Q&A with Mississippi soul and bluesman Dexter Allen - one of the best 21st century blues and gospel performers

"Gospel and Blues will forever generate a core based following because of what they mean emotionally from a race of people."

Dexter Allen: The Blues Stronghold 

Mixture of Blues, Soul, R&B and Funk with blues being the stronghold. Dexter Allen born in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, and raised on a farm and grew up understanding that life can still be wholesome with only the bare necessities. His father being a pastor and grandfather a head deacon, the church was no stranger. Dexter began playing guitar at the age of 10, being tutored by his Uncle Porter and intrigued by every sound of music around him. At the age of 12 he began playing bass guitar for his father's gospel group and traveled around the central Mississippi area for a number of years. Later Dexter began playing for other gospel groups in the area such as, The Dixon Singers and The Robinson Brothers just to name a few. Dexter has since stepped out into his own spotlight, building an international following with audience engagement, soulful vocals, and passionate driving guitar inspired by influences like Buddy Guy and Clapton.

Dexter’s unique style landed him the 2008 Jackson Music Award for Male Vocalist. Earlier in 2008 he decided it was time to take it to another level and become a recording artist, since he was no stranger to the studio or the stage. Mississippi soul and bluesman Dexter Allen has joined the Endless Blues family! Noted for his clever lyrics and overall musical skills, Dexter has released several previous recordings and has entertained people all over the world. He is a multiple winner of Mississippi Music Awards, including Entertainer of the Year in 2009 and the Jus’ Blues Entertainer’ Award in 2018. Dexter has toured on his own as well as with other entertainers, including a run as lead guitar player for Blues Legend Bobby Rush, and has shared the stage with an array of established blues artists. Dexter’s new album, Keep Moving On (2021), was released on the Endless Blues Label. Keep Moving On‘s title song speaks of everyday struggles and triumphs everyone goes through, and gives hope that things are going to get better if you just keep moving on. Dexter Allen's music and entertaining stage performance is sure to leave you enlighted, delighted, and excited that you had the opportunity to see and hear one of the best 21st century blues performers from Mississippi.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

I've learned that the blues has given me a way to express myself and at the same time touch people through my expressions of singing, playing and entertaining. The blues means a lot to me because I understand the struggle of my ancestors that brought about the existence of the blues.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN and SONGWRITER?

Being brought up in the church, singing and playing gospel is the root of my musical background. Gospel music and Blues music are twins. In gospel, you are looking for a deliverance and in the blues you're looking for a release. When I started playing the blues I realized that I was playing it all along, but just inside a different building. As a songwriter, I write songs that I feel the everyday man or woman can relate to.Many songs I write are not my personal experiences, but experiences that I see or maybe even close enough to it in order to relate to it and form it in a way that others can relate to it.

"The music of the past had more originality and almost everyone was an entertainer. Today's music is about more fashion, popularity, CD Sales, Facebook Likes and YouTube Hits!! Kind of like the churches!!"

How do you describe Dexter Allen sound and what characterize your music philosophy?

My sound is a representation of the music inside of me. It encompasses Blues, Gospel, Soul, Funk and Dexter Allen all rolled up in one. There's no particular format for what comes from within, either in the studio or on the stage. I feel that this makes good for each performance to be unique in its own way. Sometimes you hear 10 blues bands sing different songs but they all have the standard blues format. I have to feel the energy in the room, and if I don't feel it, I have to create it inside of me in order to jump start it within the audience.

How has the Blues and Soul music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Blues and Soul Music has been a very important factor in my influences, coupled with Gospel Music as my foundation. I feel there is a song for every situation in life that we go through. Music is an extension of who we were, who we are and who we're going to be.

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?

My overall structure has grown, especially my production and song writing. As technology grows, the recording process is always being pushed to the limits. What's remained the same would be my dedication and detail about my work along with the passion.

Where does your lyrics/music creative drive come from? How do you want your music to affect people?

My lyrics come from just everyday people with everyday life situations. I want people to remember my songs because they can relate to a certain song because it resembles some part of their journey.

"Blues and Soul Music has been a very important factor in my influences, coupled with Gospel Music as my foundation. I feel there is a song for every situation in life that we go through. Music is an extension of who we were, who we are and who we're going to be." (Dexter Allen / Photo by Devin Allen)

How do you describe "Keep Moving On" sound and songbook? Are there any memories from "Keep Moving On" studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Keep Moving On is a song about everyday trials and tribulations in life. During the pandemic, I found myself reflecting on the social climate of the world in general and felt like there needed to be some type uplifting. This is a very special song because I felt as if the world was in the room writing it with me and giving pointers.

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

The most interesting period in my life was crossing over to blues from the gospel. It was a learning and structuring period. The worst moment of my career was recording a CD and not really knowing what to do with it. I had this CD with my picture on it and didn't know how to promote it. I had spent a lot of years performing and didn't understand promoting.

Why did you think that the Gospel and Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Gospel and Blues will forever generate a core based following because of what they mean emotionally from a race of people. As stated earlier, the struggle that was the nucleolus for both will live on and be respected by other races all over the world. They signify a heritage that will never die. The ingredients for a good Gospel or Blues Song is: 1st Story, 2nd Emotions and 3th Delivery.

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

I don't feel there is a best jam because they are all so unique within themselves, I've played jams with many musicians in different venues and they all are different. I will say the better jams are when the more seasoned musicians are on stages that understand placement and respect. The most memorable gig would be Yulin, China with Bobby Rush.

"I've learned that the blues has given me a way to express myself and at the same time touch people through my expressions of singing, playing and entertaining. The blues means a lot to me because I understand the struggle of my ancestors that brought about the existence of the blues."

Are there any memories from Bobby Rush which you’d like to share with us? What advice given you?

A lot of memories with Bobby Rush. He is the vehicle that launched me into the blues. He exposed me to what the blues really is and what it stands for and how to respect the struggle from whence it came. Also he taught me to lay my own road!! It's good to respect the past and honor it, but MY present will also be a past one day, and the more unique it is, the longer the legacy will last.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

The music of the past had more originality and almost everyone was an entertainer. Today's music is about more fashion, popularity, CD Sales, Facebook Likes and YouTube Hits!! Kind of like the churches!! There are MEGA Churches today, because they've gone corporate. In the past, you went to SEE a SHOW!! Now most people go to just hear their favorite song or see what the person might do to be on the news. My hopes are that it becomes to be MORE about the Music and Artistry.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Crystal Springs Mississippi. What is the trade mark of local scene?

Wasn't a lot of blues going on in Crystal Springs when I was coming up, although I did attend grade school with a few of Robert Johnsons, great grandchildren. I didn't know this at the time!! Now there's a Robert Johnson Museum ect... but there are still no quote BLUES CLUBS in Crystal Springs. Just a typical small town and business is a usual. It’s definitely grown since my years there.

What are the lines that connect the Blues with Soul, Gospel and continue to Jazz and R&B, Hip Hop, Rap music?                                      (Photo: Dexter Allen)

There is a line that connects Blues with R&B, Hip Hop, Jazz, Gospel ect... But there also is a Disconnect!! Blues is the ROOT of all the other types of music in America, although it doesn't get the MAINSTREAM ATTENTION that it deserves. I feel that Blues Artist like myself must continue to reach out and collaborate with the mainstream artist to bring the blues into the mainstream light. Millions of people feel that blues sounds exactly the same as it did when Muddy Waters recorded Hoochie Coochie Man!! When I invite them to my show, they will say..."I didn't Know Blues Sounded Like This" "I LIKE IT". Blues is a living Testimony of a struggle and era in time!! The TIME HAS CHANGED!! There are no African Americans picking cotton or living in slave houses or playing in one room shack juke joints anymore. We have to embrace the history and the Roots of the Blues, but allow it to appeal to the man, woman, boy or girl of today.

What's been your experience from Iraq, Kuwait, China and Japan? Which memory makes you smile?

All of them make me smile, because they were all different learning experiences. America has a very young Culture compared to Europe, Asia and the Middle East. I'm very humbled when exposed to other cultures, there is so much to learn and explore, and the history is so deep.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

The best advise that comes to mind was from Frankie Beverly, when he told me "Do whets inside of you and don't follow the flavor of the month, that when you will begin to gain your own following"

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Artist get paid radio royalties from streaming networks.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

I've learned that you can't please everyone, and when you fall, just tumble and get right back up. Stay true to the music and the music will stay true to you.

"My lyrics come from just everyday people with everyday life situations. I want people to remember my songs because they can relate to a certain song because it resembles some part of their journey." (Photo: Dexter Allen)

What is the impact of Blues and Soul music on the racial, civil rights and socio-cultural implications? 

The impact racially is very pronounced in the communities. Artist have been writing songs to fit the social climate for decades. Sometimes the only ones who really get it, are the ones whom it effects. There was a time the only voice my people had was through song and it was labeled "Race Music". Those songs were then and are still now very impactful in the communities and among Civil Rights issues that we are still facing today.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Europe!! Yes really!! I've never been to Rome, Athens, ect... It has always appeared to be a mystical place, and deep in history, from religion, to just basic culture and customs. Many people go there for the experience and not for just a vacation.

Dexter Allen - official website

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