For a guy whose career has evolved more by serendipity than design, Ben Dickey's professional journey has turned into one heckuva ride. It's not every day an obscure musician's famous actor/director friend hands him the lead in a passion-project indie film, and he not only winds up sharing the screen with one of his musical heroes, he also wins a Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize for Dramatic Achievement in Acting - and a Variety magazine "for your consideration" plug for a Best Actor Oscar nomination.
Dickey's acting debut in Blaze, Ethan Hawke's biopic about doomed Texas singer-songwriter Blaze Foley, has already led to more roles, including their pairing as bounty hunters in The Kid, a western directed by Vincent D'Onofrio. But just as exciting, as far as Dickey's concerned, is the opportunity it provided to record with that musical hero, longtime Bob Dylan guitarist Charlie Sexton (who played Blaze's other troubled Texas songwriting legend, Townes Van Zandt). After they did the film's original cast recording (on Light in the Attic Records), Sexton produced Dickey's solo album, A Glimmer on the Outskirts. That inspired Sexton, Hawke and Blaze executive producer Louis Black to form SexHawkeBlack Records, a new Austin-based imprint under the umbrella of Nashville's Dualtone Records. Dickey's March 7, 2019 release is the label's first.
It's hardly Dickey's first recording foray, however. In fact, he says, he preferred the idea of forming a label to shopping for one because he'd been signed before - and still bears scars from watching the dream morph into a momentum-sucking nightmare. But SexHawkeBlack president Erika Pinktipps happens to be friends with Dualtone's founder; that connection quickly turned into an actual alliance. "We're all doing this together," Dickey says, "[it's] a group of people who all care about each other and have similar artistic arrows pointed in the same direction."
Dickey was 10 when his artistic arrow started pointing toward music; that's when his grandfather handed down his 1935 Gibson L-30 archtop. "He was a magical fellow, and his guitar is, too," Dickey says. "So I wanted to be magic, too."
Within a year, his grandfather was gone. The magic, fortunately, stayed. But conjuring it wasn't always easy for a kid growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, far from his dad - a college football star who'd moved to Georgia after the parental split, when Dickey was 4. Ten years later, Dickey's mother left, too - following her friend and boss, Bill Clinton, from the Arkansas Governor's Mansion to the White House. Dickey moved into his grandmother's basement - and became one more angry, disaffected teenage rocker.
He formed his first "real" band, Shake Ray Turbine, at 16, made his first record at 17 and began touring at 18, ditching Little Rock Central High (most famous students: the Little Rock Nine) for an $850 Ford van. When the founder of their D.I.Y. label, File 13 Records, headed to Philadelphia for college, they followed.