Big John Dickerson
Featured Musician —John Lawrence Dickerson
Big John Dickerson
Born July 8, 1933 in Sandusky, Ohio
Vocalist and drummer
By Lynn B. Kelly
Artistic Director, GTCBMS
Photos by Roger Hansen
John Lawrence Dickerson was born on July 8,1933 in Sandusky, Ohio. John's parents sang in the church choir. John inherited this talent and at the age of 11, his mother told him to take his singing out to the streets and make some money. He sang Christmas Carols in a pre-adolescent voice and received spare change as well as big kisses from appreciative ladies. As he became a teenager, he developed a deep bass voice and it was around this time that John taught himself to play drums by listening to music. He started sneaking into nightclubs to hear the music that would stick in his mind. He decided he wanted to be an entertainer as a singing drummer in a band. When he was in high school he saw many a friend drink and smoke and determined he was not going down that path of destruction. He absorbed himself in music to stay off the streets and out of trouble.
Lynn Kelly & Big John Dickerson
Before 2007 HOF Awards
He and some friends formed an R & B group in the 1950's, The Fabulous Upsetters. His father acted as manager, chauffeur and chaperone and they performed in the Columbus, Ohio area. John discovered he was quite the emcee and told jokes and danced while singing. In 1959, his father took the group to Detroit to meet Barry Gordy with Motown Records. At Hitsville, U.S.A., John met the 'Motown Family' including The Temptations, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye and the Vanguards to name a few. John filled in bass vocals for the Temps, The Del Vikings, The Clovers and The Coasters. When not working, they would cook, play cards and hang out together in the back of the studio. John stands over six feet tall and the Motown Family nicknamed him Big John, after the subject of Jimmy Dean's hit song, "Big Bad John". Before he made it big as a singer, Marvin Gaye played drums for The Upsetters and they recorded "My One Desire" on the Equador Label. When The Contours and The Upsetters were on tour in Cleveland, Ohio, they met Eddie O'Jay, a popular DJ. Eddie didn't like The Contours' name and suggested they use his name and call themselves the O'Jays. The name stuck and they went on to be one of the great groups who still are together. John could well have made it big too if his band had stayed together, but they all took different directions and that was the end of his hopes to be a Motown Records star.
Big John left Detroit and began touring with a variety of jazz, blues and R & B artists. He performed with Elvis Presley in Philadelphia in 1964. In 1967-68-69, John toured with Jerry Butler, was the drummer for Betty Swann and also the Lonnie Woods Trio.
In the 1970's he went to a club where Jack McDuff was performing. Jack McDuff's drummer, Joe Dukes sat out a set and let John sit in on the drums. John also sang along and Jack liked what he heard and hired John. John also played with Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery and other jazz legends.
John joined the Connie and Kenny Trio and came to St. Paul to perform at Paul's Place in October 1979. While he was in town, he visited the Northwestern College campus and was overwhelmed with the beautiful flowers in their landscaping. He decided to stay here and left the trio. One day, he went to a club and met Papa 'D' Woodson . John, Papa 'D' and Merlon Bronco formed the band Down Right Tight and became very popular in the Minnesota music scene. Later in the 1980's, John met Ron Scott at Jazzville, his manager and keyboardist in his current band. Papa 'D' is also his bassist in his current band.
Ron Scott, Lynn B. Kelly & Big John Dickerson
In the 1990's, Dave Anderson, founder of Famous Dave's BBQ & Blues approached John to create a house band for his Minneapolis club. John was in Down Right Tight with Paul Mayasich and Joe DeRasmi and many well know local musicians. The group was very popular and changed their name to Blue Chamber in 1998. John was lead vocals, Paul Mayasich/guitar/vocals, Scott David Miller/organ/piano, Jeff Rogers/drums, Joe DeRasmi/trumpet, Brian T. Simonds/tenor sax and John Wright/bass. This is about the time I started visiting Famous Dave's just to hear John and his band. The band recorded the album, Arms of the Blues which sold well locally as well as internationally when they toured Europe and other countries. The band had a full sound much like the music produced by STAX Records studio band the Mar-Keys, Booker T & The MGs, Otis Redding an many more.
Big John Dickerson
Now in the new millennium, John has a new group, The Big John Dickerson Band. The band members are: John/vocals, Jamela Pettiford/vocals, Donald 'Hye-Pockets' Robertson/drums-vocals, Donnell Papa 'D' Woodson/bass-vocals, Scott Ives/guitar-vocals and Ron Scott/keyboards-vocals-manager. The group puts on a high energy show including blues, rhythm & blues, Motown, jazz, funk, a tribute to Louis Armstrong and a lot of comedy provided by John. The group wants to perform a wide range of music to attract a greater audience, young and old. John will even mix in a little rap music to bring in the kids to the show. They are working on new music of legends such as Ray Charles and many, many more.
2007 MN Rock & Country HOF
Photo by Lynn Kelly
On April 28, 2007, Big John Dickerson was inducted into the Minnesota Rock and Country Hall of Fame. Big Walter Smith presented the honorary plaque to Big John at the Medina Entertainment Center. Big John accepted the honor with his characterist humorous and humble remarks.
Note - The Society creates Profile Books (with additional photos) for our events. We make those available for your viewing at various functions we hold each year.
Born in Sandusky, Ohio in 1933, Big John Lawrence Dickerson completed his journey of life back in Sandusky last Tueday, March 2, 2021.