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ALADDIN 3083; APRIL 1951



One of the more frustrating artists to cover in rock’s first couple of years – in more than one way – was Floyd Dixon.

For starters his skills and his artistic deficiencies were constantly cancelling each other out, hardly improving his shortcomings and rarely looking to emphasize his strengths.

Then there was the fact that he was constantly on the move from one label to another, sometimes recording with groups in addition to cutting solo tracks, all of which gives him a much deeper catalog of similar sounding records to plow through.

Now here we’re confronted with a usually reliable label, Aladdin, issuing a clutch of his singles at the same time, meaning we can either spend an entire week looking at the same high points and low water marks of Dixon with little to separate the individual performances… or we can buck convention around here and reduce four sides into one review focusing on the best of the lot, even though that will artificially boost his average score by eliminating some of his more mediocre excursions.

That ultimately is Floyd Dixon’s career in a nutshell – always damned if you do, damned if you don’t.


Gets In More Trouble Than The Law Allows
One thing you have to come to grips with when studying rock history is the fact that label owners constantly were their own worst enemies.

Take Floyd Dixon who was Aladdin Records’ second most successful rock artist during this time, something which should have afforded him a little bit more respect from the company when it came to issuing his singles.

But if we can trust the paperwork it seems they put out two Floyd Dixon singles more or less simultaneously – Aladdin 3083 and 3084 – with three of the sides following the same musical formula which made it even less likely that one would stand out.

The second of these singles, Don’t Cry Now Baby b/w I’m So Worried are typical Dixon laments, the first featuring a good Maxwell Davis sax solo while the flip is highlighted by a raw electric guitar, but neither is particularly distinctive otherwise in large part due to Dixon’s clogged nasal passages getting in the way as usual on the slower songs.

Pleasure Days, the flip side of this one, tries combining the sax and guitar somewhat unsuccessfully, neither one getting a chance to breathe enough to make much sense in the rather cluttered arrangement.

But it’s the top side, Rockin’ At Home that is the lone gem here, not simply because it’s the one song of the four to take things at a quicker pace, but also because it’s the tightest performance of the bunch… which might not be surprising considering how much it steals… err… borrows from Amos Milburn, the guy who practically carried Aladdin on his back for years.


Have A Ball
We’ve mentioned this probably too many times to remember but it’s truly remarkable how many records have taken their DNA directly from Milburn’s Chicken Shack Boogie, a song which Amos cut way back in the fall of 1947 when rock was just weeks old.

That it still provided a reliable prescription for artists seeking an artistic re-calibration in 1951 was stunning and yet here’s Floyd Dixon getting one of his better records as a result of that “inspiration”.

Pounding piano leading into softly riffing horns during an extended intro doesn’t necessarily tip you off as to its source but once Dixon comes in with that familiar semi-spoken delivery using the exact same cadences as Milburn then the gig is up.

But that’s not to say Rockin’ At Home is not engaging in its own right, largely because Dixon is focused on what sounds like very real, or at least surprisingly detailed, characters which gives this an air of authenticity rather than merely imitation. Whereas Milburn was painting a picture of a larger scene, Dixon zooms in on the faces and personalities at such a throw down and here’s where his writing skills get a chance to shine.

From Bob getting a big head because Doris told him she liked his hair before heading out, to Joe, Binky, Barbara Jean and Floyd stirring up trouble only to have Miss Bertha, a more mature acquaintance, settle them back down again, these are people you know, or can envision… a melange of night dwellers out for a good time, not averse to raising Cain but meaning no harm. They’re people you’d want to hang out with and because of its setting this also provides a vivid snapshot of life in black Los Angeles at the mid-century point, a world unto itself that has had far too little historical documentation devoted to that scene.

Of course considering the time and place and participants involved it’s hardly surprising that the police come along to roust them for some imagined offense but since Floyd is the one chronicling this tale they get what’s coming to them when a bad cat named Ronnie Stokes intimidates the pigs into backing down without any blood being shed.

We might not get the kind of fleshed out scenes we’d really like to see, but the overviews are colorful enough to suffice and Dixon has rarely sounded so natural and relaxed when delivering a song, making it seem as though he were truly in his element, both with this type of music and in the kind of setting the song describes.

Getting’ A Body Loud
With Maxwell Davis producing, arranging and playing on both Milburn’s masterpiece and this quasi-tribute/rip-off you’d expect a virtual recreation of its musical cues, solos and overall vibe… that is if you didn’t know who Maxwell Davis was and how he wasn’t inclined to mail anything in.

The Milburn record features a more melodic and propulsive opening and yet a more modest accompaniment during Milburn’s vocals, the horns sitting out entirely while Amos sings and plays. The breaks in between the stanzas on “Chicken Shack” are the epitome of soulful playing, finding a laid-back groove and riding it effortlessly.

Here on Rockin’ At Home the lead-in is faster but comes across as jittery and impatient, as if they can’t wait to throw open the doors and hit the streets.

The backing behind the vocals have been altered too, giving us a prominent guitar and horn providing a churning undercurrent alongside Floyd’s more insistent piano and some discreet drumming.

Though the sax solos aren’t as captivating they provide a different vibe, keeping that twitchy feeling the song opened with, a hyperactive but unfocused buzz that suggests there’s so much going on as they wander the streets in search of a good time that they don’t quite know which way to look. The guitar gets the next solo and brings a tense edgy feeling to the proceedings – not surprisingly leading into the cops arrival – and the instrumental fade brings them both together with Davis’s sax soaring higher while Chuck Norris’s guitar spirals downward.

It’s a tight arrangement with a loose feel, everything fitting neatly into place without seeming too orderly about it, giving the record a comfortable vibe which was ideally suited for the kind of familiar social scene they were crafting.


Real Rough Kind
Normally Aladdin Records – for all their usual faults (not paying royalties and shamelessly lying when questioned about it) – ran a pretty tight organization. At least they understood the value of promotion and in spacing out their artist’s releases.

Yet here, maybe because they were also re-issuing sides cut for Peacock (the flip), they seemed to drop the ball.

With Rockin’ At Home they had a really good – albeit derivative – song that fit into the rock landscape better than most of his slower material and they just kind of threw it out into the market alongside another Dixon single, pushing neither one despite his good track record for them.

In fact they either re-released, or re-promoted, the scandalous Girl Fifteen at the tail end of March, somehow getting it reviewed in the trades then despite already having been reviewed back in the fall when it was first released.

This song wouldn’t get mentioned in Cash Box or Billboard until June, long after it was on the market, unless they issued these out of sequence, which if they did I’m sure it was to frustrate and annoy me seven decades later in anticipation of me calling the Mesner brothers idiots.

I stand by that. They were idiots, like every other record company owners, because here was a song that had a chance to be a hit in whatever month it was released and instead it came and went without a trace because they couldn’t be bothered to let it stand on its own.

With people like that deciding the fates of their artists with boneheaded decisions it can make being a rock fan seem like more trouble than its worth… which is why it’s a good thing the music itself usually makes you forget the guys who tried ruining it.


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