Floyd Dixon passes

Posted on: Saturday, Aug 5, 2006

It’s not been a good month for blues people. I just realised that I forgot to post that Floyd Dixon passed away at the end of last month. I paste below the article from the excellent Blueswax email newsletter.

West Coast Jump Blues and R&B pianist, vocalist, and songwriter Floyd Dixon died on July 26 in Los Angeles, California, of kidney failure. He was 77. He was one of the artists, along with Charles Brown, Ruth Brown, Amos Milburn, Ray Charles, and Louis Jordan, who influenced the transition of the music of the Swing Era into Rhythm & Blues.

Dixon was born in Marshall, Texas in 1929, and the family moved to L.A. when he was 13. A self-taught pianist, he began with a smooth piano style in the Charles Brown mode, but soon developed a more rocking, jumping style. Bandleader Johnny Otis encouraged him to record while still working a day job in a drug store. He sang and played in the band of bassist Eddie Williams on Supreme in 1947, then recorded for Modern in 1948 and had a top ten Billboard R&B hit with “Dallas Blues” in early 1949 (whereupon a Williams record with Dixon, “Broken Hearted,” made the chart later that year). Another Dixon hit that year on Modern was “Mississippi Blues”, and he switched to Peacock in Houston for “Sad Journey Blues” (also released on Aladdin), and to Aladdin for “Telephone Blues” (with Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers) and “Call Operator 210” (also released on Imperial) in 1950-2.

His “Hey Bartender” in 1954 for the Cat label (a subsidiary of Atlantic) did not make the chart, but eventually became his signature tune. He also recorded for Specialty and other labels. By that time Dixon was an established star on the West Coast, and he was one of those who encouraged Ray Charles to switch from his suave Nat “King” Cole style to a more Gospel-inspired delivery.

Dixon’s career cooled off, and he nearly dropped out of music altogether, living in Paris, Texas. Then he was invited to perform in Sweden, and found an international following. In 1980, he joined the European Blues Caravan tour with old friends Charles Brown and Ruth Brown. He toured in the U.S. with then-unknown Robert Cray, as well as Little Charlie & The Nightcats. In 1984 he received a Billboard Blues Award for “Hey Bartender” when it was covered by the Blues Brothers, and a Billboard Country Award the following year, when it was recorded by Johnny Lee.

In 1993 Dixon received the Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Career Achievement Award. The album Wake Up And Live! on Alligator won the 1997 Handy Award from The Blues Foundation for “Comeback Album of the Year.” Another CD, Fine, Fine Thing, came out on HighJohn in 2005, and in June this year, Dixon recorded a live CD/DVD with pianists Pinetop Perkins and Henry Gray, to be released on HighJohn.

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