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MODERN 20-664; MAY, 1949

 
 

 

How rare are the circumstances around this release on these pages?

What circumstances are those, you ask? Well, as you probably remember from reading it somewhere around here, the point of Spontaneous Lunacy is to examine the entire history of rock ‘n’ roll song by song. That means more or less each record from the very beginning of the rock genre in late 1947 and certainly for notable artists their entire canon is going to be meticulously examined.

Floyd Dixon is – or will be soon anyway – a notable artist, someone with a long career filled with some significant records and quite a few hits. Yet we’ve already SKIPPED OVER his first hit entirely!

Come again???
 

 
Quickly you think of the potential reasons for this intentional omission… (humor me, just say you do). Okay, possibility number one, the record must’ve been worse than atrocious.

No, not at all, and besides we’re in the habit of reviewing even the atrocious records here with a perverse sense of enjoyment.

Possibility number two, the record came out BEFORE rock existed and so, like Wynonie Harris, Ivory Joe Hunter and Big Joe Turner who all saw their pre-rock hits only get mentioned in passing within later reviews, Dixon must fall into that category.

Wrong again. The record only came out a few months back and is currently riding the charts as we speak.

Okay, okay, I’m sure you’re already tiring of this game so I’ll cut to the chase. The reason Dallas Blues isn’t included on the roll call of rock releases here is… it’s not a rock record at all.
 

That Won’t Get It
When it comes to deciding where the stylistic boundaries are for rock, especially early rock, we’re somewhat flexible, particularly when discussing artists who’d go on to have extensive rock pedigrees. After all telling their stories thoroughly requires detailing their journey on the road to rock ‘n’ roll and if they started off just lurking on the outskirts of rock and needed some prodding to convince them to move further inland to set up shop, well then it’s our job to take you with them on that path so you’ll fully grasp their travels that led to our neck of the musical woods.

But that doesn’t mean we’re simply stamping everybody’s passport to take you all to foreign music countries completely outside rock’s borders. As a result there will be no forays into pure gospel or jazz or the blues.

That’s where we draw the line.

The reason for this is simple, as to not do so would only confuse the issue of what is and isn’t rock, which in these early days has already been made far too murky by previous historians for most to get a firm handle on. If we start tossing in some pure blues sides – even if we go to great lengths to say why they’re here when they are in fact NOT rock – then it only muddies the waters.

Throwing them into the mix also has an unfortunate tendency to make those other genres mere footnotes in rock’s bigger story, which is not fair to other fields of endeavor which have proud legacies of their own and certainly shouldn’t need far-flung associations with rock’s legacy to bring passing attention to those styles. Now if I live to three hundred twelve years old then maybe I’ll get around to doing a history of blues blog as well and can delve into that rich fertile land with the attention it rightly deserves. But for THIS blog the focus is strictly on rock.

So when it comes to meeting Floyd Dixon we’re going to have to be content to meet him AFTER he’s already made a name for himself – immediately after in his case – though in a manner that gives us an even more dramatic way to showcase the powerful allure of rock ‘n’ roll… not necessarily for Dixon himself, but rather the record company seeing the writing on the wall when it came to assessing the marketplace going forward.

Though Dixon had landed a Top Ten hit with a blues song, rock ‘n’ roll was already proving to be the more enticing field for many labels when it came to securing a sustainable future and so it was in that direction they quickly headed before he became too entrenched in the public’s mind as a blues act.
 


 

Old School Or Modern?
This decision on the surface was rather unusual when you stop to consider the circumstances. It was 1949 and the record industry had been dominated for years by a handful of major companies. Only in the past few years have smaller independent labels been able to carve out a piece of the growing commercial pie, mostly by focusing on black music which had absolutely chance at the time to break into the lucrative pop field.

Modern Records of Los Angeles was making headway in large part due to their success in blues. They’d leased John Lee Hooker’s debut Boogie Chillen from Sensation Records in Detroit without Sensation even putting it out, thereby giving Modern a #1 hit on the Race Charts this past winter. The previous fall they’d had another chart topper with bluesman Pee Wee Crayton’s Blues After Hours.

Their rock output was rather weak by comparison, no hits and just a few records on the outer reaches of the genre. They probably didn’t notice, or care much if they did, but with Floyd Dixon they had someone who could not only play rock ‘n’ roll as well as the blues, but he didn’t seem to care what he played. The thing about it though was Floyd Dixon when he cut all of these tracks for them… didn’t know he was even making records.

Yup, we’ve mentioned it before and now it comes to fruition here, the dastardly practice record companies had of telling a new artist they were just recording him to “see what he sounded like on tape” with the full intention of then releasing those sides as records… without giving him a dime to do so, since of course he wasn’t under contract.

A lot of sleazy labels did this over the years which is one reason why around these parts you’ll rarely see anything positive written about the record companies as you might elsewhere. We’ll be fair to them when they deserve some credit but we’ll be unforgiving when they do shit like this. Modern Records were among the worst and so they’ll be a frequent target on these pages in the hopes the three despicable brothers, Jules, Saul and Joe Bihari who owned the company and stole songwriting credit left and right (their favorite tactic) will roast a little more in hell for their transgressions.

Floyd Dixon, though the victim here, was far too easygoing and gullible for his own good, though it should be stated those aren’t crimes as much as they are character deficiencies. Having been chosen by his mentor – and by all accounts a good guy – Mark Hurley to front the newly formed Eddie Williams And His Brown Buddies (whom we’ll be meeting next month… how’s that for coming attractions?), Dixon went to Modern Records on his own to pitch some songs he wrote, hoping to get someone famous to record them. The Biharis had him sing them backed by a full band, which Dixon found odd but figured this was the big time and maybe standard practice – and of course they were recording the whole time so they could put them out. They even had him join the musicians union so they wouldn’t be fined, but of course they gave him no money for these songs.

At least they gave him label credit I suppose, which allowed Dixon to start establishing himself, but because these songs were released concurrently with his work with The Brown Buddies (one of whom, guitarist Tiny Webb, joins him here) it probably only confused matters.

Because he was tied to no style, having been a fan of the type of cocktail blues as sung by Charles Brown with Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers on Modern – with none other than Eddie Williams as their bassist – he could do that if asked. Dixon came from Texas so he also had country blues running through his veins, which accounts for Dallas Blues. Since he was barely twenty years old himself that meant he, more than the older musicians walking through their door, had his finger on the pulse of rock ‘n’ roll too, which is what he gives us with That’ll Get It, a record which showed Dixon had a future in this fast growing style if he wanted it.
 

Throw It In His Face
Right away the prominent tenor sax leaves no doubt as to where this falls, as that instrument is a staple of rock ‘n’ roll and virtually non-existent in blues at this stage. But as firm as its positioning in rock circles may be, when you break down the tune for parts the results are only modest in spite of Dixon showing some good instincts along the way.

I guess we should start by saying That’ll Get It is not exactly a work of art with a storyline that is not only repetitive – the same basic bad-ass message about (over)reacting to any perceived slight with a sudden burst of violence with three such examples contained within the song in case you missed the subtly of it along the way – but is also rather crude and offensive to boot. Truth be told the flip-side of his hit record, a little ditty called Helen had some of the most god-awful lyrics you could possibly find, so it’s not as if he’d set the bar too high prior to this in another field.

But weak lyrics don’t always equate to ineffective lyrics or a botched record and that’s the case here as well. Though we can’t condone the idea of threatening your wife with a razor blade merely because “she’s not so kind” the braggadocio alone suggests that this guy is merely trying to impress the fellas on the corner with his tough talk and likely would be looking for the nearest exit should anyone stand up to his idle threats.

It DOES however manage to project the attitude he needs in order to make the rest of the song work. Though a fine pianist who does get a chance to smash the ivories a bit in the intro, the bulk of the song is given over to the tenor sax which gets a nice ballsy solo that takes up much of the middle of the record, and Tiny Webb’s stinging guitar retort which follows that hints at their blues pedigree without crossing over into that terrain completely.

As for the singing, Dixon’s enthusiasm as a vocalist is, at this point anyway, a stronger enticement than his delivery itself, which is a little rushed, slightly strained and not quite well-judged enough to convey the purported humor in the lines, only the last of which, about going to the jungle – for grapes of all things! – with a 45 and a V-8 Ford, is worth singling out for the smile it brings.

The band members shout their lusty replies to the title line throughout which adds to the overall feel but the ending seems somewhat clumsy and abrupt which tells you that they all probably needed a bit more woodshedding with this song to work out the kinks.

Overall though, while this might not convince anyone that Dixon was unquestionably better suited for rock than blues this shows that he’s not out of his league in trying for some notoriety in rock ‘n’ roll. Besides, hit or not, it isn’t as if Dallas Blues was a masterpiece of the blues or anything. It too was pretty standard fare that just happened to connect and though decent enough to be modestly recommended for blues fans, it certainly is no more so than That’ll Get It would be for rock fans.
 

 
Any Ole Place He Goes
The Floyd Dixon story is going to be one of the more confounding ones we’ll be covering on these pages over the next decade, as often his non-assertive personality left him at the whims of others more unscrupulous than he, as is already evident here by how Modern ripped him off mere seconds after he stepped in their office. But besides rarely receiving what was due him when it came to compensation – an all too common occurrence during this era – his exceedingly malleable persona meant he also failed to ever clearly state who or what he was artistically, instead wandering from one style to another at the drop of a hat, willing to give any label, producer or sidemen whatever type of song they requested when it probably would’ve been far better for his own reputation to choose one and stick with it, focusing on building his career – and fan base – by being more reliably predictable.

I know, “reliably predictable” hardly sounds like a compliment, nor are those the words that spring to mind when thinking of the best rock artists in history most of whom tend to be praised for being groundbreaking and eclectic. But unlike them Floyd Dixon never let the aftertaste of any one of his musical pursuits linger very long on the lips of those who enjoyed that offering and so history has more or less rarely given full credit for what he accomplished in ANY of those excursions.

We’ll try and make the case that in the end he should still go down as a rocker for that’s where his strongest efforts resided and had he stuck to refining the positive attributes shown on That’ll Get It he may have become a star. But as we’ll keep seeing over time just when you think you have Floyd Dixon pinned down he’ll slip out of your grasp yet again. So maybe this review should act as a warning: Beware! Sure to frustrate and confuse.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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