Occasionally fans have written in to the Grotto AND asked around town trying to find the meanings behind certain lyrics
used in the NMA's songs. Here are a few websites that can help you with the definitions, the historic twists
and turns, as well as the colloquial usage of some of these phrases and words.
A couple of example questions from fans:
Q: In the song "Horseshoe" from Electric Blue Watermelon, there is a lyric referencing to "cut
the pigeon wing around my neck." What does that mean? A: This could be in the same vein as "albatross around my neck" or a similar phrase "millstone around my neck."
These sayings both suggest to letting go of a burden. Cutting the pigeon wing in this
sense of the phrase possibly means to "set yourself free from" or "letting go of."
Q: What is a "coolin' board"? ...such as, in "51 Phantom" where the Allstars
sing "til I rest my head on the coolin' board..."? A: coolin' board - 1. death bed. 2. A more historically accurate definition comes from Tampa Blue. According to him, coolin' boards were actually boards laid across blocks of ice. Especially in the heat and humidity of the South, it was a practice to place a dead body on a coolin' board to slow down the deterioration process. This allowed time for relatives and friends who lived outside the local area to travel to view the body and say their final goodbyes.
The coolin' board is mentioned in the lyrics of Son House's "Death Letter". Also, Lightnin' Hopkins makes reference to the coolin' board in his "Smokes Like Lightnin'" and "Coolin' Board Blues".
The first time audiences
really got a good look at Luther playing this thing was during the Hill Country Revue concert, Bonaroo 2004 (which was
the first Lowebow of that scale).
More recently, Luther used it in the Electric Blue Watermelon recording of "Mississippi Bollweevil" and
brings it along on the road for the live version.
Perhaps created in the 1800s, a cigarbox guitar is basically that...a wooden cigar box, a 3 foot dowel rod, and
1-3 guitar strings. These days the masters add tuning pegs and electric transducers. The strings, however,
can be tuned to any note and are played with a slide.
Luther's guitar is a one-string Lowebow brand. This contraption was built by a man named John Lowe
in Memphis, TN. Lowe wires each instrument with hand-made pickups so that the Lowebow is broadcast through two amplifiers.
Most of the Lowebows John builds are custom instruments built to specifications.
Luther carries two new Lowebows on tour with him: Shorty and Shorty II.
The first two he owned now belong to Kid Rock. At Luther's request, the Shorty was designed to be shorter
than the typical Lowebow in order to match the length of his Les Paul's.
What is DDT? DDT stands for (D)ickinson (D)ickinson (T)aylor. Luther and Cody, who were already making guest recordings as teenagers,
formed a punk-inflected band with bassist Paul "Snowflake" Taylor. DDT recorded albums of their own but basically toured their local venues.
Their popularity as DDT led them to open for headliners like the Replacements, Jakob Dylan and Ice-T.
And the DDT Big Band??? Well this is a good description from Memphis Flyer from 1997:
D.D.T. Big Band: When Paul Taylor and Luther and Cody Dickinson first formed D.D.T. in 1990, many treated the event like it was the second coming of Memphis music. After all, both the Dickinson brothers and Taylor were the offspring of renowned local musicians. Still, the hype had to be intimidating when you consider that the oldest member of the band at that time was only 17. Fortunately, D.D.T. didn't succumb to the unreasonably high expectations and has spent the past seven years exploring the possibilities of rock, blues, and soul as part of what has been a very public musical education.
It's becoming increasingly more difficult to keep track of all of D.D.T.'s different incarnations. The core trio of Dickinson, Dickinson, and Taylor has followed firmly in the tradition of groups like Booker T. and the MGs and the Hi Rhythm Section by becoming one of the premier backing bands in the city, working with artists as divergent as Beck and Billy Lee Riley.
Another version of the band, playing under the name the North Mississippi All-Stars, plays a raucous brand of electrified country blues that can be heard on an upcoming release by Luther and Cody's dad, legendary producer Jim Dickinson.
And yet another D.D.T. variation, Gutbucket, is an inspired re-examination of the roots of the blues, jug-band music.
But it may be the D.D.T. Big Band that finds the group at its most focused. Featuring respected saxophonist Jim Spake, ex-Big Ass Truck keyboardist Chris Parker, and the phenomenally talented singer Kelley Hurt, the D.D.T. Big Band weaves R&B and rock into a tight groove that bears a lot more soul than most of the modern music that claims that description.
Addendum:...Chris Parker later moved to New York to study jazz with Kelley soon to follow.
What is Gutbucket? While Luther and Cody Dickinson were playing punk with Paul Taylor in their band DDT, they had what
they call their "alter ego," a jugband called Gutbucket. It was a chance for them to experiment with a more rootsy,
Gutbucket basically got its start when Jim Dickinson made Paul Taylor a washtub bass for his 21st birthday.
Luther explains..."Once Paul got going on washtub bass, that was it.
It's just such a bare-boned approach, and the songs are real songs with great melodies. We had an acoustic guitar and
tub bass and a washboard. That was our dad's influence because he had a jug band when he was a kid. He was always talking
about the washtub bass,
so Paul Taylor, our bass player from DDT, our original band, and a really talented musician, took to the tub bass instantly.
Cody picked up the washboard, which was a Mudboy and the Neutrons influence. That was our dad's band with Sid Selvidge,
Steve's [from Big Ass Truck] father, and Lee Baker the guitar player. Lee was one of Steve and my big influences."
According to Luther, Gutbucket was a chance for the trio to explore new material and sounds, including -- unusual for a jug band -- their vocal harmonies.
So where is Paul Taylor now? Paul Taylor didn't really want to play the blues, and according Chris Chew, Paul passed on a little bass technique to him.
He later joined another band, Big Ass Truck.
This psychedelic funk band was formed in the mid-'90s in
Memphis around core members Steve Selvidge (guitar) and Robert Barnett (drums).
Critics liked them and they gained a following in the South by touring with 311.
Signed by the Rounder label's Upstart subsidiary, the group released several albums.
Paul, who is also a producer, aided upright bass player, Amy LaVere,
who released "This World Is Not My Home" for Archer records.
Paul has also been spotted playing bass with Luther and Cody occasionally in Tennessee, but his most current project
has been his solo album, Open Closed.
What is "ML" on the setlist? It has been stated by fans that ML stands for Martin Luther. This was Cody's title for the
instrumental Goin'Home, a title preferred by Luther. The piece began as an untitled bonus track at the end of Polaris
and was later titled by the NMAs as Goin' Home on Hill Country Revue. Fans have
come to know it as Goin' Home and Goin' Home Part II for the slower, impressionistic section.
What’s the layout of Cody’s kit? -2 rack toms (12”/13”)
-2 floor toms (16”/18”)
-2 kicks (20”/22”)
-2 Hats (13s or 14s)
-2 Crash cymbals (16 to his left, next to the hats, and an 18 to his far right)
-Ride (1 medium with a larger bell)
-Roland TR-808 keyboard
-6 bottles of water
-1 generic ashtray
Is Duwayne Burnside still in the band? At Bonnaroo 2004, Luther was asked the status of Duwayne, to which he replied,
"Duwayne isn't on the road touring with us now. He's concentrating on a
juke joint he just opened up in Holly Springs, but I just want everyone to
know....once an Allstar, always an Allstar."
As far as we know Duwayne decided not to tour with the band in order to be part of the Burnside Exploration and to establish Burnside’s Blues Café in Holly Springs, MS. Here he can play host to other blues acts, but he does the occasional guest spots with the band.
Recently, Duwayne has felt the need to record a solo record. However, his good buddies, the North Mississippi Allstars joined him in the recording studio. Now they call themselves Duwayne Burnside and the Mississippi Mafia.
What’s with that washboard? John Cane saw Cody play the washboard and had an idea to make an electric washboard as a gift. He made the first electric washboard by enlisting the help of George McConnell, Widespread Panic guitarist, who owned a guitar shop. Cody ran it into a wah-wah pedal and started playing it on stage all the time.
Cody played that one for a year or so, and then the guy who invented it replaced it. A new shiny stainless steel and teak one for him was built as the old one was falling apart, and he burned the original at a fest. The new one has a battery powered pickup and there had been talks of making it available at the merchandise booths. At Bonnarro 2004, Cody smashed the washboard onstage and threw it to the audience, and he has burned two onstage.
Cody explains..."Well, I’ve destroyed two on stage- on purpose…I’ve destroyed probably two or three more by accident, and one more got destroyed the other night in the trailer. It got utterly destroyed- I couldn’t have done that. That was just traveling with it. No I don’t have a sponsor- but Sunnyland are definitely the best ones- they have the coolest logo."
Best description of the washboard sound: "sounded like an underwater spaceship from Neptune with a big ass muffler..or something like that" -jns_cville
When asked if he washes his clothes on the washboard, Cody replies: "No man, just girls' panties."
Luther: -Gibson Les Paul Classics (heritage cherry sunburst, wine red, ebony)
-Epiphone Elite Les Paul
-DM-33 Metal body Dobro from OAI
-EF-500M Epiphone Masterbuilt acoustic w/LR Baggs pickup
-Epiphone '58 Korina Flying V
-The sampled recordings they've used comes from the Jim Dickinson vault like the bonus material after Be So Glad. They have used recordings of the family (Mud) and Luther's jams with Otha Turner (Shake 'Em on Down).
"We brought in this guy [on Polaris], Carwyn Ellis, to play some keyboards. He’s a guy we met overseas that we’ve played with a lot. And he plays in a band with a singer that sounds remarkably like JB, believe it or not. But they broke up. It was kind of a disaster, tragic genius kind of story. But as soon as we met Carwyn we did a jam over in London and it just clicked. That’s a whole story in its own. We ended up playing a show and Oasis and Thin Lizzy and Primal Scream and these bands were coming to our shows. We were all hanging out and it became this real serious scene we had going on over there across the sea. It was really neat and we maintained a bunch a great friends over there."
Cody further explains... "This was in 2001, 2002. What’s funny is that Noel Gallagher was coming to our shows. We sort of became buddies and he took me up to their studio. He formed this band for his label and Carwyn was involved and another one of my friends James. So in a way we were all meeting people through each other. And Carwyn ended up joining Oasis a few months ago, playing on Top of the Pops and all this shit. But he’s on [Polaris]. We flew him over last year and he tracked keyboards with us. He plays on two or three songs but I do play most of the keyboards. And last I heard, he was still performing with Oasis."