Born 2 February 1928, Marshall, Texas
Singer / pianist / songwriter.
First I'd like to correct two mistakes regarding Floyd Dixon commonly found on the Internet and elsewhere : his real name is Floyd Dixon, not Jay Riggins, Jr., and his year of birth is 1928, not 1929. (With thanks to Eric LeBlanc.)
Floyd Dixon was one of many Texans to find fame in the post-war rhythm & blues field. Others include T-Bone Walker, Charles Brown, Amos Milburn and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson.
Dixon began playing piano and singing as a child. In Texas he was exposed to a range of blues and gospel influences, as well as a little jazz and hillbilly. In 1942 the Dixon family moved from Texas to Los Angeles, where Floyd came into contact with fellow ex-Texan Charles Brown,who took the young piano player under his wing and became a major musical influence throughout Dixon's life. When Brown left Johnny Moore's Three Blazers in 1948 to make it on his own, Dixon was the natural choice for his replacement as pianist-singer. The first company to record Dixon was Supreme Records, in 1947. His next company, Modern, would bring him his first commercial success. Floyd went to see Jules and Saul Bihari (Modern's owners) without the intention to record. When he ran through "Dallas Blues", he didn't know that they were recording it in the back. Dixon : "They said 'We would like to put it out' and I was shocked! They wrote me out a check for just doing those couple of tunes and asked me if I was in the union. I said no, and they gave me money to go join that day."
By 12 March 1949, "Dallas Blues" had risen to # 10 of the "Most Played R&B Recordings" on Billboard's Jukebox chart. Jules Bihari wanted more from Dixon, but wasn't interested in another Charles Brown clone. The hottest R&B artist at that time was Amos Milburn and Bihari started to steer Dixon in the Milburn direction. Floyd's trio (piano, bass, guitar) was augmented with the inclusion of various tenor sax players, including Maxwell Davis and Buddy Floyd. Al Wichard was added on drums and later Chuck Norris on guitar (replacing Tiny Webb from Dixon's own trio). The Milburn influence is particularly clear on "Doin' the Town" (Modern 797), which sounds suspiciously like "Chicken Shack Boogie". Dixon had further hits with "Mississippi Blues" (# 14, 1949) and "Sad Journey Blues" (# 8, 1950). The latter was recorded for Don Robey's Peacock label in Houston. Perhaps fearful of Robey's violent reputation, Floyd went to Aladdin's Eddie Mesner and asked him to buy back the eight sides he had recorded for Peacock, so Floyd would be free to record for the bigger (and closer) company. Mesner called Don Robey, who, to everyone's surprise, was willing to go along. Aladdin would reissue all eight tracks on four singles.
Dixon recorded extensively for Aladdin during 1950-52, first with Johnny Moore's Three Blazers, later with his own band. Sales were good, with two # 4 R&B hits, "Telephone Blues" (1951) and "Call Operator 210" (1952). Both were slow numbers, but Dixon recorded in as many R&B/ jump styles as there were, including some bawdy material, like "Too Much Jelly Roll" from the pens of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. In 1953, Floyd did two sessions for Art Rupe's Specialty label (resulting in three singles), followed by a 1954 stint on Atlantic's short-lived Cat subsidiary. His best known number from the two Cat sessions with Ertegun and Wexler is "Hey Bartender", which was revived by the Blues Brothers on their multi-platinum LP "Briefcase Full Of Blues" in 1978. Naturally this made Dixon, who wrote the song, a happy man. Several one-off recording deals followed : for Combo, Pearl (both 1955), Checker (1956), Cash (1957) and Ebb (May 1957). Ebb was owned by Leona Rupe (Art's ex-wife) and this session yielded genuine rock n roll in the shape of the Little Richard styled "Oooh Little Girl", recorded with Plas Johnson on sax and Earl Palmer on drums.
The 1960s saw Dixon recording for a number of tiny West Coast and Texas labels. He was totally ignored during the European blues revival of the 1960s, probably because he didn't play guitar or harmonica like his Delta and Chicago counterparts.
After a temporary retirement from the music business, Dixon made a comeback in 1975, beginning with a tour of Sweden, and he became the first artist to be featured on Jonas Bernholm's celebrated Route 66 reissue label. Dixon was commissioned to write "Olympic Blues" for the 1984 Los Angeles games. On the whole, the 1980s were a good decade for Floyd, with appearances at many major blues festivals, both in Europe and the USA.
In the mid-1990's he secured a contract with Alligator Records. His first album for the label, "Wake Up And Live" won him the 1997 W.C. Handy Award for Best Album Of The Year by a comeback artist. He continued to perform and record until his death, from kidney failure, in 2006, aged 78.
Floyd Dixon was an outstanding pianist, had a voice like a foghorn and was a seminal figure on the West Coast blues scene, one of the few to transform swing music into rhythm and blues.
Acknowledgements : Ray Topping (liner notes for Ace 740), Billy Vera (liner notes for Ace 361), Pete Bowen (obituary, Now Dig This 282) ; Mike Leadbitter, Neil Slaven, "Blues Records 1943-1970", p. 342-346.
Official website : http://www.floyddixon.com/
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