“How It’s Supposed to Sound!” The Early Times of Deke Dickerson

Deke Dickerson may be rockabilly idol now, but when he was growing in the 1970s finding fellow-minded hepcats was a real challenge.

Deke Dickerson and Jody Mamphis tearin’ it up at the 2016 Nashville Boogie (Photo by Shannon Johnson at Photos of Siren)

By Randy Fox

Deke Dickerson has always followed his own rockin’ muse. As a member of the surf-garage band The Untamed Youth, the hillbilly boogie-fied Dave and Deke Combo, or in his solo career as a singer and lightning-fast guitar picker par excellence, Deke has blazed his own path. He recently recalled some of his early experiences on the rockin’ road for The Rambler. In the 1970s, rockabilly and early rock’n’roll seemed like total squaresville for most teenagers. For Deke, it was some of the most exciting music ever recorded, although it was almost impossible to find.

“In the mid-1970s, all the kids I went to school with were into hippie rock with six minute guitar solos, and I never liked that. So when the whole 50s nostalgia thing hit with American Graffiti and Happy Days, that was when I first heard the kind of music I really liked. The minute I heard Bill Haley & the Comets doing ‘Rock Around the Clock,’ that was it, but at the time, there was no way for a little kid to find out anything about that type of music.”

Growing up in the St. Louis area, Deke had at least one hometown rock’n’roll hero, Chuck Berry.

chuck-335

Chuck Berry with his trademark Gibson ES-335

“Chuck always loomed large in my imagination,” Deke says. “I saw him playing a Gibson ES-335 on TV (when I was 13), and I thought, Man, that’s what I want to do with my life! There was a really crappy Framus ES-335 copy in a local music store. I took my birthday money and Christmas money and bought it for $150. Then I just locked myself in my room. I started playing along with records. That was when I fell off the deep end.”

Within a few years, Deke was determined to form his own rockabilly combo, but playing music that was faithful to the big beat wasn’t easy in the glory years of Van Halen and Ozzy Osbourne.

“There’s probably a whole book worth of stories about the comical misadventures of people trying to form a rockabilly band in the early 1980s outside of New York or L.A. I had a friend named ‘Rabid’ Rick Carter. He wasn’t really a drummer; he was just a dude who liked rockabilly. We would drive around listening to Carl Perkins 8-tracks in his car, and eventually decided we had to form a band. We tried everything we could to find the right bass player. We had an electric bass player for a while who was an older blues guy. Then we got a bluegrass bass player to play upright bass. It was okay, but it wasn’t exactly the right vibe either.”

deke-es-335
Deke with his 1st guitar, a Framus ES-335 knockoff, and the real 1966 Gibson ES-335 he acquired at the age of 16

“That band broke up, and I tried to form a different band and it was even more difficult to find the right members. That’s when I started realizing that rockabilly is really simple music, but there’s a real craft to play it and make it fly like it’s supposed to. When you break it down, it’s really difficult to get the feel that’s on those old records. There’s a reason that Sonny Fisher records sound the way they do. That’s the way those guys played, in that part of Texas, in those five years in the 1950s. After that, it was a style that was completely abandoned. So if you go back and try to get that feel, it’s hard even with really great musicians. It’s a cultural thing that had been lost.”

Despite his best attempts at capturing the hillbilly cat sound, Deke eventually threw in the rockabilly towel, and formed Untamed Youth, a band rooted in the sounds of surf and garage rock. The Untamed Youth enjoyed a moderately successful run in the late 80s and early 90s. More importantly it brought him to Los Angeles, where he discovered a group of musicians who had cracked the rockabilly code.

“There was this big scene in L.A. with Big Sandy and the Flyright Trio, Russell Scott, James Intveld, and all these other bands that were playing authentic rockabilly and really doing it well. When I saw Big Sandy, I thought, This is it. This is the way it’s supposed to sound!

With that key in his hand, Deke found his way back to rockabilly, hillbilly bop and more, and has been demonstrating exactly how “it’s supposed to sound” for the last 25 years. Deke, along with Big Sandy and dozens of other acts will be rockin’ the house at the 2017 Nashville Boogie. Grab your tickets now while early bird prices are still available., and check out the video below for the new Deke Dickerson single, “Nashville Boogie,” available soon digitally and on 7″ vinyl from Muddy Roots Records!


Randy Fox writes about music, the only profession that actually pays less than being a musician. His work has appeared in Vintage Rock, Record Collector, The East Nashvillian, The Journal of Country Music and many more fine publications. He can be heard every Tuesday night, 5 pm to 7 pm Central Time, on the “Hipbilly Jamboree” on radio station WXNA-FM Nashville.

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