Chicken Ranch

From Ruston, With Love

Michael Dickinson
Michael Dickinson (Photo by Sandy Carson)

Chicken Ranch Records owner Mike Dickinson is calling from London. From there, he's headed for Germany and Holland to do tour support for Nashville-based songwriter Willie Heath Neal. Call it business as pleasure, if you will.

It's a long way from Ruston, La., where Dickinson started Chicken Ranch in 1994. The label's initial purpose was to release albums by the Habitual Sex Offenders, a spunky punk rock combo he was drumming for.

"We basically just wanted to put out a record with our name on it," Dickinson says. "Then it became a real label."

Dickinson first moved to Austin in 1996 but lived in Nashville from 2000 to 2004. It was there that he discovered the Clutters, a Farfisa-fueled garage rock quartet that's become one of Chicken Ranch's flagship acts along with Georgia-bred garage stalwarts the Woggles. The label's also tapped local bands like Jesus Christ Superfly and Automusik.

Though still grounded in the DIY spirit of punk, Chicken Ranch's aesthetic has expanded to include Mr. Lewis & the Funeral 5's 21st century cabaret, as well as the gothic bluegrass soundscapes of Starlings, TN.

"I tend to gravitate toward eclectic music," Dickinson says. "I like bands that aren't afraid to do their own thing."

Depending on his release schedule, Dickinson typically spends about 20 to 40 hours a week doing label business. Although he's had employees in the past, he now functions as a one-man shop with hired help for publicity. The occasional European tour aside, Dickinson makes plenty of unromantic trips to the post office, too. For him, the ultimate reward lies in the relationships.

"I've worked with lots of really great bands," Dickinson says. "I've met a lot of friends I wouldn't have met otherwise."

Established: 1994
Kingpin: Michael Dickinson
Number of releases: 45
Notable releases: The Woggles, Soul-Sizzling 7" Meltdown; the Clutters, T&C; White Ghost Shivers, Hokum if You Got 'Em; Starlings, TN, Between Hell and Baton Rouge
New & Upcoming: The Clutters, Don't Believe a Word; Tiger! Tiger!, The Kind of Goodnight; Flat Duo Jets, Two Headed Cow Soundtrack
Average Print Run: 1,000
Distribution: Nail Distribution (U.S.), Get Hip Distribution (Europe)

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