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ALADDIN 3135; JUNE 1952



Certain music is made for certain times.

The most obvious of course is the era in which it is released. A rock song from the late 1940’s would sound out of place in the late 1970’s, just as a disco track burning up the late 1970’s rock scene would raise eyebrows in the Big Band era.

But then there’s the time of year as well, as chestnuts roasting on open fires is a curious image in the heat of July even though you may have a bonfire burning at your beach party and chestnuts are on sale twelve months a year.

The time we’re referring to here however centers on the hour of the day, or in this case the night, where the reflective nature of some songs which seems so profound in the hours between midnight and dawn would somehow appear much more transparent and hollow while the sun was shining.


So Sick And So Worried
With his nasal sad-sack croon, Floyd Dixon gives the impression of being perpetually downhearted and so it’s hardly surprising that many of his most popular songs embody that image in their lyrics and arrangements.

It’s also why Dixon was able to seamlessly shift between cocktail blues, where such sentiments often thrive, and rock ‘n’ roll, where they’re used to offset the more upbeat numbers that celebrate life’s best moments rather than dwell on its worst.

Sometimes the differences between the two might actually appear rather slight, often more of a matter of perception based on the artist’s other work, as Dixon’s rock credentials gave him a certain leeway in this area that someone who stuck exclusively to cocktail blues might not enjoy.

Such is the case with Call Operator 210, a song that not only features so many of the familiar hallmarks of cocktail blues but also finds Dixon reuniting with bassist Eddie Williams with whom he worked with in The Brown Buddies as well as Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, the former essentially being a rock act, the latter a cocktail blues trio.

On this Dixon sort of splits the difference which places the song in the hazy netherworld of the three AM rock lament where songs such as Big Joe Turner’s Chains Of Love were best suited… alone and enveloped in darkness and silence other than the music itself, dwelling on a problem – usually the lovelorn variety – where the time is your greatest ally and perfect companion, since obviously there’s not much you can do to rectify the situation you’re in when the whole world is asleep…

Unless of course you’re Floyd Dixon who has written what surely is the eternal fantasy of every single guy who’s been left by a girl and is sitting alone in the wee hours wracked with insecurity, doubt and sorrow, as he envisions the unlikely – nigh implausible – scenario that she’ll be the one to crack first and call him in the middle of the night to patch things up between them.


I’ve Been So Lonesome
The key to making this song work, assuming it’s well constructed of course, is the belief that Floyd Dixon is actually experiencing this very situation as he’s singing it, be it in his fantasies or in reality.

Though we get an intro of the ringing phone and the girl’s voice to kick it off, it almost works better if we think he’s only imagining this, playing it out in his mind.

In either case though the believability of his inner turmoil, with its rising hope and cautious plea, is what stands between this song being mere words on a lead sheet and having it connect with us emotionally. The story line’s specificity doesn’t matter nearly as much as the feelings he’s wrestling with as he contemplates his chances at reconciliation with this girl.

The reason why Call Operator 210 is effective therefore is because he embodies this character in every way. Granted his natural vocal tone helps inordinately, but his mindset is the true selling point, as he seems to be trying to balance the three crucial elements when it comes to mending fences in a relationship. The first is establishing the humble and subdued demeanor to make the girl comfortable with opening up. He’s got to show he’s grateful for her reaching out, yet at the same time not devolve into gushing thanks for it because that would indicate there’s nothing more to be done, the problem is already solved in his mind just by her picking up the phone.

The second thing he has to express is some remorse. It’s notable that he’s not confessing directly to any specific fault of his own, which leads you to think she’s made mistakes too and rather than trade apologies back and forth and tally the score, it’s better to simply acknowledge that he’s sorry for the harsh feelings they both had about each other which covers all of the bases and doesn’t pick at their scabs in the process and cause them both to draw fresh blood.

Finally he needs to keep the lines of communication open, yet in his case he’s pulling a little bit of a power move by suggesting that she also make the second call, thereby retaining a slight edge in the power dynamic which could easily backfire if she figures her initial olive branch needs to be reciprocated more definitively by him.

We can debate the likely success of his tactics all we want – despite her saying at the end she’ll call again tomorrow, indicating it worked – and argue about relationship roles until we’re blue in the face, but this record is about these people – of Dixon specifically – and whether or not we feel he’s got a firm grip on his strategy.

I think he does. The tentative musical backdrop with Dixon’s halting stuttering piano and Roy Hayes’ quick hit guitar fills mixes well with the pauses between vocal lines, as if he’s carefully choosing which words to say, knowing full well that this is a tenuous mission he’s on and one false step can send it – and his relationship – crumbling into oblivion.


Don’t You Worry ‘Bout The Charges
From the very beginning with Floyd Dixon we’ve been trying to grapple with his place in rock ‘n’ roll… and at times wondering just how much he belongs and records like this don’t always help matters.

On one hand he seems very limited as an artist… there’s never any mistaking it’s him when we hear that voice coming out his nasal passages… yet he’s managed to offer up different stylistic releases that have appeal across genre lines. Call Operator 210 was another that did just that, giving him his biggest chart hit in the process – #4 nationally during an almost three month stay on the Billboard charts, even with a competing version by Mel Walker to contend with that also hit those heights.

Maybe he could’ve made our decision to include this under the rock banner a little more iron clad with a Maxwell Davis sax line thrown in, or a more upbeat middle eight to show his anticipation of possibly getting back together with his girlfriend, but while doing so might’ve cleared up the genre classification some, it also may have upset the delicate balance of the record.

Besides if Dixon is comfortable straddling those lines, and his fans of the day were as well, then there’s no reason why we shouldn’t follow suit. A good record is a good record and while for all of its success this is not anywhere near establishing this sound as the dominant force in rock ‘n’ roll, it’s still something we’re going to be prone to absorbing late at night when the world around us is quiet but there’s a raging storm in our minds we need to work out before daybreak.


(Visit the Artist page of Floyd Dixon for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
Johnny Otis (ft. Mel Walker) (July, 1952)