Deke Dickerson is on a mission to make rockabilly dangerous and fun again. “I'm not doing a recreation or a retro thing,” says the man with the cowboy hat and the twin-necked electric guitar. “I'm inspired by the great acts of the past but I'm doing my own thing with it.”
Dickerson and his band, the Ecco-Fonics, plan to do their thing — a crowd-pleasing blend of rockabilly, surf rock and Bakersfield country— at the Richmond Folk Festival; the lineup will include ace pianist Daryl Davis. “This is pretty special,” Dickerson says of performing with boogie-woogie specialist Davis. “He can play just about anything and can make it sound just like Jerry Lee.”
For the Missouri-born Dickerson, the festival will be something of a homecoming. “My family tree is in Floyd County,” he says. “My parents moved out of there in the 1960s and I never lived there, but my family on all four sides … go back to the 1700s in Floyd County. So I really do consider myself Virginia stock.”
Naturally, he's the perfect bandleader to oversee the festival's “Virginia Rocks” showcase, of some of the area rockabilly pioneers (he'll be sharing the stage with original Lynchburg rockers the Dazzlers, as well as Russell Willeford of Gene Vincent's Blue Caps and Vic Mizelle of the Rock-A-Teens). “When you play with guys from that original generation, it's really special,” he says. In conjunction with the Virginia Historical Society's showing of the “Virginia Rocks!” museum exhibit, and an accompanying CD box set, there will also be a “Rockabilly Conversations” workshop on Sunday (disclosure: This writer was one of the researchers behind this historical look at Virginia's early rock ‘n' roll and Dickerson was a consultant for the project).
Deke isn't just a roots-rock revivalist on stage, he's also something of a pop-culture anthropologist, penning liner notes for Merle Haggard boxed sets and curating a cool Americana photo archive on his website. “I dunno,” he says, “I'm the guy who likes to know stuff — UFO conspiracies, JFK Assassination theories … when I go into something I like, I tend to be curious about it.”
Although Dickerson first saw fame in the '80s as a member of the punk-surf combo Untamed Youth, his first teenage bands were pure rockabilly. “It's only recently that rockabilly has been accepted into folk festivals and museums.” he says. “In my mind, rockabilly is no different than blues or jazz. It's American music.”