Thursday, July 27, 2006

Another Blues Legend Leaves Us


It Saddens me to read the words; Floyd Dixon died Wednesday, July 26, 2006 in Los Angeles, California, of kidney failure. He was 77. One of the major artists of the 20th century he was sorely under appreciated and to a degree over looked even in the blues community when he should have reigned supreme. It was in the late forties and into the fifties that Floyd along with Charles Brown, Ray Charles and Louis Jordan helped to transform swing music into Rhythm & Blues. Legend has it that Dixon was the man that told a then struggling Ray Charles he needed to stop trying to sound like Nat Cole and create his own sound, and along side Charles and the others Floyd helped lay the foundation for what would eventually become Rock & Roll. He began recording in 1947, and had his first minor hits in 1951 and 52 with Telephone Blues and Call operator 210 before striking gold with the now classic Hey Bartender.
He was born in Marshall, Texas on February 8, 1929. His family moved to Los Angeles when he was 13. A self-taught pianist, Dixon began his career by singing mostly cool, after-hours piano blues in the Charles Brown mode. Soon enough, however, Dixon charted his own territory with a more rocking, jumping style.

From traditional, slow blues to booming R&B, pop and proto-rock and roll, he truly created a sound and style that was his alone. Dixon recorded and performed throughout the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s touring with just about every other major blues artist of the time. He nearly left music for good in the late 70’s living quietly in Paris Texas until he got a call to perform in Sweden. Then in 1980 he joined the European Blues Caravan tour with his old friends Charles Brown and Ruth Brown. He spent the early and mid eighties on the road once more even touring with the then unknown Robert Cray and Little Charlie & The Nightcats. As things slowed once more in the later 80’s he landed in the Los Angeles area and this is when I had the privilege to meet and get to know him a little. I was hosting a blues radio show in Barstow California and living in Huntington Beach at the time and Floyd was a bit of a fixture playing small bars and hitting the blues jam circuit. It was at one of these jams that our paths first crossed. then In 1992 I had the brilliant idea of producing a one day blues festival in the high desert and Floyd was on the short list of artists I wanted to perform. He wound up being my headliner and though the day was a financial disaster for me.

Mr. Dixon was incredible, closing out a long day of music in grand style having to follow some great acts, not the least of which was Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers. Floyd was up to the task and played his heart out.
In 1993 Dixon received the Rhythm & Blues Foundation's Pioneer Career Achievement Award. This helped him secure gigs at major outdoor blues festivals, including the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Sacramento Blues Festival and the Chicago Blues Festival. Then in 1996 a new album, "Wake Up And Live!," was released on Alligator Records. The album won the 1997 Blues Music Award from The Blues Foundation for "Comeback Album of the Year." The CD reintroduced Dixon to old fans and brought him many new ones. He never stopped performing, and he recorded another CD, "Fine, Fine Thing," for the HighJohn label in 2005. In June 2006, Dixon recorded a live CD/DVD with fellow pianists Pinetop Perkins and Henry Gray, scheduled for a fall release on HighJohn.

Floyd “Mr. Magnificent” Dixon was always a class act. With style and grace, he was a humble and caring man and always had a warm smile to share with a fan. He will be greatly missed.


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