Wake Up and Live!
Joyous new recordings by the creator of "Hey Bartender" and other 1940s and '50s jump blues classics. "A musical genius...impeccable piano technique, fabulous timing and a voice like a foghorn"--LIVING BLUES
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WINNER OF THE 1996 BLUES MUSIC AWARD FOR "COMEBACK ALBUM OF THE YEAR"
All songs Dixon, Cottontail West Publishing, BMI, except as noted
FLOYD DIXON, Piano and Vocals
PORT BARLOW, Electric and Acoustic Guitar
EDDIE SYNIGAL, Tenor Sax, Baritone Sax on track3
LESLIE BAKER, Acoustic Bass on tracks 2, 3, 6, 9, 10, 14 and 15
MARK GOLDBERG, Acoustic Bass on tracks 1, 8 and 16
RICK REED, Acoustic Bass on tracks 4, 5, 7, 11, 12 and 13
EDDIE CLARK, Drums on tracks 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14 and 15
JAMES ARVANS, Drums on tracks 1, 8, 12 and 16
JIMI BOTT, Drums on track 6
DANNY "BONE" WEINSTEIN, Trombone on tracks 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13 and 15
CHARLIE OWENS, Baritone Sax on tracks 1, 2, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 and 15
JOE CAMPBELL, Trumpet on tracks 2, 7 and 11
MARC ANTON, Horn Arrangements on 450 Pound Woman, I Wanna Rock Now, Rockin' At Home and Skeet's California Sunshine
DAVE HUTSON, Horn Arrangements on Hey, Bartender
Produced, engineered and mixed by PORT BARLOW
Recorded and mixed at Studio Trax, Walnut, CA
Cover photo by PAUL NATKIN/Photo Reserve
Inside and booklet solo photos by MICHAEL SCHWARTZ
Group photo by JOE WEINROTH
Cover design by MATT MINDE
Mastered by JAY O'ROURKE and BRUCE IGLAUER at Monster Disc, Chicago, IL
Port Barlow would like to thank Bruce Iglauer for his patience and faith in allowing him the time and freedom to produce this very unique album.
To capture the warm, rich "fat" sounds of the 1950s, all tracks were recorded direct to analog tape using vintage microphones and tube preamplifiers. To maintain and preserve this sound, all tracks were transferred into a Spectral Digital Audio Work Station. Editing, mixing and processing of the tracks were performed using both digital techniques and tube equipment.
THANKS TO Kathleen Cherrier and Right Time Productions, Shanthi and Silas Barlow, Dan Aykroyd and the House of Blues, The Full House Band, Eddie "Saxman" Synigal, Leslie and Eddie C., Joe Weinwroth, Billy Vera, The Rhythm and Blues Foundation, Bruce Iglauer and Alligator Records.
SPECIAL THANKS TO Dick Peachie
I love what Floyd Dixon has to offer: the warmth, the joy the heart. He's got his sorrowful side, too; he can slay me with a mournful slow blues. But when I think of Floyd Dixon, I think first of his ebullient, easy swingin' jump blues. He's one of the living masters of the jump blues. There aren't many left. When he takes to a stage and goes into something like Wake Up And Live, I Wanna Rock Now, or his classic, Hey, Bartender, he's carrying on a tradition that Louis Jordan, Amos Milburn, and a host of other departed greats made vital. He carries a lot of history with him; Jordan, Milburn and all were his friends and fellow travelers. But Dixon is no museum piece. He's as vibrant and soulful and sincere as ever. And this, I believe, is his most fully realized album.
I hope it brings Dixon to the attention of a generation of fans too young to have known him from his first period of success in the late 1940s and early '50s. I hope it will help bring him the sort of rediscovery that has occurred in the careers of such other rhythm and blues pioneers as Ruth Brown and Charles Brown, both of whom have known Dixon for decades. They've shared stages with him, and they appreciate what he has to offer as a musician and a man.
When Dixon first began making a name for himself in the world of rhythm and blues, he was perceived as being much in the Charles Brown mold. And why not? Like Brown (and Amos Milburn, for that matter), Dixon was born in Texas but achieved his first professional success only after moving to southern California. Brown, eight years Dixon's senior, was one of his best friends (they shared a common early mentor, too--songwriter Mark Hurley) and an important musical influence. They met when Dixon, in his mid teens, won a late 40s amateur contest at the Million Dollar Theater in Los Angeles, where Brown, as part of the Three Blazers, was performing as a featured attraction. For a while Dixon consciously strove to emulate Brown.
Dixon's early records were often evocative of those made by the Charles Brown Trio or by Johnny Moore's Three Blazers when it featured the piano and voice of Brown. There was even a period, after Brown had left Moore's Three Blazers, when Dixon joined up with the group for about a year; in fact, one of Dixon's biggest hits, Telephone Blues (1951), was recorded by him with the Three Blazers.
But writers have often exaggerated the similarities between Dixon and Brown. Any serious listener will soon realize Dixon is his own man, and, although Dixon and Brown have remained good friends (and have even recorded together) the stylistic differences between the two men have grown greater over the years. Oh, Dixon can do some of that wonderful, subdued, after hours thing that Brown is famous for, that Brown practically holds a patent on; but if you listen to him much, you realize that Dixon really loves to rock more than Brown. (The thing he wants to know if he’s considering hiring a new drummer to work with him is always, “Can that drummer rock?”) As his musical director, Port Barlow, notes, when Dixon gets into the music, he’ll bounce up and down on his piano bench in a way you can’t imagine Brown doing—and the audience will get caught up in the rhythms. He’s also a bit earthier than Brown. Brown appreciates all the major blues artists, of course, but he’s also partial to the classical music of Chopin (you can hear some of that refined influence in his piano touch) and the sultry big band era vocal stylings of Helen O’Connell (you can hear her influence in some of his phrasings and choice of repertoire, too). Dixon, by contrast, is more into the down-home blues shouting of a Wynonie Harris. He can still recall bawdy lyrics of Harris’ that he loved singing even before he thought of singing professionally himself. Dixon and Brown are both masters of R&B. They have similar roots. But they’ve found their own niches. And Dixon loves performing originals. He is the author or co-author of every number on this CD.
As a pianist, Dixon was influenced in part by such pros as Count Basie, Art Tatum, Fats Waller, Pete Johnson, Bill Doggett and Milt Buckner; but he was also influenced by self-taught blues and boogie-woogie players who never became known outside of Texas. As a youth in Marshall, Texas, his hero was a local favorite piano player who went by the name of “Roadmaster.” Dixon can still play Road’s Boogie the rambunctious way he remembers hearing it as a boy of nine and ten in the late 1930s. Growing up immersed in that southwestern blues tradition gives his music an authenticity that no conservatory-trained youth of today can ever hope to emulate. His playing is rollicking, unpretentious, and satisfying.
I’m not going to tell Dixon’s life in depth here. I’ve just profiled him, along with Charles Brown, Ruth Brown, Jimmy Witherspoon, Little Jimmy Scott, and LaVern Baker, in Blue Rhythm: Six Lives in Rhythm and Blues (University of Illinois Press). But I would like to comment briefly on a few of the songs.
Hey, Bartender is the high-spirited curtain raiser. This Dixon original, first recorded by him in 1954, has become his most requested number, thanks to successful recordings of it by the Blues Brothers in 1983 and country singer Johnny Lee in 1985 (both of those versions, incidentally, were cited as outstanding recordings in their genres in Billboard). Sometimes, when he plays clubs, Dixon gets requests to do this number several times in a night. Eddie Synigal takes several booting sax choruses, joined for the last one by guitarist Port Barlow. Synigal, who’s played on dates with Dixon for several years now, may best be known for the decade or so he spent with B.B. King. The whole band, impeccably recorded, sounds bright and tight, and into the spirit of the thing. Classic R&B. The kind of record you thought no one made anymore.
My Song Is Don’t Worry has an interesting genesis. This started as a from-the-heart poem Dixon had on his answering machine as a message for people calling him. He just wanted to share some of his values with the world. Eddie Synigal called Dixon one day, heard Dixon’s voice reciting the poem on the answering machine and then left a message of his own—that poem was too good to be an answering machine message; it should be a song. Dixon took the poem off the machine and set it to music. The result? A wonderful, steeped-in-the-blues sampling of Dixon’s current work and philosophy. The feeling is so pure. There’s nothing slick here. Just honest communication.
The insistent You Know That’ll Get It is actually a number of Dixon’s, originally written around 1950; for this recording, Dixon and Port Barlow have revised the lyrics, feeling some of the original ones had grown dated.
A Long Time Ago is a number Dixon plays regularly, one he recorded on a hard-to-find “live” album some years back.
A Dream, as one might guess from its references to such figures as Oprah Winfrey, Kim Fields and Brooke Shields (whom he really does think is great) and from the more contemporary-style arrangement, is a new number.
You’re The Only One For Me features the small-group instrumentation Dixon often uses for club dates. Structurally, this is very similar to another song Dixon and company often do (and have previously recorded), Walkin’ And Talkin’. You’re The Only One For Me evolved out of Walkin’ And Talkin’, a song that gradually picked up extra verses over the years. After a while, Dixon took some of the extra verses of Walkin’ And Talkin’ and set them to a new melody; the result: You’re The Only One For Me. But the situation remains fluid. Sometimes Dixon will still sing these verses as part of one long version of Walkin’ And Talkin’.
450 Pound Woman is playful and swingin’ and fun. Dixon likes songs with some humor to them. When he first wrote this song, she was a 750 Pound Woman. Maybe she’s dieted or something since then. Whatever her weight, he still seems to dig her.
This is the first-ever recording of Mean And Jealous Man, which Dixon composed in the 1980s. Port Barlow came across it in Dixon’s little book of songs one day and said, “Someday we have to record this one.” These lyrics express a darker side of Dixon’s nature: suspicious, mistrustful, and maybe even a bit self-destructive. This song comes from genuine feelings Dixon has, no less than the upbeat ones.
I Wanna Rock Now is a Dixon staple and utterly infectious. Port notes, “We do some version of this almost every night. Floyd may sing it as ‘I’m gonna rock’ or Let’s rock tonight,’ or something else, depending upon how he feels. A lot of times he’ll use this one to start a medley, perhaps going from it into an oldie like Shake, Rattle and Roll.” The baritone sax solo, incidentally, is by Charlie Owens, who in recent years has played in the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
Don’t Send Me No Flowers In The Graveyard has been covered by others, including Ray Charles, who knew Dixon from early ‘50s tours before Ray became famous. One blues authority, Sheldon Harris, names Dixon as an influence upon Charles.
Wake Up And Live is a kicker that Dixon wrote back in the ‘50s. (The traditional horn riffs evoke the era, too.) It may remind you a bit of Let The Good Times Roll, one of a couple of numbers popularized by Louis Jordan that Dixon says he was involved in writing, although he was never credited.
The lyrics of Rockin’ At Home, a Dixon tune from the ‘50s, have been updated by him slightly to include references to Port Barlow and Kathleen Cherrier. (Kathleen’s been managing Dixon since 1989.) Including them in the song is his way of expressing his appreciation for their steadfast belief in him—and I’ve never met two people more dedicated to an artist’s well being.
I Got The Blues So Bad, a recent composition of Dixon’s, grew out of a transitional passage he used to insert into a melody of numbers associated with Ray Charles and Charles Brown. It grew into a song of its own.
Skeet’s California Sunshine, an infectious new number, expresses where Dixon is at today, musically and attitudinally. (“Skeet” is a nickname he’s had since childhood.) Nothing makes him happier than driving around southern California, the sun beaming down on him.
The closing instrumental, Gettin’ Ready, is representative of the way Dixon sometimes limbers up. Port notes: “Floyd had no idea we’d use this for the album. He was really just warming up, letting it all hang out. I was just comping behind him, Freddie Green style, the whole way. You’ll hear influences of Count Basie, a touch of Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid. He’s always been open to all different influences. He’ll go to the Union Hall, not just to practice, but to ask what other musicians are doing, to listen, and see if there’s something he might want to pick up.”
Dixon had nearly dropped out of music—he was only playing a couple of gigs a year—when Port Barlow and Kathleen Cherrier, who were then active in the Southern California Blues Society, came into his life in 1989. Dixon had been burned so many times in his career—by record companies, booking agencies, and irresponsible musicians—he had little interest in seeking work anymore. But Port and Kathleen gradually won his trust. They got him working again—as many as one hundred gigs in one year—and they got him exposure at important festivals. This long-planned album, the result of a lot of love, care, and thought, will no doubt bring Dixon more offers of work.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “There are no second acts in American lives.” You have your moment, Fitzgerald believed, but when it’s over it’s over. Ruth Brown proved him wrong when she came back bigger than ever. Charles Brown, too. I think it’s Floyd’s turn now. Give a listen. As Port Barlow says: “You gotta believe every word of every song.” –CHIP DEFFAA
Chip Deffaa is a jazz critic with The New York Post.