“I didn’t do any research,” Luther Dickinson said with a grin as he opened the door to his room at the Washington Square Park Hotel. Dickinson was in New York for a show that evening at Rockwood Music Hall, and he had agreed to talk with me about a question I’d become obsessed with: Did blues slide guitar evolve from the Hawaiian steel guitar or from the African instrument usually claimed as its ancestor?
His songs have been recorded by the Dead Milkmen, Yo La Tengo, Pearl Jam, Beck, and Tom Waits. Kurt Cobain was often photographed wearing one of his Hi, How Are You t-shirts. David Byrne sang his praises, Bill T. Jones choreographed a ballet to his music, and Matt Groening said he was his favorite songwriter. According to Bowie, “Daniel Johnston is an American treasure.”
There is a name buried deep inside the treasure troves of long-dormant record labels, a name that is whispered among soul music’s true believers: O. V. Wright. He sang like God was sitting on his shoulder, urging him to bear witness to the pain that comes with hardship.