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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. You’d think given that track record Modern would’ve been the one black-oriented indie label in America who’d go all in on blues and if anything turn their back on rock ‘n’ roll, or at the very least pay only cursory attention to it.

Instead they took a brand new artist who actually got a genuine hit his first time out with a blues song – and make no mistake about it Dallas Blues with its slow 12 bar structure, dusty electric guitar and downcast mood is pure blues – and told him they’d prefer if he did something else!

Something like rock ‘n’ roll!

The reason for this reportedly was that they’d also had some hits with a different type of blues act, Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, a cocktail blues trio featuring Moore on guitar, Eddie Williams on bass and Charles Brown on piano and vocals singing an uptown type of blues suited for classier clubs. It just so happened that Brown was one of Dixon’s idols and it would be Dixon who’d temporarily replace him in the group after Brown had gone solo and it’d be Dixon who would also cut records on the side along with Moore’s bassist Eddie Williams in a group that was unfortunately called Eddie Williams And His Brown Buddies, whom we’ll be meeting next month (a shameless preview of coming attractions!).

Modern Records for some reason apparently felt having Dixon compete with the long shadow of Brown would never get him noticed for his own talents and while Dallas Blues had been country blues, not cocktail blues, which should’ve set him far enough apart to not be mistaken for Brown, they went ahead and encouraged him to make the distinction even more clear by trying his hand at rock instead.

Dixon obliged and came roaring out of the gate with That’ll Get It, a fairly solid record that was vindication of sorts for Modern Records who was potentially throwing away a solid blues act for an unproven rock act. But while not a hit, it at least showed them that their instincts were pretty good when it came to determining his ideal skill set and it sent Dixon’s career off in another direction.
 

Throw It In His Face
Right away you can see Modern’s intent with the prominent tenor sax which is a staple of rock ‘n’ roll and virtually non-existent in blues at this stage, thereby making clear to listeners what realm Dixon was working in now. Obviously Modern had also been keeping tabs on the music scene beyond the view out their own windows as of late and correctly judged that using that horn in this style gave even the most modest of songs a chance to be elevated to hit status.

Modest is what you’d call That’ll Get It when you break down the tune for parts. It’s not exactly a work of art with a storyline that is not just 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.
 

 
Whether or not Modern Records made the right choice in steering him in this direction remained to be seen, but at risk of further giving away the future installments of the Floyd Dixon story here he’ll stick with rock for a lot longer even as he continued to dabble in the blues as well, something that unfortunately means he’s rarely given full credit in either field.

In the end he should go down as a rocker, for that’s where his strongest efforts resided, and while this didn’t make quite the splash they were hoping for in that field to give him the leg up on which choice to make it at least showed enough promise to prevent them all from immediately regretting their decision and doing an about face the next time out.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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