Dez Dickerson affectionately calls Nashville “the place where rock ’n’ roll comes to die.”
“This is a really appealing place if you’ve ‘been somebody,’ ” the former Prince and the Revolution guitarist tells the Scene, sitting in a small rented conference room at the rather nondescript Cool Springs Espaces where the one-time Grammy nominee runs the Pavilion Group — a combination indie label, artist management service and broad-based music entertainment company he founded nearly 20 years ago. To this day he’s best known for ripping it up as guitarist for the Revolution, which he did from 1979 to 1983.
At 58, Dickerson is still ripped, and rocks a haircut that would easily let him fit in at his native Minneapolis’ First Avenue club circa Purple Rain. But he revels in the simple life.
“I thrive on that anonymity,” he says. “I’ve literally been multiple times in line at the post office and ‘Little Red Corvette’ will come on, and I just almost break out laughing out loud because it’s so cool that nobody has any idea.”
But sometimes the rock ’n’ roll fantasy is more fulfilling than the reality, and Dickerson says his tenure with the Purple One — chronicled in his 2003 memoir My Time With Prince: Confessions of a Former Revolutionary — brought out his Mr. Hyde.
“My expiration date was up in that band,” he recalls. “I was changing in ways that, I didn’t like me.”
Did he ever regret walking away from the Revolution?
“Not for a bloody second,” he says.
During a seven-year period in which he took his solo band The Modernaires out as the opening act on Billy Idol’s blockbuster Rebel Yell Tour, Dickerson also did some session work — including Aretha Franklin’s 1985 comeback hit “Freeway of Love” — and found God.
“[I] went buck wild for 10 years and then realized, ‘I’m gonna die if I keep doing this,’ ” he says.
As he grew more spiritual, Dickerson became less interested in the spotlight, leaving the stage to work behind the scenes. That brought him to Nashville, where in 1990 he landed a position as vice president of A&R at Contemporary Christian Music label Star Song Communications. He stayed until 1994, when he launched both Pavilion Group and his Christian-rock indie label Absolute Records.
These days Dickerson lives with his wife, newborn son and two elementary school-aged stepchildren in Spring Hill, where he enjoys middle age in a uniquely Nashville fashion — doing business by day and busting out the ol’ six-string and bandana for the occasional cover-band gig with the Long Players or Guilty Pleasures.
“How many other towns,” he asks, “could a guy who is best known for wearing a kamikaze bandana and playing guitar [find himself] sitting at a table with Bill Frist and Kix Brooks, talking about being involved in a political campaign and be taken seriously?”