Living Blues called Floyd Dixon "a musical genius" with "impeccable piano technique." Dixon, a West Coast jump blues and R&B pianist, singer and songwriter, died of kidney failure yesterday in Los Angeles at the age of 77. He was best known for the 1954 song "Hey Bartender" (later popularized by The Blues Brothers).
Alligator Records send out a press release on Dixon's death. It said that Dixon stood alongside Charles Brown, Ray Charles and Arkansas's own Louis Jordan "as one of a few artists who helped transform swing music into rhythm & blues. ... Dixon was one of the true heroes of early R&B and jump blues."
Dixon was born in Marshal, Texas, on Feb. 8, 1929, and his family moved to L.A. when he was 13. The self-taught pianist first recorded for Supreme Records in 1947 and then for Modern Records in 1949. He switched to Aladdin Records and had his first hits, "Telephone Blues" and "Call Operator 210" in 1951 and 1952 before hitting it big in 1954 with "Hey Bartender" for the Cat label. Here's more in Dixon from Alligator, the label for his 1996 "comeback" album "Wake Up and Live!"
After Dixon won a few talent contests in Los Angeles, bandleader Johnny Otis encouraged him to record. Dixon 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" 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 performed 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" Blues 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 1993 Dixon received the Rhythm & Blues Foundation's Pioneer Career Achievement Award. This helped him secure gigs at major outdoor blues festivals, including the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Sacramento Blues Festival and the Chicago Blues Festival.
In 1996 Dixon's album "Wake Up And Live!" was released on Alligator Records. The album won the 1997 Blues Music Award from The Blues Foundation for "Comeback Album of the Year." The CD reintroduced Dixon to old fans and brought him many new ones. 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, scheduled for a fall release on HighJohn.