A passion to preserve

Deke Dickerson Deke Dickerson

Deke Dickerson & the Ecco-Fonics Return to Canal Street Tavern

By Kyle Melton

Deke Dickerson

Deke Dickerson

In the scope of American music, few instruments carry the cultural weight of the electric guitar. Over the course of several decades, the instrument demonstrated incredible versatility as it found application in jazz, country, and ultimately, countless strains of rock ‘n’ roll. Likewise, in its earliest days numerous manufacturers found myriad ways in which to shape the body and its electronics into some of the most bizarre creations in post-war America. For surf/rockabilly guitar legend Deke Dickerson, he has made it his passion to preserve the physical and musical legacies of the guitar in the modern era. We spoke with Deke recently from a tour stop on his current outing, his role as preservationist, and the place of surf and rockabilly music in the present day.

You’re currently on a fairly extensive tour through the U.S. at the moment. What was the impetus behind this particular outing? New material or just wanting to get out and play live?
I do a big fall tour every year in August and September. I am promoting my newest album, Live at Duff’s, but that’s not the reason for the tour. August and September is when I catch a lot of festival dates, and it’s a good time of year to tour. [Deke Dickerson]

As a collector of vintage instruments, what catches your eye and interest? How important do you feel it is to preserve some of the more obscure instruments from the past? To what degree would you consider yourself a “gear junkie”?
Half of the reason I have this bizarro guitar collection is out of preservation concerns.  You know, when you’re talking about Fender Strats or Les Pauls, there are a million of those out there.  But when you’re talking about Bigsby guitars or one-off handmade things, they are one of a kind, and I feel like my role is to preserve some of these things for the next generation. What catches my eye and interest?  I don’t know, I guess I have my particular “cool factor” checklist in my brain, just as everyone does. I do have a fetish for gold sparkle instruments. Any dealer with a gold sparkle guitar is probably going to get my lunch money. [DD]

Along with collecting vintage instruments, you also write a great deal on the artistic and technical aspects of country/rockabilly music. To what degree does this academic aspect of your music appreciation inform the performance side for you?
Well, I really try to keep them separate, because I do feel like 99 percent of the time, critics and scholars have no actual understanding of what they’re writing about. I do feel lucky that I’ve been able to perform with a lot of my heroes, and have a working vocabulary that enables me to write better about music. For instance, when I interviewed Merle Haggard, I immediately started talking to him about Lefty Frizzell. Hag’s idol is Lefty, so he immediately warmed up to me, and I wound up doing 10 hours of interviews with him, when we were only scheduled for one hour. So, in a sense, one helps the other, but I do try to keep the egghead scholar factor out of my music, and vice versa. [DD]

How vital do you feel rockabilly and surf are stylistically in modern music? Do you feel they are anachronistic at all?
The funny thing about popular music of any era is how smug and arrogant people are about whatever is new and selling.  People in the ‘80s really thought that synthesizers and drum machines were these amazing new tools, and at the end of the day, that stuff sounds really, really dated.  On the other hand, real folk music — and I consider rockabilly and surf [as] American folk music, even if they aren’t treated as such, yet — never gets old.  It just seems to live on and get stronger with each passing day. I think people recognize that it’s “real” and not some processed creation like all the pop music you hear now. [DD]

In performance, how much do you feed off of an audience? Do you experience music differently in live performance as opposed to studio recordings?
Performance is all about the audience. Dayton is a great town, we always have a good crowd. Other places, people sit and stare, and you just don’t play as well. The best crowds are where people are crazy — places like Spain or North Carolina. [DD]

Is there anything else people should know about the current tour and plans for the near future? What can people expect from the current live show?
We have a special treat for the Dayton show, it’s a lineup I call the “Deke Dickerson Power Trio.”  It’s myself, Chris “Sugarballs” Sprague and Enon, Ohio’s own “Crazy” Joe Tritschler. Each one of us can play guitar, bass or drums … so it turns into a real free for all! [DD]

Deke Dickerson’s Power Trio with Chris “Sugar Balls” Sprague and “Crazy” Joe Tritschler will perform on Friday, September 30 at Canal Street Tavern, 308 E. First St. Tickets are $10 in advance and DOS. Doors at 8 p.m. for 18 & up. For more information, visit dekedickerson.com.

Reach DCP Music Editor Kyle Melton at MusicEditor@DaytonCityPaper.com and read his blog at thebuddhaden.net.

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