Without question, pianist/vocalist Floyd Dixon is one of the true heroes of
early R&B and jump blues. His first hits--most notably Telephone
and Call Operator 210
from the early 1950s--placed him at
the forefront of West Coast blues musicians. Along with Charles Brown, Amos
Milburn, Louis Jordan and Ray Charles (to whom Dixon gave vocal coaching), Floyd
Dixon helped create and define and entire genre of music.
Floyd Dixon was born in Marshall, Texas in 1929. His family moved to Los
Angeles when he was 13, and Floyd quickly decided on a career in music. A
self-taught pianist, Dixon began his career by singing mostly cool, after-hours
piano blues in the Charles Brown mode. Soon enough, however, Dixon charted his
own territory with a more rocking, jumping style. From traditional, slow blues
to booming R&B, pop and proto-rock and roll, Dixon's created a sound and
style that was his alone.
After Dixon won a few talent contests in Los Angeles, bandleader Johnny Otis
encouraged him to record. Dixon signed with Modern Records and recorded his
first single, Dallas Blues,
while still working his day job at
Orenstein's Drug Store. He went on to record hits for a number of labels,
including Modern, Supreme, Aladdin, and Specialty. By the time he released the
classic Hey Bartender,
recorded for the Cat label in 1954, Dixon was an
established star in the West Coast R&B scene. He toured constantly and at
various times shared the stage with the likes of Ruth Brown, B.B. King, Charles
Brown and Ray Charles. It was an early tour with Charles that Dixon encouraged
Ray to switch from his suave Nat King Cole approach to a more gospel-inspired
delivery. Charles took his advice, and the result for Ray Charles was an
unsurpassed string of R&B hits.
Although he continued to perform and record sporadically through the 1960s
and early 1970s, Dixon nearly dropped out of music altogether, living a secluded
life in Paris, Texas. He was invited to perform in Sweden and quickly developed
an international following. With reissues of his older material beginning to
surface, European interest in Dixon continued to rise. In 1980, he joined the
European Blues Caravan tour with old friends Charles Brown and Ruth Brown.
Dixon continued to perform occasionally on the West Coast during the 1980s
and even spent time on the road with the then-unknown Robert Cray and Little
Charlie & The Nightcats. In 1984 he received a Billboard
Award for Hey Bartender,
recorded by the Blues Brothers. The following
year, he received a Billboard
Country Award for the song, recorded by
country singer Johnny Lee.
In 1989 Dixon hooked up with guitarist Port Barlow and manager Kathleen
Cherrier, who were then active in Southern California Blues Society. Having been
burned out by the recording business, Dixon was at first a bit apprehensive
about putting a band together and seeking work. But Barlow and Cherrier
gradually won his trust. With their assistance, he received the Rhythm &
Blues Foundation's Pioneer Career Achievement Award in 1993. They secured gigs
for Dixon and got him exposure at major outdoor blues festivals, including the
Monterey Jazz Festival, the Sacramento Blues Festival and the Chicago Blues
In 1996, Wake Up And Live!
was released on Alligator
Records. Along with his swinging road band, The Full House (featuring ex-B.B.
King bandleader Eddie "Saxman" Synigal), Dixon recorded the album at Studio Trax
in Walnut, California, near Dixon's Los Angeles home. Using vintage microphones
and amplifiers to achieve a 1950s sound, the result was a spirited mix of 16
jumping R&B and slow blues all either written or co-written by Dixon.
Starting off with a reinvented version of the classic Hey Bartender,
(originally recorded in 1954, the song came back into the national spotlight
with the 1983 recording by The Blues Brothers), the album's contagious energy
never let up. From the joyous I Wanna Rock Now
to the sorrowful Got
The Blues So Bad
to the humor-filled A Dream
to the Ray
Charles-like Don't Send Me No Flowers In The Graveyard,
reflects Dixon's (and his band's) mastery of jump blues. New York Post
jazz critic Chip Deffaa said Dixon is "as vibrant and soulful as ever." And he
called Wake Up And Live!
Dixon's "most fully realized album.
His playing is rollicking, unpretentious and satisfying."
Floyd Dixon's jump blues are as vital and exciting as ever. He resides in
California and is still performing today.