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For the majority of gospel groups over the years the public appearance of adhering to the straight and narrow has always been one of the iron clad rules of the genre. Though we certainly know that a good many of them led sinful lives off the stage the righteous image that needed to be presented to allow for the success necessary to sustain those aberrant sidelines of promiscuous sex, drinking and gambling had to be maintained at all costs.

But while personal improprieties could be kept reasonably hidden to the record buying public, the musical allurements of an increasingly adventurish rival style were a lot harder to disguise if you allowed yourself to be swayed by them.

Though gospel acts over the next decade would inevitably fall prey to adding such taboo instruments as drums and even saxophones to their records to modernize their sound, trying in vain to keep up with rock ‘n’ roll so as to hold back the tide of defection amongst younger listeners, they’d still be singing about heavenly rewards rather than earthly rewards. That was always the line that could not be crossed.

Except for The Dixieaires, who in the late 1940’s increasingly were dividing their focus between gospel and rock… or to put it more succinctly, between heaven and hell.

Lonely Reminiscing
This is a record that barely fits in the latter categories, rock ‘n’ roll that is, or the Devil’s music if you prefer a more colorful description. As such it was one we skipped over initially without much of a thought, only to double back later to give it an airing because in the process of doing so it can serve two purposes here.

The first purpose is the most obvious, to show the divergent roads The Dixieaires took once rock ‘n’ roll came along and offered an alternative to the gospel path they’d initially embarked upon. This wouldn’t necessarily be quite so notable if the leader of the group, J.C. Ginyard, a well respected singer with a long history in other gospel outfits, didn’t create a new – entirely secular – group in the early 1950’s called The Du-Droppers who recorded nothing BUT rock ‘n’ roll.

The second purpose though is ultimately what caused this record to be inserted into the roll call of releases here and that’s how another style, if not two (besides rock and gospel), were part of the mix, all of them gently pulling at the group, and this generation of gospel acts in general, which combined to make their devotion to the Lord more tenuous going forward.

We should start out by saying that The Dixieaires two most notable rock-related releases of the latter half of 1948 on the Gotham label were both straddling lines of stylistic demarcation. The first of them, Go Long had vaguely spiritual undercurrents in the lyrics yet the backing music and the increasingly unhinged vocals were firmly in line with rock, which surely is what allowed it to become a legitimate Top Ten hit. That it was written by Rudolph Toombs, someone who’d go on to make his name by penning some of the more unapologetically immoral rock records of the early 1950’s, only reinforced this blurring of the lines between what The Dixieaires had been and what they were now in danger of succumbing to if they tried to fully “cross over”.

Just around the corner the follow-up to that release, also on Gotham, will feature the talents of another rock character, guitarist Tiny Grimes, who wrote Things Got Tough Again for them, as well as instrumentally backing the vocal group on it.

In between those two records The Dixieaires, now appearing on Continental Records, a small company which also leased its masters to various other imprints such as Lenox and Pyramid (who issued this on 45 in 1951, which is where the label picture comes from in case you’re interested), released You Can’t Cure The Blues, yet another song in a similar vein, definitely not gospel, yet only tangentially connected to rock, not to mention pop and even the blues, making it a rather directionless effort… or rather one which tried a lot of different directions at once as if they were using a broken compass for guidance.

The fact that this record may have actually been cut a few months back, possibly even in late 1947 (though that date could just be to avoid any scrutiny over the ongoing recording ban that put an end to all session work involving actual musicians for the bulk of 1948), doesn’t really factor in to the ongoing issue regarding this group. The reason for that is one thing remains perfectly clear whenever it was laid down, and that is The Dixieaires themselves were again looking outside of the safe confines of gospel, yet were just as cautious as ever about just how far they wanted to take this experiment.

That seems to be their fate, a group stuck between two worlds.

It’s Just A Looking Glass
Let’s begin by leaving no doubt about the song’s intent itself – it is purely secular in nature. The story, and in fact the tag-line to the title – You Can’t Cure The Blues (By Looking In The Mirror) – makes this abundantly clear, as the narrator is giving advice, first hand advice it would appear, as to how NOT to get over a broken heart caused by a breakup.

The advice is generic, as most advice is, and essentially can be reduced to the old “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” recommendation, albeit in the emotional sense rather than the usual industrious implication those words imply.

Notably there is absolutely no suggestion here to turn to a higher power, to put your fate in God’s hands, or pray about it until you receive an answer… or worse yet, no prattle on about how your entire life here on earth is just an insignificant prelude to life everlasting in heavenly paradise, so just forget that girl and don’t worry about your happiness in the present dear boy and instead look forward to being a contented spirit in the afterlife.

They never even hint at any of that, which tells you that this song, in concept anyway, was steering clear of any gospel connection.

The question of course that has to be asked though is: How wise a move IS that?

A strange question coming from us maybe, seeing how we view rock ‘n’ roll and its pursuit of worldly riches and fame to be the most rewarding avenue those in music can follow. But think of it less in terms of what style of music is most entertaining and more about which style is most likely to be met with appreciation by the existing fan base of The Dixieaires.

The majority of their releases were pure gospel, things like Down By The Riverside and Swing Down Chariot, and for those with a bit more awareness of The Dixieaires’ lineage the group had emerged from The Jubilaires one of the most well known early 1940’s gospel groups who’d even had a measure of success with white audiences through their work on radio alongside Bing Crosby, Phil Harris and Arthur Godfry.

So if you WERE going to step away from gospel looking for a potentially bigger audience I suppose, wouldn’t the smarter move be to make an even cleaner break than the rather timid one shown here?

That Won’t Help At All
The song kicks off with an acoustic guitar and piano which sounds intentionally primitive, a dash of country blues in style, like this was a throwback to a time before electricity was wired to rural communities and you sat around an oil lamp singing songs before going to bed around eight o’clock at night. But as any rock fan worth their unruly reputation knows rock ‘n’ rollers don’t WAKE UP until eight o’clock at night since that’s when the action is just about to start.

There’s not much action to be found here that’s for sure, but J.C. Ginyard still gives you reason to stick around with his warm vocal tone, comforting in how he delivers these rather simplistic lines. He’ll never be confused for someone like Jimmy Ricks, though I’m sure that was the hope when they, or record labels, decided to aim for the same audience as The Ravens were riding high with, but Ginyard has a good measured approach and doesn’t try and do too much.

But trying to do too much would at least align him more closely with other rockers, because unfortunately the other Dixieaires for their part don’t do nearly enough in support.

Here’s where the pop influence starts to rear its ugly head. There are times on You Can’t Cure The Blues where their wordless mild chanting could be mistaken for something aspiring to serve as a rock backing. The similarities are fairly shallow and superficial but they at least try and stir up a softly churning rhythm and do their best to convey a hint of soulfulness in how they approach it. But then they turn around and come across like a sixth rate Ink Spots imitator with an airy, open-throated overly enunciated vocal bridge which is so stiff you half expect to find that the singer accidentally swallowed starch. What makes it worse is that he actually ends it fairly well… not because he stops singing, but rather because he lets himself soar at the end of the line, which if he’d had that same mindset when he started might’ve turned this section into a benefit rather than a hindrance.

Later on they repeat that bridge, though this time the others take the first part and deliver it with the same stilted awkwardness that marred the first go-round, yet once again by the close the soaring falsetto tries to rescue things but by now you’re resigned to the fact this seems equally interested in pop appeal as anything having to do with rock.

No matter what Ginyard does on the lead – and he doesn’t do much really other than sound warmly pedestrian – this is going to fail. It’s going to fail as a rock record because it has far too little genuine emotion to connect, but it’s also going to fail as a pop record because it’s not quite steam-cleaned enough to find favor with that audience either.

In other words it’s both too rough and pressed too flat to work in either realm.

Had they turned Ginyard loose and let him get his vocals rolling with more of a devil-may-care attitude, then force the others to cut their elongated notes short in favor of a more syncopated backing, who knows what might’ve happened. It’s doubtful that it’d be cutting edge, not unless they plugged that guitar in and cranked it up, had the pianist pound away with some authority and dragged a tenor sax off the stage of a strip show down the street to chip in with a raunchy solo, but at least it would’ve been far more ambitious than what they show here.

A Crystal Ball
That’s the part about all of this, and really The Dixieaires evolving career in general, which is so hard to put a finger on. If they were looking to succeed outside of gospel then they needed to make a much bigger leap than what they’ve tried so far.

The flip side of this, Until You Say You Are Mine, was another record with absolutely no connection whatsoever to gospel, yet that veered even more into pop territory than this one did.

Okay, maybe it was pop appeal they were after all along, but that field also requires you have to be more consistent in your aims and find stronger material with less ambiguous arrangements rather than those which incorporate – as this does – hints of a lot of unrelated styles, none of which is allowed to set the mood and leave no doubt as to what kind of a record You Can’t Cure The Blues wants to be.

Whether rock or pop acceptance was their goal it also means forsaking the name The Dixieaires with its gospel baggage, or maybe simply coming up with a different name for your pop offerings, perhaps on a different label altogether, while keeping The Dixieaires name for the gospel sides should those other ventures not work out.

Instead they didn’t seem sure of WHAT path to follow. Their earlier success with a rock related record convinced them to step outside of gospel more, but apparently didn’t yet convince them how far outside of it they should go. As a result we get to see the problems of the late 1940’s black musical landscape in a nutshell here… all of these musical genres, gospel, rock, blues and pop were vying to wrest control of the ever more financially solvent African-American market in the wake of big band jazz’s commercial decline.

In doing so each one of those styles were simultaneously trying to figure out just how distinctive from one another they had to be in order to get noticed while at the same time worried about going TOO far and alienating the potential audience before they got their footing.

The only thing that should’ve been certain, because this always seems to be the case no matter the era, is the more tentative you were in making a decision the less likely it was that you’d come out on top. As proof of that maxim The Dixieaires never really committed to any of their possible choices and so audiences never committed to them either.

Pick a side, any side, but make sure you pick one.


(Visit the Artist page of The Dixieaires for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)