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KING 4332; DECEMBER, 1949



It’s been a full year since we last saw the estimable Ms. Tina Dixon, a minor figure on the rock scene to be sure, cutting just one session in this realm, but a far more interesting character than a lot of bigger names with deeper musical résumés to their credit.

In fact Dixon’s two earlier reviews have surprisingly been among the more popular pages on the site since they went up last year drawing steady interest in search engine queries, many of whom are probably more interested in her story due to her 1970’s X-rated comedy records than because of her late 1940’s rock flirtation.

But whatever the reason her lingering name recognition is a good thing… for this website yes, but also for people of our generation in the Twenty-First Century to dig into the many otherwise forgotten avenues performers at the tail end of the first half of the Twentieth Century were doing just to try and earn a buck.

This record probably didn’t earn Dixon even that much but that was par for the course in the music biz for artists struggling just to hang on.


Be-Bopping For A Long, Long Time
I’m sure it goes without saying that lot has changed in the year since this side was cut. At the tail end of 1948 the musicians strike that had lasted almost twelve full months was just ending and while most independent record labels had sidestepped the recording ban with covert sessions along the way so they could keep up with the startling changes rock’s rise was responsible for during that time, King Records, among the most established of independent companies, was not among those who slipped in through the studio air ducts, back doors or pried open windows to try and keep pace with their less ethical competitors.

So as 1948 wound down they were left scrambling to catch up, not only bringing in their established artists like Wynonie Harris, Ivory Joe Hunter and non-rock acts like Bull Moose Jackson throughout December to restock their dwindling supply of material but they were also furtively looking around for new artists to add to their ranks after watching a steady stream of newcomers get immediate hits after being signed to deals during the past twelve months while King Records remained stuck on the sidelines.

So now that they were free to get back in the studio they grabbed up whoever they could lay their hands on and hoped it wasn’t too late to strike gold with one of them.

Tina Dixon became one of the beneficiaries of this panicked mentality, as she was brought in for a lone session along with the Gene Nero Sextet, a group led by the alto sax jazz stalwart who never quite got much name recognition of his own but who played with lots of big names through the years.

In fact Nero’s group gets the artist credit for the flip-side, What I Say, even though Dixon contributes a few vocal lines early on to the jazz-rock hybrid which favors neither idiom enough for one of the genres to fully claim it for themselves.

But listening to all four sides they cut that day in late 1948 it’s hard to really get a firm grasp on what any of them – Dixon, Nero or King Records themselves – were expecting out of this material. Hits, sure, that goes without saying, but did any of them upon hearing the results actually think that might happen? Were the artists telling themselves that these four songs were first-rate compositions with tremendous potential commercial appeal, or were they all simply grateful for the opportunity to get their names out there and maybe get enough spins in one region of the country to earn a few gigs on the back of that?

I think we know the answer to that, but rather than disparage any of them for their lack of all-consuming artistic drive we need to once again view things in context to see how their relatively modest ambition made perfect sense from their point of view.

Put Me In A Tree Top
Out of the blue Syd Nathan calls you up and offers you a recording contract… what do you say?

Granted that’s probably not exactly how it happened – I doubt Nathan was placing calls to anyone other than his distributors to yell at them for not doing their job well enough to satisfy him – but essentially that’s how it shook out for Tina Dixon. She was a singer and songwriter of moderate talent who never quite broke out of the club circuit. Even her chance to sing with the acclaimed Jimmie Lunceford band had resulted in no recording opportunities thanks to an earlier recording ban that lasted a couple of years in the early 1940’s. For her eventual break on record she had to team up with the good, but far less notable, Flennoy Trio to be able to get her one moment of songwriting inspiration, E-Bob-O-Le-Bob, down on wax. That it came too late for her to capitalize on it since it had already been definitively done by others was typical for Dixon’s bad fortune in life.

She’d probably gotten more notoriety teaming in nightclubs with her husband, dancer Leon Collins, at the time than for her own musical prospects and it wasn’t until Aladdin signed her up as 1948 dawned that she got another chance to go in the studio, but even that opportunity was a mixed blessing at best, as she was being billed as Lady Blues – for whose purpose we have no idea – rather than her own name. The records she made there had straight up jazz backing which meant they had no chance to succeed in the up and coming rock market where her brash racy persona was best suited. Months went by and suddenly there came a knock on the door asking her to record (I know, it’s doubtful Syd Nathan went to her house and did this either, but someone got in touch with her some way and if we have time we’ll try and get in a line about Syd sending her a letter next).

So when that happened of course she was going to accept.

It wasn’t a bad gamble for King Records to make to be honest, as they were scoring with rock ‘n’ roll and Dixon’s image certainly fit that role well. It’s likely they were envisioning her as a female Wynonie Harris, capable of bragging about her way with men and being comfortable skirting the edge of decorum. Unfortunately for her, and for us, maybe they didn’t convey those intentions clearly enough to her, or perhaps she wasn’t sure how far she could take it and didn’t want to ruffle any feathers her first time in the studio for them and so she took it easy. It’s also quite possible they’d signed her on a Tuesday afternoon and she was in the studio the next morning and so she didn’t have time to work much up.

But that brings us back to her expectations based on a decade of hard-earned experience that had never gotten her much further than slogging through the club scene for years, where even the higher end clubs she’d been able to play with Lunceford were probably not all that much different than the low-rent hole in the wall bars she turned to on her own when she was down on her luck.

In other words, from HER perspective the bitter taste of reality, where every opportunity slips away in frustration, is what leads to such low expectations. She saw before her an endless life on the road where the best she could legitimately hope for wasn’t stardom with massive hit records and national acclaim but rather she hoped to get just a little more name recognition to boost her asking price by fifty or a hundred bucks for a week long residency at some nightclub in Cleveland or Dallas or San Francisco before moving on to the next city… and the next after that.

A few records on a well-known label like King would probably get her that, for awhile anyway, giving the clubs another angle to promote her with as long as those records remained on the market.

So when looked at that way her moderate unambitious output is a little easier to understand. She’s not making an all-out grab for a market which, in late 1948 when they were cut, was gaining in traction considerably but had yet to take over altogether. She’s merely keeping all of her options open so that she doesn’t alienate any potential club patron because that’s where she’s going to be earning her living.

What she didn’t expect was the rock market growing exponentially in the year it took for the last of the sides to be released, by which time Blow Mr. Be-Bop, with its outdated title staring you dead in the face, had absolutely no chance to connect in any field or with any audience thereby ensuring that she’d remain stuck on the bottom of the bill at smaller and smaller clubs for years to come.

Drank Gasoline At The Age Of Nine
The odd part of all this of course is how Tina Dixon wasn’t exactly known for playing it safe when it came to content. Those mid-1970’s comedy records were pretty obscene and that was their strength, the thing for which she remains best known decades later.

Even those aforementioned jazz-backed Aladdin sides she laid down at the dawn of the rock era included one – Hello Baby – which was pretty ribald for early 1948. So it’s not as if she was overly concerned with content that might be deemed inappropriate even then.

But while not all rock songs have to be dirty, or even mildly suggestive, to draw our interest they DO have to be pertinent to our mindsets, experiences and viewpoints and Blow Mr. Be-Bop finds Dixon trying to take us all back to a different type of musical venue, if not a different era entirely, in her quest to be all-things to all drunken nightclub habitués she might encounter.

The horns that kick this off are playing fast and tight rather than fast and loose which would be more of our speed, but we’ll excuse them for that slight misstep because at least they’re fairly spry. However things quickly fall apart which coincides with Dixon’s arrival.

Her voice is in good form… when she sings that is… but while the first of her appearances is halfway decent it’s not exactly showing much promise that this will get significantly better as it goes along. For starters there’s no story – essentially she’s just singing the praises of the horn player – which means there’s not very much in the way of memorable lyrics either.

No worries there though because then both of them, the horn and the singer, head off the reservation entirely, bound and determined to show their chops in… yeah, you guessed it, be-bop music.

Now bop is a fascinating, challenging and exciting music at its best, requiring equal parts technical skill and artistic creativity, so this is in no way a criticism of that style. But it IS a criticism of those who attempt to latch onto that style in ways they’re not suited to handle.

The horn solo starts off okay with a strong tone and some fire under it while being propelled along by hand-claps, giving it a little bit of character. As a rocker goes it’s got the proper energy but not quite the requisite toughness, though it’ll suffice in a pinch. But as that first solo starts to wind down it also takes off, like literally, flying off the beaten path and rising up the scale which leads into Tina Dixon as she… well, I might as well come right out and say it… as she loses control of her senses.

Dig Me Baby
You can’t say it isn’t interesting to hear a grown woman start babbling incoherently like a four year old trying to draw attention from the adults at a family gathering by loudly and tirelessly spouting gibberish. It usually works too, at least until said child’s mother firmly grasps their kid’s wrist and sternly warns them that they will be locked in a room until next Thursday if they don’t knock it off.

Unfortunately Dixon’s mom wasn’t around to do that with Tina because the longer this goes on the more convinced you become that she’s in need of medicine for her epilepsy or something.

We railed against Annie Laurie’s prolonged venture into scat-singing that plagued a run of her singles a year ago but those were mild compared to what Dixon seems afflicted with. She’s positively running amuck on this, sending those manning the control board fleeing out the back of the studio before the console starts to spark, smoke and hiss as the circuitry goes haywire.

When Dixon finally runs out of breath and passes out from lightheadedness Gene Nero returns with his horn which we can only be thankful for… at least until he too starts to spiral out of control. Luckily his playing never quite rises to the level of Dixon’s madness but you can clearly see how they were all trying to convince you that they could be billed as a bop-group with how they take flight here, making the rest of us airsick in the process.

All of that might convince you that we have no business reviewing this record – and to be honest last year we announced we were done with Dixon when we last met her and yes, we did know of this track coming out a year later which tells you our first impression would agree with the view that Blow Mr. Be-Bop doesn’t belong – yet here it is all the same.

So the question I suppose you may be asking is: Why? Is it just because we’re shamelessly trying to draw in more curious Tina Dixon searchers? Well… maybe… No, of course not! How dare you suggest such a thing.

The real reason is found in what follows that second horn solo when Dixon regains consciousness, apparently having no recollection of how she was speaking in tongues just a short time earlier. Now, as Dixon has regained her footing, not to mention her sanity, she tackles the end of Blow Mr. Be-Bop in a more straightforward way that has plenty to do with the standard rock approach, getting off some humorous lines that are balanced precariously between praise and put-downs, her voice suddenly strong and direct, eschewing the melodic structure at first but then embracing a more rhythmic delivery to close it out.

Granted it’s nothing spectacular, far from it actually, but considering it was cut at the same time as her first King single that was firmly at home in rock, and considering this had moments where that mentality managed to barge into their more crazed approach on the rest of it, and considering that this website claims in its title to actually appreciate a fair bit lunacy… well, why not humor Dixon and give her one last moment in the spotlight?

Chances are if you’ve made it this far you’re prepared for anything she might throw at you so we shouldn’t even have to include a warning that you should listen at your own risk.


(Visit the Artist page of Tina Dixon for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)