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There’s a negative connotation to the word “journeyman”, whether you’re talking about an athlete who is frequently dealt from one team to another or a singer who constantly pops up on various record labels without ever remaining in any one place for too long.

The widespread perception of course is that these figures are serviceable for the short term, somebody to fill out a lineup but not a star to build a franchise around.

While that may technically be true, reliable utility men and women are vital for any team’s success and it’s guys like Floyd Dixon who were taken on by multiple companies to give them some artistic and commercial punch and get them through some uncertain stretches in their runs.

They may never make anybody’s All-Star team but they didn’t become journeyman because they couldn’t “hold” a job, but rather because there were always jobs to be had somewhere that they were uniquely qualified to do.


A Dark Cloud Coming
The strengths and weaknesses of Floyd Dixon have remained the same wherever he’s landed and whatever he’s been asked to do at each of those stops – Modern, Supreme and now Peacock.

A pianist who could sing and write his own songs, step out in front as a solo artist or the featured member of a band, but who was also comfortable taking a back seat to others and contributing from the shadows, Dixon could be used to shore up your rock output or to try and grab some attention from the blues afficiandos, either the down home blues or cocktail blues variety. His versatility was his greatest strength but ironically also what prevented him from ever becoming a more dominant star in any one field.

The reason he wound up briefly at Peacock, still struggling themselves to get a real foothold after nine months in business, was because Dixon’s mother had passed away and he needed money for her funeral. The Bihari Brothers of Modern Records for whom he’d been recording despite their outright theft of his material early on, was callous enough that they refused to front him the money to bury her!

Yet more proof that in a business that has no shortage of scum, the Bihari family were truly despicable human beings.

In desperation Dixon turned to Don Robey, the notorious owner of Peacock Records who agreed to pay him what he asked in exchange for a double session, eight songs. It was strictly for cash, no contract, and so Floyd Dixon went into the studio and cut a bunch of songs in different styles, including Sad Journey, a pure blues song likely influenced by his own recent personal trauma.

Despite the hasty circumstances Floyd Dixon had some integrity and wasn’t content to just toss off a few generic songs because there was no long term commitment he had to worry about. Instead he came up with some good material including She’s Understanding, a solid rocker that met with an ignominious fate because Robey, another record label nogoodnik of note, insisted he couldn’t promote it adequately because HE had no long term commitment to Dixon.

Ahh yes, I believe they call the adults of this era “The Greatest Generation” for a reason… and that reason is they were the ones writing that history with the intent purpose of glorifying themselves.

Grumble… grumble…. Okay, forget about them, let them burn for eternity with the rest of their ilk. Let’s cleanse our minds by focusing on the artist and the record instead, both of which are pretty good.


Believe Everything You Hear
With Dixon’s spry piano out in front, his left hand churning out a solid rhythmic bed while his right emphatically picks out a melody, the track is off to a solid start, setting a nice groove for you to fall into.

The lyrics that follow are colorful, if a little random in the points they seem to be making. Dixon’s praising his girl Odella with what sounds like genuine love and respect, yet in doing so he’s sort of pointing out her flaws, particularly when it comes to either her gullibility or lack of brains in general.

He’s in no way insulting about it if such a thing is possible, at least there’s no nastiness or derision to anything he says. He named the song She’s Understanding after all, so it would seem that he’s giving her some credit for how she uses her head if nothing else.

The most logical explanation might be simply that he doesn’t view her good-natured acquiescence as a problem… and why would he? But it does make for rather unintentionally humorous praise of somebody to say that “anything I tell her goes from ear to ear”, presumably because there’s nothing in her head to absorb the information he offers.

Yet in spite of this revelation – both about her and his own questionable judgement in telling us about her, warts and all – he’s still fairly appealing in how he comes across. Granted his nasal tones are still an obstacle and forces you to pay closer attention to the lines to get each and every word, but the overall vibe he gives off is fairly endearing.

Besides it’s not the lyrical content that matters in this case, but rather the music they frame it in which is where this makes up for any topical insensitivity.


Mind Their Business
These kind of mid-paced tracks have an air of self-assurance to them that gives them much of their swagger and charm. Because they’re not flamboyantly trying to capture your attention with every trick in the book it creates a comfortable laid-back atmosphere that effortlessly pulls you in. Yet they never let the energy lag with predictable patterns and lifeless solos that too often is all that might be expected from a studio band slogging through another session.

Instead the band charts a solid middle ground on She’s Understanding letting the rhythm surge somewhat discreetly throughout the record thanks to Dixon’s jittery work on the keys, yet keep things inventive with their choices behind him so that they never let it fall into dull routine.

About the only instrument that delivers something simplistic throughout the song is the dry clicking of the drummer whose job is simply to keep time. Everyone else however is showing off how clever they are in subtle ways starting with Dixon’s own work on piano where he keeps his notes from ever sticking to a recognizable beat, using an odd sense of time that gives what he plays a funky sort of feel without overwhelming everything around it.

The horns playing behind him during the verses sound lazy and somewhat uninterested at first, just providing the basic support that’s called for. But as it goes on you see the way they change things up, tossing in a comical circular riff when talks about how understanding Odella is, almost as if they’re laughing at his claims. The tenor gets a fairly meaty solo later on, never breaking the windows but briefly taking it in a direction that has you questioning its destination before coming back down to earth and leading smoothly back into the vocals.

As good as all of them are though it’s the guitar which stands out the most, taking the initial solo which uses every tone imaginable in the six strings, distorting some while letting others deliver a straightforward icy sting. It too never rushes things and at some points seems as if it’ll fall behind the rest of the track before catching back up with a few sudden leaps forward, all of which makes for an oddly reassuring presence on the record that belies the instrument’s inherent bite.

I’ll Hurry Home
Despite his proclamations to the contrary it’s hard to imagine Don Robey voluntarily handing out hard earned, (or even stolen) cash to Floyd Dixon for these songs only to then skimp on promotion or distribution to save money, because if that were the case why have him record in the first place.

Instead, like most record label owners, Robey was lowering Dixon’s expectations and setting him up for a squeeze play to get him in the fold full time.

That wouldn’t happen, though we wish we could say that Dixon ever used his independence to get the better of the sharks in the industry who continually circled artists like him waiting to chomp, but while She’s Understanding didn’t get him a hit, at least it got him the cash to send off his mother with some dignity.

It also helped to keep Dixon from settling into any one stylistic bag as might’ve happened had he remained fixed to one record company for too long. He’d soon pop up in a cocktail blues bag playing with Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers in Charles Brown’s old role, yet he’d keep his hand in rock ‘n’ roll on releases coming out under his own name.

Though his many stops along the way did suggest Floyd Dixon was merely a useful journeyman, the fact he had so many doors that willingly opened for him meant that he would always have a home somewhere.


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