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Dixon Brothers

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. ~ Eugene Chadbourne
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Bloody War: Songs 1924-1939

1. Just As The Sun Went Down

2. Bloody War

3. Faded Coat Of Blue

4. Army Mule In No Man's Land

5. Rainbow Division

6. Battleship Of Maine

7. Long Way To Tipperary

8. Dixie Division

9. That Old Vacant Chair

10. Johnnie Get Your Gun

11. Uncle Sam & The Kaiser

12. He Is Coming To Us Dead

13. Captain Won't You Let Me Go Home

14. Not A Word Of That Be Said

15. Everybody Help The Boys Come Home

x

Track List: People Take Warning 3: Man Vs. Man

Disc 1

2. Wreck Of The Old 97

3. Bill Wilson

4. The Crash Of The Akron

5. The Fate Of Talmadge Osborne

8. Fate Of Will Rogers & Wiley Post

9. Down With The Old Canoe

10. Wreck Of Number 52

11. Kassie Jones Part 1

12. Kassie Jones Part 2

13. The Brave Engineer

14. The Sinking Of The Titanic

15. Fate Of Chris Lively And Wife

16. Wreck On The Mountain Road

17. The Unfortunate Brakeman

19. The Fatal Wreck Of The Bus

20. Last Scene Of The Titanic

21. Casey Jones

23. The Titanic

24. When That Great Ship Went Down

Disc 2

1. The Story Of The Mighty Mississippi

3. Dixie Boll Weevil

5. Ohio Prison Fire

6. Memphis Flu

7. Explosion In The Fairmount Mine

8. Storm That Struck Miami

9. When The Levee Breaks

10. Alabama Flood

13. High Water Everywhere, Part 2

14. Ryecove Cyclone

15. McBeth Mine Explosion

16. Dry Well Blues

17. Baltimore Fire

18. Tennessee Tornado

19. Dry Spell Blues, Part 2

20. The Santa Barbara Earthquake

21. The Death Of Floyd Collins

22. The Porto Rico Storm

Disc 3

2. The Little Grave In Georgia

3. Kenney Wagner's Surrender

4. Henry Clay Beattie

5. The Murder Of The Lawson Family

7. Railroad Bill

8. Frankie

9. Trial Of Richard Bruno Hauptmann, Part 1

10. Trial Of Richard Bruno Hauptmann, Part 2

12. Darling Cora

13. Billy Lyons And Stack O' Lee

14. Tom Dooley

17. Fingerprints Upon The Windowpane

18. The Bluefield Murder

20. Fate Of Rhoda Sweeten

21. Dupree Blues

22. Poor Ellen Smith

x

Track List: Prayers From Hell

1. That Lonesome Valley

3. Church In The Wildwood

4. New Prisoner's Song

5. Didn't Hear Nobody Pray

6. The Heavenly Train

8. We Shall Rise

9. Down South Blues

10. What Will You Take In Exchange

11. Shining City Over The River

13. It Is Better Farther On

14. Country Blues

15. What Would The Profit Be

17. Stackalee

20. Sugar Baby

21. He Will Be Your Savior, Too

23. When Jesus Appears

24. Pretty Polly

x

Track List: Work Hard, Play Hard, Pray Hard: Hard Time, Good Time & End Time Music, 1923-1936

Disc 1

1. John Henry The Steel Drivin' Man

2. Poor Man, Rich Man (Cotton Mill Colic No. 2)

3. I've Got The Chain Store Blues

4. The Farmer Is The Man Who Feeds Them All

5. The Farmer's Dream

6. When The Roses Bloom Again For The Bootlegger

12. Poor Boy Long Ways From Home

Disc 2

1. Work Don't Bother Me

2. Soldier's Joy

5. Barnyard Frolic

8. The Beer Party

9. Charleston Rag

11. Too Tight Rag

12. Cheat Em

13. Hide Away

14. The Preacher Got Drunk And Laid Down His Bible

Disc 3

1. You've Got To Stop Drinking Shine

2. Climbing The Golden Stairs

4. Easter Day

5. I'm S-A-V-E-D

15. My Christian Friends In Bonds Of Love

Comments

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