On October 4th, the North Mississippi Allstars will release their new album Up and Rolling. It’s a fresh batch of 12 songs from Luther Dickinson and Cody Dickinson, the guitar and percussion siblings from Independence, Mississippi, and also includes a number of guest appearances. Mavis Staples and Cedric Burnside both show up, along with Jason Isbell and Duane Betts, who guest on the song “Mean Old World,” which was once cut by Eric Clapton and Duane Allman. Premiering today on Rolling Stone, the Dickinsons’ rendition of “Mean Old World” becomes a guitar duel with the addition of Isbell and Betts. Here, in his own words, Luther Dickinson tells us how it all came together.
Family legend has it that the Derek and the Dominoes version of “Mean Old World” was recorded on the day of Jimi Hendrix’s funeral.
At the time, our father, Jim Dickinson, was working at Criteria Studios in Miami for Atlantic Records. Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd had hired he and his crew of Memphis musicians to move to Miami and be their house band/rhythm section at Criteria. They recorded with Atlantic artists Jerry Jeff Walker, Sam Samudio, Sam and Dave, Ronnie Hawkins, Lulu, Carmen McRae and won a Grammy for Aretha Franklin’s Spirit in the Dark. Duane Allman was on the scene and a friend to all. Duane joined Dickinson and band often, playing on many of these records produced by Wexler and Dowd.
These were already wild times at Criteria Studios when Derek and the Dominoes showed up.
The Layla session was the wildest, furthest-out scene Dickinson had ever encountered, Jim Dickinson proudly boasted of these rock & roll outlaws, whose company he enjoyed, himself a self-proclaimed connoisseur of debauchery.
1970 was a dark time indeed, and Jimi Hendrix did not survive, passing away, taking the “alpha jerk.” The story goes that Derek and the Dominoes were planning on leaving Miami and going to Jimi’s funeral, but at the last minute Eric Clapton heard that he was expected to play at the service. Eric did not want to play Jimi Hendrix’s funeral and stayed behind in Florida as the Dominoes went ahead and attended.
That is the setup for Eric and Duane recording their acoustic version of “Mean Old World,” with Jim Dickinson on piano.
“Mean Old World” was not released on the Layla album but later surfaced on the Duane Allman Anthology, without the piano. To our family’s disappointment Tom Dowd had muted Dickinson’s piano track in the mix. Decades later the Layla box set was released including all the sessions’ outtakes. Finally, “Mean Old World” with the piano is heard. Cody and I have been playing the song ever since. It always pops up.
A few years back Jason Isbell invited me to record our own acoustic version of “Mean Old World” as a nod to rock & roll tradition and history, reuniting and reigniting the chemistry of Memphis and Muscle Shoals musicians. We recorded a nasty version with Dave Cobb producing, but the track was never released. Cody and I often played the song with Derek Trucks while on Tedeschi Trucks Band’s 2016 Wheels of Soul Tour. While recording North Mississippi Allstars’ Up and Rolling album in 2018, Cody had the idea of adding an extended instrumental outro that changes the groove to the Allman Brothers’ freight-train feel in honor of our mentor Butch Trucks.
We invited Jason Isbell to join us on this new twist on the arrangement and feel of “Mean Old World” and set up at Vance Powell’s Sputnik Sound in Nashville. Jason showed up with his new guitar, Red Eye, Ed King’s classic ’59 Gibson Les Paul, for even more historical inspiration. It was a great occasion for Isbell to open up his new ride out on the open road and he tore it up. We recorded “Mean Old World” fast, playing and singing live, loud and loose, and edited the first and second take together.
Duane Betts is a dear friend and inspiration to us and was the perfect choice to drive the new ABB inspired outro home. Duane overdubbed his part in California but locked into Cody’s groove as if he was right there in the moment, stomping his boots and “lookin’ in them eyes and checkin’ them chops,” as Duane Allman said. Duane Betts is living proof that rock & roll guitar is alive and well, and I believe proving that was Isbell’s intention when he initially invited me to join him in recording “Mean Old World.” World boogie is coming.