ll told, 1999 has been a very good year for Deke Dickerson. And a busy one, too. Since releasing his first solo album, "Number One Hit Record," on HighTone toward the end of 1998, he's toured clubs around the country with his band the Ecco-Fonics, performed in larger venues as an opening act for Social Distortion leader Mike Ness, produced a fine (if underappreciated) album by guitarist Dave Biller and steel guitarist Jeremy Wake-field, had a song appear in the hilarious (and also underappreciated) Matthew Broderick movie "Election" and still managed to find the time to record his second solo album, "More Million Sellers," released by HighTone in October.
Whew. It's an ambitious pace for the 31-year-old Dickerson, though he's always kept himself busy.
Raised on a Missouri farm, Dickerson first gained attention about 10 years ago as the lead guitarist for a garage/surf band called the Untamed Youth, with whom he recorded several albums and continues to occasionally perform and record with to this day.
Moving the Untamed Youth to Los Angeles in the early '90's, Dickerson soon hooked up with fellow transplanted midwesterner Dave Stuckey, forming the Dave and Deke Combo.
Playing a blend of hillbilly and rockabilly that was unique at the time, the well-regarded group recorded two albums and a number of singles before Dickerson left the band in mid-1996 to pursue a solo career.
Though much of Dickerson's first solo album followed in the same vein as the Dave and Deke Combo, the new album is considerably less reminiscent of Dickerson's old group.
When asked, Dickerson says, "That's funny, because Dave and Deke actually used to do (the Rebel Rousers') 'Red Headed Woman' and 'Rockin' Gypsy' (originally performed by Joe Maphis and Larry Collins; both songs appear on Dickerson's new album). But I think you mean the hillbilly/rockabilly approach. I dunno. I just do what I feel and don't think that much about genre restrictions. I know it comes off a little schizophrenic at times, but I just love so much different stuff! Country, rock 'n' roll, r&b, jazz guitar, Roy Orbison ballads. It's all good right?"
Speaking of Roy Orbison ballads, one of the album's most surprising tracks is "I Gave My Heart Before," which the recently divorced Dickerson dedicates to his ex-wife in the album credits. It's an impressive number, reminiscent of Orbison's classic Monu-ment recordings of the early '60's and showing considerably more vocal power than most people knew Dickerson had.
"Well, that's my heartbreak song. I hate 'personal rock,' with personal lyrics, but I had some demons to exorcise, so why not (record) a Roy Orbison-styled number with strings, timpani and 6-string tic-tac bass? I'm really proud of how it turned out. Now I can go back to songs about chicken and hillbilly leprechauns."
"More Million Sellers" also includes a full slate of guest performers, including comedian Billy Barty, singer/pianist Hadda Brooks, "Beverly Hillbillies" singer Jerry Scoggins and ex-Fly-Rite Boys pianist Carl Sonny Leyland.
"I had a few specific ideas for the record, like getting Jerry Scoggins to do a version of the 'Beverly Hillbillies' theme song with 'the' voice. But some things happened accidentally. I wanted Lorrie Collins (of '50's rockabilly act the Collins Kids) to do the female duet with me on the record ("You're My Cadillac"), but her mom got cancer, and she couldn't do it. So I got Hadda Brooks instead, which was a real thrill. As for Billy Barty, I wanted somebody with a recognizable voice to intro the album. Casey Kasem was my first choice,...Billy Barty has the Little People Foundation right here in Burbank where I live and was a real sweetheart. He invited me over to his house, and I taped it right there in the living room. (He's) a gentleman and a real professional. And that voice! You'd know it anywhere."
Dickerson is particularly enthused about the appearance of X guitarist Billy Zoom on "Nightmare of a Woman." Impressive since Zoom has been notoriously quiet since leaving the influential L.A.-based band in the mid-'80's (though he finally reunited with his old group last year for a short tour).
"I was extra thrilled that (he) finally agreed to play guitar on a song. He's very reclusive and getting him out of the house and to the studio was a real feat."
Asked about former partner Dave Stuckey, with whom Dickerson reunited on this year's Biller and Wakefield record, Dickerson says, "It was great fun singing with Dave again on the record, but, of course, it flew by unnoticed. We plan on putting out a Dave and Deke rarities album sometime next year. Dave's been busy putting together a western swing album (recorded in Austin in September), which will be released on HighTone soon," adding that he thinks highly of the upcoming Stuckey album.
Dickerson's recent tour with Mike Ness had him performing for considerably larger audiences than he had played for before, with the exception of occasional weekend rockabilly festivals.