Ben Dickey (1977–)

Ben Dickey is an Arkansas-born musician, actor, singer, and songwriter. In addition to his music, he is known for his role in the 2018 movie Blaze, in which he played Arkansas musician Blaze Foley. A guitarist with a voice reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s, Dickey has released two solo albums. He also worked with actor/director Ethan Hawke on several movie projects.

Benjamin Dickey was born on June 24, 1977, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the youngest of three children born to David and Robyn Dickey. His parents separated when he was five and later divorced. Dickey’s father, who had been a star running back for the Razorbacks football team in the late 1960s and worked in finance and real estate, later moved to Atlanta, Georgia. Dickey’s mother was close to the family of Bill Clinton and worked for them in the White House in the 1990s.

Ben Dickey was surrounded by music growing up, as his parents had a considerable record collection and he was close to his grandfather, Robert Gannaway, who sang opera and played guitar. When Dickey was ten years old, his grandfather gave him a Gibson guitar from the 1930s, and Dickey became a mostly self-taught guitarist. As a young man, Dickey was a fan of Chuck Berry, the Kinks, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones as well as Delta blues and alternative bands such as the Cure and Fugazi. He credits a Fugazi concert in Oxford, Mississippi, for making him want to be a musician. As a teenager, he recorded with the math rock group Shake Ray Turbine. His success in the Little Rock music scene motivated him to tour the country playing gigs.

A self-described “angry young man,” Dickey dropped out of Central High School in Little Rock and moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1997. He worked long hours as a chef in the Fishtown area of the city while writing songs in the evenings. In Philadelphia, Dickey played with the groups the Unfixers and Amen Booze Rooster before collaborating with musician Drew Mills. The two initially played around Philadelphia as Dickey Mills before forming Blood Feathers in 2005. The makeup of Blood Feathers was essentially Dickey and Mills backed by musicians who played with them on a rotating basis. Blood Feathers released their first album, Curse & Praise, in 2006 on Philadelphia’s Box Theory label. The band’s sound combined rock, country, and the blues.

The Philadelphia Inquirer called Curse & Praise a “remarkably accomplished debut,” but the album did not find a large audience or win the band a major label deal. Dickey and Mills decided to relocate to the small city of Prescott, Arizona, but only Dickey ended up resettling there. He stayed for eighteen months, working in restaurants while playing music. He joined a Bob Wills cover band called the Prescott Playboys, replacing a guitarist who had played with Patsy Cline. “I was 30 years younger than everybody else in the band,” Dickey said of the experience. He might have been younger than his bandmates, but Dickey believed it was “great for me as a musician.”

Dickey moved back to Philadelphia and teamed up with Mills for another Blood Feathers album, Goodness Gracious, released on the Philebrity label in 2009. Blood Feathers recorded enough material for a third record, although another album had not been released as of 2020.

While in Philadelphia, Dickey began acting, getting a small role in the 2006 film The Hottest State, directed by Ethan Hawke. Dickey’s eventual turn as Blaze Foley began with his initial interest in Foley’s music. Dickey considers himself a “spelunker, a music history buff” and when he discovered Foley, he wondered, “How do we not know this guy?!”

As Dickey became engrossed in the legend of Foley, he continued writing and recording music. He recorded his first solo album, Sexy Birds & Salt Water Classics, over an almost nine-month period. The album was released in 2016 on the Max Recordings label.

Dickey broke out as an actor in the role of Blaze Foley in the 2018 film Blaze. The film was directed by Hawke, whom Dickey had met on the set of The Hottest State. Dickey’s longtime girlfriend, artist Beth Blofson, was also friends with Hawke’s wife. Dickey was untrained as an actor, but Hawke preferred to have musicians act in order to add to the film’s authenticity. To prepare, Dickey took acting lessons from Vincent D’Onofrio.

Blaze was not a box office success, though it garnered significant critical praise. Rolling Stone music writer Joe Gross said Dickey did a “savvy, emotionally detailed job” as Foley. The magazine’s film critic, Peter Travers, wrote that Dickey gave the role a “lived-in authenticity,” adding that Dickey “doesn’t impersonate Foley; he embodies him as a soulful artist and flawed human being.” For his role as Blaze, Dickey won the Sundance Film Festival’s Dramatic Special Jury Award in Acting.

In Blaze, Dickey worked alongside actor and musician Charlie Sexton, who played Foley’s friend Townes Van Zandt. Sexton worked as the producer for Dickey’s second album, A Glimmer on the Outskirts, released March 2019 on the label SexHawkeBlack records. Sexton also played guitar on the record. While he makes occasional stops in Little Rock, for the past several years, Dickey has lived in Louisiana, where he continues to act and write music.

For additional information:
Ben Dickey Music. https://www.bendickeymusic.com/ (accessed August 28, 2020).

Gross, Joe. “Ben Dickey: The Man Who Would Be Blaze.” Rolling Stone, August 25, 2018. Online at https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-features/ben-dickey-blaze-profile-713214/ (accessed August 28, 2020).

Koch, Stephen. “Blaze Foley: Never a Star, Always a Legend.” Arkansas Times, September 27, 2018, pp. 12–16. Online at https://arktimes.com/news/cover-stories/2018/09/27/blaze-foley-never-a-star-always-a-legend?oid=23552625 (accessed August 28, 2020).

Travers, Peter. “Blaze Review: Country-Music Cult Hero Gets the Biopic He Deserves.” Rolling Stone, September 4, 2018. Online at https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-reviews/blaze-movie-review-ethan-hawke-718840/ (accessed August 28, 2020).

Colin Woodward
Hampden-Sydney College

Last Updated: 08/28/2020

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