Drew Dieckmann is well known in the Golden Triangle area as an accomplished guitarist, front man, and recording artist. Allen McBroom from Backstage Music caught up with Drew at 929 Coffee Shop in downtown Starkville and spent some time visiting over coffee.
Allen McBroom: How did you end up playing music in Starkville?
Drew Dieckmann: Let’s see… I came to Starkville under the pretense of going to school, but it was really to be in a band. School’s been my cover story for the last 20-some odd years. These days it’s in vogue to take a gap year, so I was ahead of the curve, sort of a trendsetter (big laugh). A friend of mine named Clint Scrivner wanted me to come down, and start a band, so I did. The band lasted about a year and then I got a job at Christy’s Hamburgers. I met Karen my wife, when I was working at Christy’s. One day at the gas station, I saw Jim (Jim Beaty) there and just on the fly asked “Are y’all looking for anybody?” He said, “Actually, we may be, so come see me”, so I did and I got hired at Backstage. That was around 1999. I was recording and doing some stuff with Freddie Garnett at Cheeseland Studio, so I was sitting in and playing with people he knew. Whenever Jeffrey (Jeffery Rupp) started running for mayor of Columbus, I picked up a couple of gigs with Jim and Earl (Chris Curry, aka Earl VI) because Jeffrey was busy campaigning. From there I just started playing with those guys. That sort of morphed into a career of doing solo gigs and I met some musicians in the area. I’ve never been good at hustling gigs It’s always been by word of mouth, so I played in a bunch of different bands, in a bunch of different genres. I met Scott Allen who had the band Ziggy Schwagg and I played with him. I was working as much as I could doing solo gigs and pickup gigs as they would come along. Then I got married and kept doing it; kept pretending I was going to school (big grin). My musician experience is really high, though I’ve got a really low GPA (laughs).
AM: So you’ve been doing this now, playing around Starkville for over two decades…
DD: When you say it like that, it makes it sound like a really long time!
AM: So you’re still playing in Starkville, doing gigs, and recording. I saw you the other day and you mentioned you had several gigs in a row coming up.
DD: I did; I had a Thursday gig, a Friday gig, a double gig on Saturday, and I played Sunday at a baptism out at a lake. That was a lot of fun; it was great.
AM: What do you do to get ready for a baptism gig? How do you prepare for that?
DD: You pray. (laughs). I did that with Joe Evans. We have an acoustic duo called Sugar High (because we’re both diabetics) and we played the baptism for his church. We grabbed a hymnal and ran over a couple of hymns and prayed.
AM: That fits in with your faith, doesn’t it?
DD: It does, it absolutely does.
AM: So you’ve been playing in Starkville now for over 20 years and before that you played all over the Delta. After all that experience, now when you go to play a gig or a wedding reception or some other gig you’ve done 50 times before, do you still get a knot in your gut before you play?
DD: I do, of course. I do. I still get the butterflies. I still wonder “Can I pull it off? Is it going to be good? Will they like it?” There is a confidence that comes with it. You have to have some level of self-confidence or ego to get up and do it in the first place, but there comes a point where you want to see that you’re doing well, and it’s going well, and you can see you’re making a connection with the audience or with the other people in the band, and for me, that’s what it’s really all about. It’s about that conversation in music between me and the audience or me and the other people in the band; it’s a relationship thing.
AM: During the gig, do you reach a point where the knot goes away and you get into a groove, and then it’s all gravy?
DD: On the good gigs you do, yes.
AM: Are there bad gigs?
DD: Yeah, there are. There are bad gigs. There are gigs, you know, the loneliest gigs are when you are playing solo and you’re just wallpaper. You don’t know anyone there, nobody’s really listening, and that’s when it’s more like making tuna than playing music.
AM: Making tuna?
DD: Yeah, making tuna. I stole that, by the way.
AM: Do you listen to a lot of recorded music?
DD: I listen to music all the time. I don’t listen to a lot of current popular music, I mean I have, and I want to stay involved and know what’s going on, but mainly I’m listening to John Lee Hooker or John Mooney, Grant Green. I listen to a lot of Miles Davis. I listen to a lot of old country. I listen to a lot of Willie Nelson and George Jones; that’s where I am now. Now it you ask me that again in two weeks, I might be on a Led Zeppelin kick. That’s not to say there aren’t new artists that I like. I do, but radio is so different now. You can customize your listening experience to what you think you want to hear and sometimes I get in trouble because I miss new things, things that are really good because I’ve got Spotify or Pandora sort of tailored to what I think I like. I’ve been listening to country music through about 1991 or 1992. Anything past the Garth Brooks era, I really haven’t kept up with.
AM: Can you listen to music and turn off the inclination to just listen to the guitar?
DD: Absolutely. I don’t just listen to guitar music and I can’t really play like any of the guitar players I listen to. There are some times when I do listen to guitars. I’m listening to a tone that I really like, the note choices or some playing that really inspires me, but most of the time I’m listening to the groove. Like I said earlier, I listen to a lot of Miles Davis, and its only his later stuff that has guitar in it at all, but most of the time I’m listening to the feel or if I’m listening to something like Phillip Glass, I’m listening to the melody, or the destruction of the melody, and how that all comes together. I don’t strictly listen to guitar at all.
AM: Do you remember your first guitar?
DD: I do. My first guitar was a Sears and Roebuck little cowboy style guitar I got when I was seven or eight. The next one I got was a Memphis electric with a single humbucker and was painted red with white stripes like Eddie Van Halen’s guitar. I played that one more, because it was more comfortable. Then I got the ’86 red Japanese Strat that I still have. I got it for Christmas.
AM: What was your first paid gig?
DD: I think it was at the Hideaway, a little two-room club in Yazoo City. It was with Phyllis McCallum, Ronnie Joe Eldridge on bass, and I think the drummer was Jerry Davis. We were called Phyllis and the 49 South Band and we played a lot of classic rock, Edgar Winter, and Percy Sledge. We did Keep Playing That Rock And Roll. I’m pretty sure that was my first legitimate “we’re going to put something together and go out and gig” band. Everybody else in the band was in their 30’s and I was like 15 or 16, so they had done it before, so they had a gigging history, and I was the kid.
Before I started getting paid, a friend of mine named Rain Jaudon used to host an open mic at a bar called One Block East in Greenville on Sunday nights. My Dad would drive me up there to play ‘cause I wasn’t old enough to get in on my own. Rain was older than me, with more experience, but he would let me get up and play. He’d also invite me sit in with him. He introduced me to and encouraged me to sit in with other musicians that would come out… I remember Eden Brent, Kern Pratt and Donnie Brown from those days. I learned how to listen, when to play, when NOT to play (laughs). It really gave me an invaluable crash course in stage experience!
Also, there was a juke joint in Bentonia called the Blue Front Cafe (it’s still there in fact) where the older blues players in the area would get together and play. Growing up I’d go down there and soak in all I could from whoever was jamming.
I remember hearing Jack Owens, Bud Spires, Cleo Pullman and Duck Holmes playing and telling stories.
AM: When you go to play electric, what’s your favorite rig to take because you know it’s going to work for you?
DD: I’ve got a Les Paul and a silverface Deluxe amp that I’ll take, along with an ancient, original TS9 Tube Screamer that I’ve had forever, and a wah. I’ve also got a G&L Legacy that I’ve fallen in love with, but either a Strat-style or a Les Paul, depending on where I’m at in my head at the time of the gig, you know? I’ve been through a lot of guitars, but those two are the ones that have stuck around, and I’ve still got the red Japanese Strat that I got when I was nine. My son’s learning on the red Strat now.
AM: You’re one of those local guys that other musicians depend on; they’ll need a guitar player for Friday night, and they don’t have time to teach someone, so they’ll say, “Get Drew, he can do it”. How does it feel to know that other musicians seem to have that level of confidence in you? And, are you aware that folks think that way?
DD: I feel gratitude, a lot of gratitude. There’s an element of trust there. It’s not just the notes; its also how you’re going to conduct yourself. Aare you going to bring drama in, you know? Are you going to show up on time? Are you going to be able to hear yourself through something you’ve never played before? I’m blessed to have had a lot on influences in my life and have listened to a lot of different music. My uncle, who taught me how to play, didn’t so much teach me scales, as he taught me progressions and he taught me how to listen. See, this song sounds like this other song, this one’s going to the four, this one’s going to the five. During my brief tenure in music school, I didn’t do so well with sight singing single note things, but when we got into progressions and chord changes, I was all over it because I knew what a 6 chord was, what a minor 7 chord was. I had a Beatles book and it had little chord charts at the top, so I knew what an Eb9 was. I credit how I learned with being able to hear through songs and if I heard something interesting, I wanted to figure out what was going on. I think that helped me get to that point which is where I wanted to be, where I wanted to be able to do it on the fly. That’s what excites me the most, idoing it without a net. There’s a lot to be said for rehearsing too, but if I get called to fill in, that’s really exciting to me, to be told, “It’s in A, let’s go” and then see if I can do it. I feel a lot of gratitude for having the chance to pull that off.
AM: If you wanted to make my life better, what are some records you would suggest I listen to?
DD: John Mooney. John Mooney and Bluesiana, a live record from the 90’s recorded in Germany, a record called Traveling On. It’s hard to find, but every time I find a copy, I grab it because I’ve worn it out. It’s wonderful. Grant Green, Alive. Jim Campilongo, Live at the Du Nord. These are great albums, but there’s more going on that just that.
AM: Is there a concert you’d love to sit through again?
DD: Yes! I was at Lollapalooza 2 in 1992, at the UNO Lakefront Arena in New Orleans and that was, in their heyday, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Ministry, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and there were a lot of other people on the ticket. That one, yeah, 100%. Also Tom Waits at The Orpheum in Memphis, so those two I’d go back to in a heartbeat. Also Counting Crows, who I’ve seen several times.
AM: If conflicting schedules and financial constraints weren’t obstacles, is there a dream project you’d like to put together?
DD: I’d like to put together an album of spirituals. Either in some sort of “outside the box” manner, jazz-style, B3, great vocals, a choir on some; that would be a dream project for me. Not everything voiced the same, maybe a core group of bass, drums, and guitar, but I’d love to do some old hymns and spirituals in that style. Those songs are important to me and often a great sense of comfort, and that would mean something to me. Songs like, When I Lay My Burden Down, When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder, for example. Sort of a blues, gospel, jazz extravaganza, something out of the soul gospel tradition.
AM: What’s your personal challenge at the moment?
DD: Chords. Interesting ways to voice chords, a way to get beyond the normal barre chords and cowboy chords, you know, when you’re playing rhythm, that’s where the interesting stuff happens. That’s how I solo, it’s based on chords. I was never good at modes, never good at thinking in that way, so sitting down and revoicing chords, that’s what I do. That sounds completely nerdish, but that’s what I do. Bill Cooke is great at that too. He and I sit down some times and geek out over chords and how progressions work. Trying to get more piano-like voicings on guitar which is challenging, trying to figure out how to use open strings to resonate against fretted notes. In a way that’s not just academic, in a way that’s actually musical, and then using that live, when I play. That’s far more beneficial to me than trying to practice speed or scales, or something like that. I love rearranging songs. If I’m doing covers, I like to do something a little different with it.
AM: So you don’t want to nail the record, you want to nail the music?
DD: Yes, I want to nail the vibe.
AM: When I listen to early Steely Dan records and I hear Jeff Baxter and Larry Carlton, for example, all these cats who were so phenomenal at what they did, comping chords and laying down solos, playing stuff people still struggle to replicate… Who does that for you? Who do you listen to and say, “Yeah, that’s it, that’s the way it’s done.”
DD: Those guys I mentioned, and that’s just a few of them. John Mooney, Grant Green, Jim Campilongo, Mark Knopfler (what he does is so uniquely him), and Slash, if you want to talk about contemporary guitar players, the way he plays is completely his own, the way he bends notes on different strings and those half-step bends. And it’s more than just the scale he’s using or the notes he’s playing, it’s his articulation that matters. Albert Collins. He’s not using any different notes than anybody else, but his attack, his articulation, and the way he phrases things is so uniquely him, and that’s what I’m into. I want to find where that is for me as a player. I’m more inspired by how players think to do those things than I am trying to copy those exact notes.
Muddy Waters, who is another one of my favorite guitar players, the first time I heard Muddy waters, it was too much. I couldn’t wrap my head around what was going on, just the searing sound he had, it was so emotional.
You can study a technique, but you have to do that a bunch to figure out how that works. That’s hard to get out of a book. What Muddy said, and I believe this, you can never be the best, just hope you’re one of the good ones, and that’s where I am musically. There is no best, and I just hope I’m one of the good ones.
AM: What do you hear in your head when you improvise?
DD: I’m trying to not think about it. I’m trying to hear what’s not there that needs to be there and then pull that off. I’m trying to hear what it needs or what I want to say and put that there. I know that sounds like an esoteric answer, but I’m trying to not hear something that I’ve practiced by rote. That’s hard to do. You fall into patterns when you play and you fall into patterns when you practice, and so I’m trying to hear what needs to be there and put it there. Sometimes that’s obvious, sometimes it’s simple, and sometimes that’s repetitive. It’s perfectly fine to repeat yourself. We do it in conversation all the time. I think that becomes part of your bag and part of what’s recognizable.
AM: Coffee or tea?
DD: Coffee. Coffee. Any way. I’m not a coffee snob. I like good coffee, but I’ll drink it hot or cold, with or without stuff in it. My coffee was wonderful here. I had a latte. I love a latte, regular, just coffee and milk.
DD: I want to believe. (Laughs)
DD (continuing): I’ve been listening to some guitarists on YouTube who I think are great and that’s sort of where the excitement is now in guitar. It’s all sort of changing. I’ll tell you who I like. There’s a new guy who is doing really cool stuff, Matteo Mancuso. I really like what he’s doing. My son keeps me informed of what’s going on YouTube-wise, in people I should check out, and he was his latest pick.
AM: Has your son picked up guitar?
DD: Yes, he has. He used quarantine as a time to get into guitar and music and he’s great. He’s awesome. He’s doing really well with it. He’s learning things I wasn’t able to learn at his age. I’m exceptionally proud of him.
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