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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hey Bartender - Floyd Dixon

Floyd Dixon - Blues pianist, vocalist ( February 8,1929 - 2006)

This critically acclaimed performer - best known for his 1954 song “Hey Bartender” - stood alongside Charles Brown, Ray Charles and Louis Jordan as one of a few artists who helped transform swing music into Rhythm & Blues.

A wonderful exponent of what is often referred to as West Coast blues, more piano based and jazz influenced than much of the blues and R&B referenced in the Primer, Floyd is a leading practitioner of this 'California style'. Both the state and the style played host to a great many post war Texas bluesmen, and the jazzy T-Bone Walker approach became a mainstay of the genre.

Born J Riggins Jr., Dixon began playing piano and singing as a child and in Texas he was exposed to a range of blues and gospel influences, as well as a little jazz and hillbilly.

His family moved to Los Angeles in 1942 when Floyd was thirteen and it was here that Dixon came into contact with Charles Brown, a major musical influence throughout his working life. To an extent Brown took the young piano player under his wing and when Johnny Moore's Three Blazers split up, Dixon had learned more than enough to act as a natural replacement for the Brown sound - he made a number of early Brown style recordings with Eddie Williams (the original Blazers' bassist) and with Johnny Moore's new Blazers line-up for both the Aladdin and Combo labels.

Floyd also recorded extensively with his own trio, signing with Modern Records in 1949 and adding the influences of jump blues stalwarts Louis Jordan and Amos Milburn to the urban sophistication of Charles Brown. He had his early successes with Modern, securing a top ten R&B hit with 'Dallas Blues' and following it up with the slightly less successful 'Mississippi Blues' (1949). He switched to Aladdin and in the following year scored another hit with 'Sad Eyes', followed by 'Telephone Blues' and 'Call Operator 210'; on the last recording, he was backed by Johnny Moore's Three Blazers.

Dixon switched to the Specialty label in 1952/3 (and the Atlantic subsidiary Cat in 1954) and, although the groove was much the same, he recorded some of his better known material around this time. 'Hey Bartender' is possibly his best known tune and his original version was picked up on by Koko Taylor and by the Blues Brothers on their multi million selling first album.

Dixon continued to record for a selection of small West Coast and Texas independent labels throughout the 50s and 60s and he was in constant demand as a live performer. By the 1970s however, the self styled Mr. Magnificent dropped out of the music scene to enjoy a quieter life back in his home state of Texas. It wasn't until 1975 that he made a comeback of sorts, beginning with a tour of Sweden, where he became the first artist to be featured on the Route 66 re-issue label. In the 1980s, he toured as part of the European Blues Caravan with Ruth Brown and Charles Brown.

In 1984 he was commissioned to write a blues for the Los Angeles Olympic Games ('Olympic Blues') and in the 90s his powerful performances were a fixture on American blues and jazz festivals. His older recordings are now available again and in the mid 1990s he secured a contract with Alligator Records. The “Wake Up And Live” album is well worth the admission price, with Floyd still singing and playing with an artistic fire and passion that remains undiminished - his support band is excellent and, although he reprises material from his earlier years such as 'Hey Bartender', the exercise never slips into revivalism.

In 1993 Dixon received the Rhythm & Blues Foundation's Pioneer Career Achievement Award. Living Blues Magazine recognized him in 1997 as Most Outstanding Blues Musician (Keyboards) and as Comeback Artist Of The Year. Praise indeed for his “impeccable piano technique, fabulous timing, and a voice like a foghorn”. He also received the W.C. Handy award for Comeback Album Of The Year for “Wake Up And Live”. He never stopped performing, and he recorded another CD, “Fine, Fine Thing,” for the HighJohn label in 2005. In June 2006, Dixon recorded a live CD/DVD with fellow pianists Pinetop Perkins and Henry Gray,
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