Archive for the ‘Dixon Bros.’ Category

Dixon Bros. on JSP

September 1, 2012


BCD-16817 THE DIXON BROTHERS “A Blessing to People”

We have about used up all the superlatives we could find in describing the various magnificent boxed sets that Germany’s BEAR FAMILY label has issued over the years, but this wonderful new 4-CD set calls for the highest praise. Bear Family’s earliest sets reflected its owner’s love of Rockabilly and mainstream country music (Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, etc.), then they pro- duced complete recordings of all the major Bluegrass groups (the early box sets of Flatt & Scruggs, Bill Monroe and Jimmy Martin have consistently been among our best sellers).

The label has only dabbled in Old-time music, with wonderful sets of Darby & Tarlton, the Bristol Sessions, and of course Jimmie Rodgers, so this superb boxed set is quite a surprise. Before we point out some of the highlights here, let us say that this is not for everyone: it is raw, almost primitive “home made” music that must be an acquired taste to the mod- ern listener. But Dorsey & Howard Dixon—textile mill workers from South Carolina—evidently struck a popu- lar chord with thousands of fellow mill hands who kept coming back for more, as their extensive repertoire found its way onto several dozen Bluebird and Mon gomery Ward records in the late 1930s.

In all, the four CDs include about 90 of the duo’s songs—in fact everything that they recorded commercially apart from a handful of lost masters. ( The 4th disc here is devoted to later recordings that Dorsey Dixon made in the 1960s for Pete Welding’s Testament label, in- cluding 21 previously unissued titles—certainly an interesting bonanza for today’s fans.) The brothers’ songs—many of them penned by Dorsey, and including Howard’s slide guitar accompa- niment—include quite a variety of material, ranging from IN- TOXICATED RAT and SALES TAX ON THE WOMEN to lovely, soulful gospel duets of Dorsey and Beatrice Dixon like SATISFIED AT LAST.

But a good number of the songs have to do with mill workers and their hard lives: best known of these are WEAVE ROOM BLUES, SPINNING ROOM BLUES, WEAVER’S LIFE and HOW CAN A BROKE MAN BE HAPPY. And of course there is I DIDN’T HEAR ANYBODY PRAY (later a big hit for Roy Acuff as “WRECK ON THE HIGHWAY”), and the Dixons’ unique take on the sinking of the Titanic, DOWN WITH THE OLD CANOE. There are plenty of other song highlights like LITTLE BESSIE, TWO LITTLE BOYS, WHITE FLOWER FOR YOU, TWO LITTLE ROSE- BUDS etc. And the overall sound quality is some of the best we’ve heard involving transfers of old 78s. We could devote an entire page to the absolutely wonderful hard cover book (164 pages) that graces this collection—we’ll just say it’s a treasure house of rare photos, discography and all sorts of fascinating ephemera. Just a great, great set! $ 99.00

Dorsey Dixon and John Edwards

August 5, 2012

Edited excerpt from “Linthead Stomp: the Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South,” by Patrick Huber (University of North Carolina Press, 2008):

[Dorsey Dixon, of the legendary Dixon Brothers, was inspired at an extremely low point in his life by a correspondence with Australian record collector John Edwards in 1960.]

Dixon Bros.

June 14, 2012

by Eugene Chadbourne (

As tough as the life of a professional musician must have been in the ’30s, the plight of a typical Carolina millworker was a whole lot worse. This was the background that Dorsey and Howard Dixon were born into, as they and their family all worked in the mills of Darlington, Lancaster, and Greenville, SC, as well as East Rockingham, NC. Dorsey was born October 5, 1897, and his brother on June 9, 1903.

Music was an outlet from the long hours, lousy pay, and miserable factory conditions, with the workers often picked on by their bosses for being so-called hillbillies, and persecuted by local police for being so-called communists. Perhaps a career in country music was inevitable for hillbilly communists and it surely must have seemed like it would be more rewarding. At any rate, Dorsey picked up guitar at 14 and switched to fiddle later. When his little brother also figured out chords on the guitar, the two put together a fiddle-guitar duo, although the older brother continued practicing guitar.

The most important musical influence on the Dixons was a local guitarist named Jimmy Tarleton, who had been a member of a successful duo, Darby and Carleton. The Depression had sandbagged this duo’s career, so Tarleton had returned to the Little Hanna Pickett Mill in East Rockingham and his old job as a textile worker. He made friends with the brothers and the talk frequently turned to music, with lots of song trading going on. The brothers flipped over Tarleton’s slide-guitar sound, which was much more heavily influenced by black blues styles. A strength of the Dixon Brothers’ sound inevitably was the blues influence they filtered down through their friend, the result being a bit less of an overt blues influence, but plenty of stylistic shading.

Howard also switched instruments because of his new friend, so enamored was he with the sound of the National steel. This in turn had an effect on Dorsey’s guitar style. He ditched the flatpick and began working out his own approach to the instrument. Tarleton later repaid the debt by recording “Weaver’s Blues,” his own version of a Dixon Brothers song entitled “Weaver’s Life.” The Dixon Brothers began performing in 1932 at local shindigs, but really began their professional career two years later on the WBT Saturday Night Jamboree. This was a popular show and led to work outside the area and eventual recording opportunities with Victor. The company taped more than 60 numbers between 1936 and the close of the decade.

Legend has it that at one Dixon Brothers recording session, the brothers Bill and Earl Bolick walked by the studio for an audition and were so frightened by the intense Dixon Brothers sound that they fled, later regaining their composure to do rather well as the Blue Sky Boys. The recordings were certainly not flops by any means, but when the contract with Victor ran out and the second World War began, the brothers basically retired from music.

Dorsey was a loom-fixer the rest of his life, retiring in 1951. In 1960 Howard died on the job, but a year later Dorsey felt fit enough to make some new recordings and eventually to perform at the Newport Folk Festival, where he was introduced to the crowd by folksinger Pete Seeger. The elderly statesman did so well he was invited back to the festival the next year. He did a new record for Piedmont as well as the archives of the Library of Congress, but neither was released commercially. Keeping up a schedule of concerts was more than he could handle at his age. He retired to Florida and died in 1968 at the age of 71