Big John Dickerson was so effective and experienced as a showman and singer, he could make himself look good even when having a bad moment on stage, said one longtime bandmate.
"Sometimes if he forgot the words to a song, he'd just make them up," remembered bassist Donnell "Papa D" Woodson, "and the audience singing along would think he knew the words better than they did.
"He was such a convincing singer, he could sell anything."
Dickerson, 87, died Tuesday in his hometown of Sandusky, Ohio, where he started and ended his nearly six-decade singing career. He had been suffering from Alzheimer's, Woodson said.
Through 40-some years of performing in Twin Cities venues such as Famous Dave's, Wilebski's and Blues Alley, Dickerson landed in both the Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame and the Minnesota Rock and Country Hall of Fame. His groups included Blue Chamber, Down Right Tight and the Big John Dickerson Show.
Before moving to Minnesota in the late 1970s, Dickerson toured with various R&B and jazz groups, including stints as a drummer. He briefly lived in Detroit and worked with the Motown crowd, including the Temptations, whose songs he would often sing later on. His name is listed on the Motown museum's wall of alumni.
Nicknamed for his 6-foot stature, Dickerson made his biggest impression in Minneapolis with Blue Chamber at Famous Dave's Uptown in the '90s, which led to festival gigs around the Midwest and European tours. Discography site AllMusic.com described Dickerson's vocals on his 1998 album "Arms of the Blues" as "warm and honeyed and gruff in all the right spots."
"He could sing everything from 'What a Wonderful World' to Ray Charles' 'A Fool for You' to the Temptations and Four Tops," said Blue Chamber guitarist Paul Mayasich, who started playing with Dickerson at Red's Roost (later Blues Alley) in the late '80s.
Remembering tours with Dickerson, Mayasich said, "Most of the crowds had no idea who he was, but he could have them eating out of his hand within 15 minutes. He did it with his talent, and just by being a character."
Woodson, who was a bandmate before and after Blue Chamber, highlighted Dickerson's funny side with a story about how he earned another nickname after missing a rehearsal one night.
"He called and said he couldn't make it because he had a fish bone stuck in his throat," Woodson recounted. "Of course, that was a lie. So I kept calling him 'Fish Bone' after that."
Singer and bandleader Mick Sterling said, "Big John was a force of nature in all aspects of his life and on stage. No one had more energy and enjoyed the process more than John."
Dickerson is survived by many daughters and grandchildren. Memorial service info was not available.
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