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MODERN 20-797; JANUARY 1951




After years of patiently tolerating Floyd Dixon’s divided loyalties, both in terms of musical styles (rock ‘n’ roll but also cocktail blues with a few down home blues tossed into the mix as well) and stylistic approaches within rock – a preponderance of ballads which accentuate his nasal vocals – we finally get what we’ve been longing for… an engaging medium tempo groover.

You’d think this would make us delighted that he finally saw the light, but instead of coming up with something original to fulfill this goal he’s done what approximately seventy four other rock acts to date have done – stolen an Amos Milburn song.

Back to the drawing board, Floyd.


Where The Town Is Full Of Steam
There is so much about this to enjoy from a purely aesthetic standpoint that it’s a shame that we can’t celebrate it more for showing us a side of Floyd Dixon we rarely get to see. But we have to criticize it for what it shows us about record company laziness, jealousy and disregard for their consumers.

The two sides are always battling for control in the music business. The audience craves something new and innovative and artists generally strive to give that to them, in large part because that’s what satisfies their own creative goals as well.

But the record companies want predictability and reliability, not creativity which has no assurance of success.

In a way you can’t blame them. Other industries pretty much know their bottom line before going into production. Kellogg’s churns out enough boxes of each of their popular cereals to met demand every month, leaving little guesswork and no surprises, as a result there’s hardly any risk involved.

But music is different. Modern Records obviously knows that their Floyd Dixon releases will sell more than those by Harry Fields And His New Yorkers but they can’t predict which of Dixon’s sides will be best sellers and which will be received with merely a shrug. So they try and take shortcuts by “adapting” (the industry parlance for brazen copyright infringement) a massively popular Amos Milburn cut from more than two years ago in the hopes that audiences will have their memories stirred enough to seek this out and vault Doin’ The Town into the charts without having their lawyers getting a call over their crimes in the process.

But they’re not the only ones who’ve had this same idea as that Chicken Shack Boogie has been covered outright, updated and reconfigured by countless artists in that time, including Milburn himself! It has in fact probably surpassed rock’s first release, Good Rocking Tonight, as the most recycled song in the genre’s catalog to this point, all of which means that as much as we love hearing Dixon tackle a song in this manner, we don’t approve of him tackling THIS song in THIS manner!

My Home Record Shop
Okay, so now that we’ve laid out the reason why this is such a bad idea, let’s focus on why – stylistically – it’s a little better idea.

Dixon’s strengths and weaknesses as an artist are always vying for control of his output. He’s tremendously versatile, which is good, but he seems unsure of which direction best suits him resulting in some wild stylistic swings from one release to the next (Telephone Blues was currently his big hit and it was exactly what it said it was, pure blues).

He was justifiably distrustful of record companies but his constant label hopping meant he didn’t always receive consistent promotion over the years to build his reputation. He was also an easy going team player who was willing to serve in a supporting role for established bands without necessarily receiving proper credit, but that meant that some of his best sides – particularly with Eddie Williams & His Brown Buddies – were not widely known to be of his doing.

One such record was the brilliant Red Head N’ Cadillac from 1949, one of the few times that Dixon has shown how effective he can be when taking his foot off the brakes and opening up some, pouring on the confidence and charm. Had he pursued this kind of song more often who knows how much more popular he’d be, historically if not necessarily at the time.

But since he would only occasionally venture into this territory it makes the few times he does, such as on Doin’ The Town that much more important to celebrate… which is why doing it with a recycled song ruins those celebrations.

There’s nothing new about this song. It is a carbon copy of Chicken Shack Boogie from his barrelhouse piano and saxophone opening – probably played by the same man, Maxwell Davis – to the entire conversational structure of the lyrics as Dixon recounts parties at Dobin Hall, The Knights Of The Round Table and The Minuteman Club.

All of the components we loved in Milburn’s hit are here along with one fresh element a mid-song guitar solo which is a nice addition. For a moment Dixon’s voice almost wanders off-mic which might tell you that they only did this once and not very studiously at that, maybe showing that the guys playing it weren’t all that enthused about the assignment. But their performances are all very good and Dixon is always at his best when he’s taking his vocals at a slightly faster clip because it forces him to use his larynx more than his nasal passages to emit the words and naturally that sounds a lot better.

So too does the record itself compared to a lot of his ponderously slow mournful ballads, which is why the decision to do so with a song that’s already been fully absorbed – multiple times by multile artists no less – by the rock community is so distressing.


Really All Reet
Normally these are the kinds of records we’re not prone to supporting much around here. There’s a two-pronged criteria with these scores. The more obvious one, and surely the one that the majority of readers care about, is simply “How good does the record sound”.

A reasonable question to ask. But context plays a huge role in even that as a great record from 1951 would be completely meaningless in 1971 or 2021. Same song but a totally different environment and you can’t justify claiming it’s a great record in an era where those qualities no longer hold any sway.

But it’s the second criteria which is equally important in determining the fate of these singles and that’s: How does this advance rock ‘n’ roll as a whole?

In other words, a record like the recently reviewed I Will Wait by The Four Buddies set a new course for vocal group ballads which will send ripples far into the future, so not only was it a great record in its own time but it had a positive influence on the direction rock would take in the years to come. That matters, because if it didn’t then in 1951 we’d still be stuck listening to songs that were identical to those from 1948… like for instance Doin’ The Town.

So clearly this record does not neatly fit into the 1951 rock landscape, nor does it do anything to help further rock’s evolution.

But it DOES do something to help Floyd Dixon’s evolution, at least in theory (whether it plays out that way was yet to be determined). By showing once again that he could effectively – and really very charmingly – carry a song with a more loping pace there was a chance that he’d get to do it again, hopefully with original material next time.

Even if that didn’t turn out to be the case it serves as a nice change of pace in his catalog to date, something every artist is in need of when it comes to showing they were more well-rounded than maybe their hits alone would attest.

To that end we’re giving this something of a pass, though we’re not going crazy and overlooking its thievery altogether. As re-writes go they came up with some vivid scenes of places and people now that are all long gone and for that we’re grateful. We’re also glad that for once Floyd Dixon consented to stepping up his pace and delivering something in a partying vein.

So while we can’t condone the methods, we can at least reward the skill with which he carried it off, but next time, Floyd, just write your own damn song and keep us from feeling conflicted over our enthusiasm for what you do.


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