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After 'number one hit record,' Deke Dickerson offers "More Million Sellers"
By Jon Johnson

All 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 Wakefield, 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 Monument 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, but he was a real prick when I talked to him on the phone. 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, at which the Dave and Deke Combo was always a top draw.

"The tour was a lot of fun for us. One night we're playing bars in front of a hundred people, (then) the next three months we were playing large halls and theaters in front of thousands of people. And they really liked us! We sold a couple thousand CDs on that tour."

Is there a chance, then, that rockabilly has a chance in the mainstream once people are exposed to it? Dickerson is skeptical.

"I've heard a lot of talk about rockabilly being 'the next Swing,' but don't believe it. The only reason swing got so big is because normal people can relate to cigars, martinis, 'dressing up nice,' and easy listening music. Normal people can't relate to wild rhythms, hiccup-laden vocals and the rocking lifestyle in general. I think rockabilly can have a much bigger audience than it's had in 40 years, but a mainstream revival? Nah. Probably better for the long run. Today's crazes usually turn into yesterday's fads."

Unknown to many people who have only heard of him in the last year or so, Dickerson has also operated a small record label over the past several years, Ecco-Fonic Records, releasing a number of 7" 45s and EPs while trying to replicate 1950's production methods.

"Well, Ecco-Fonic was started because I had so many creative ideas flowing through my brains and nowhere to go with them. I started putting out guitar instrumental records by myself and some of my buddies like (Finnish guitarist) Lester Peabody, (High Noon guitarist) Sean Mencher, etc. Then I really got into releasing rare and unreleased stuff from the '50's, like Jimmy Bryant's 'Ha-So.' Lately I've put a few modern groups on the label that I really like; the Horton Brothers, (and) Smith's Ranch Boys. I've been too busy in the last year to do much, but the next release will be a CD compilation of about 75 percent of the songs from all 12 singles, and a bunch of unreleased stuff."

As for future plans, Dickerson plans on devoting much of the next year to touring, lacking the time to involve himself in other projects to the degree that he had in the past.

"I have so many projects to work on, but no time. The only thing I have in mind for the near future is perhaps recording (Boston rockabilly act) the Raging Teens. They're a great band. I'd love to record them with the right equipment. I was (also) trying to get a project together with Ella Mae Morse and Carl Sonny Leyland, but Ella Mae just died. What a drag."

"Our tour plans for the next year are basically the same as last year; get in front of as many people as we can. Whether that's in the form of a hundred people at a bar or a thousand people doesn't matter."

"The nice thing about our band is once people see us live they love us, but the drawback is that we have to keep up our frantic pace to keep paying our bills at home!"

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