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Luther's Technique and Style  
-by Brian Lindsey

In response to the many inquiries on Luther Dickinson's picking technique, the following is a brief overview of the styles and techniques that can be seen and heard on a continual basis....

Luther (and many other guitarists) alternates between a few distinct styles and techniques depending on what song or "style" of song he is playing. He also has a unique hand position/style when he plays slide, but I will get to that.

First, there is a straight forward picking style that can be heard on lead licks like the one at the begining of "Stomping My Foot" (after the first vocals). This is just using a guitar pick. This is what the majority of lead guitarist do.....

Ok, the next and more interesting style is the finger picking technique that is used on songs like "Po Black Mattie" and "Conan". This is pimarily important/essential for playing Hill Country Blues. It is done by picking the strings with the thumb, index, and middle fingers. Mississippi Fred McDowell used to call this "frailin".....It is/can be a lot faster than trying to hit all the notes with one pick or finger. Listen to some old R.L. and you can hear it really well.

Slide: Luther plays slide with the similar or same picking finger style that was mentioned above. So, he picks the notes with his fingers on the right hand....versus using a pick. This is because the fingers make a lot smoother sound than a pick does. However, Kenny Brown and artist like George Thorogood do use a pick when playing slide....Again, people like Luther, Derek Trucks, and Warren Haynes play slide with their fingers....It has a lot to do with muting strings on both hands to avoid feedback, but that is a bit much for the non-musician.

Luther jamming with Kenny Brown

To finish: Luther has a distinct sound mainly b/c he can alternate between these styles...For example, he can begin a song using his pick and simply palm the pick in his right hand, and almost immediately switch to a finger picking style. He is able to switch from rhythm to lead at any time, which allows him to essentially play the role of a rhythm and lead guitarist at once. However, A LOT of people can and do do this..........

Luther does this while switching between conventional blues licks and scales, to Allan Brothers/pentatonic (and catatonic) scales........And he incorporates the minor blues scales that are so prevalent in H.C. Blues. So, you take 3-4 syles or picking abilities and combine them with 3-4 rhythm and lead get the unique sound of the Allstars........


The major techniques employed by Luther are as follows:

1.)Straight Lead and Rhythm

2.)Finger Picking: Which is a Hill Country Blues Style versus a classical finger picking style or some of the other types of finger picking. The true secret to H.C. picking is the ongoing bass notes that are played by the thumb. If you listen you can here a the bass notes being played in time while the melody is played by the remaining fingers....This creates the "droning" effect that you here. Also, the H.C. style is mainly based around one chord versus the 3 chord structure that you hear in Delta Blues, and is "usually" played off of open G or Open D tuning....which facilitates the use of the slide....(Ex. Po Black Mattie,Skinny Woman,Georgia Woman,and even Big Mamas Door are based off of the G chord/tunning)

3.)Slide Playing: Uses both 1 and 2 from above and also plays normal/ straight chords while having a slide on the ring finger......

Here are the distinct types of sylistic or chord usages that Luther implements:

1.) Basic Blues Scales/Pentatonic (Buddy Guy, Albert King, Eric Clapton)
2.) Minor Blues Scales: (R.L., Junior Kimbrough, Fred McDowell)
-You see this in a lot of music, but H.C. blues is based upon this in some respects. It impliments blues intonation and vibrato, into/around a minor chord or scale....Listen to Richard Johnston's version of Miss Maybelle.
3.)Allman Brothers/Catatonic ("Goin' Home", Peter Frampton perhaps...)
4.)Punk Chords/Power Chords
5.)General Southern Rock Scales

Luther uses such a wide range of distinct styles and implements his own style, that it becomes hard to justifiably describe it.

He is a master of his craft. The level that Luther has reached as a guitarist is one that all musicians strive for. He not only knows what sounds he wants to make with the guitar, but he is also able to accurately and honestly put those desires on the strings (i.e. what he hears in his mind flows freely to his hands and he does NOT have to think about what he is going to do next).

Luther jamming with Derek Trucks

The only other guitarists that I can really say this about is Stevie Ray Vaughn, Dereck Trucks, John Mayer, Duane Allman, but respectfully I do think Luther has separated himself from them.

He is probably the only southern rock guitar hero around these days!

-written by Brian Lindsey
Indianola, MS
Band: MudCreek Bottom
Recording Experience (Guitar):
Sun Studios; Memphis, TN
Candella Sound Studios; Memphis, TN
Cool Water Studios; Clinton, MS
Delta Studios; Clarksdale, MS

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