger or older? What's the mix? 

I can never put my finger on it because I go to see other acts and can see a band whose crowd is older, and other acts, it's like wow, everybody here is 22. But for me it's weird because my whole career in show business has kinda been schizophrenic, where I'll do a gig in a punk rock bar with all college kids and they're all into it, and then the next night I'll play a library and they'll be a bunch of old ladies, and then the next night I'll play some kinda listening room type club where it's all sorts of people in their 40s and 50s that are all serious about their music. Then the next night I'll play a place that's just a bunch of drunken rednecks, so it's very, very hard for me to put a finger on what my audience actually is. 

Can you talk about how you put your music together? Are you hearing the music first, the lyrics first or a combination of both? 

For me, the thing is, it's very hard for me to sit down and write a song, and I know that some people are good at that. I actually go through periods, a year or two where I don't write a single song, and then all of a sudden, stuff's flowin' through my brain and they just kinda write themselves. Sometimes it'll be a little melody that I hear in my head, and I'll sort of write some lyrics to fit that melody, or sometimes it's the other way around, like the song "Misshapen Hillbilly Gal". I just wrote the lyrics down. It came to me so fast, I wrote them down in the space of about seven minutes. And after the lyrics I had to figure out the music for it. I didn't have the music for it at all. So it really just kinda varies on whatever brainstorm I'm having at that exact minute. 

Deke Dickerson performs Wednesday night at 9 p.m. at Big's Grill, 312 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton. 

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