Interview by Scott Preston
Alex Dixon was born in 1975 on the South Side of Chicago. He was taught at a very early age how to play the blues by legendary bluesman, Willie Dixon, who also happened to be his grandfather and who raised him. He learned to play the piano with teachings from Leonard “Baby Doo” Caston, Lafayette Leake and his uncle Arthur “Butch” Dixon, all which had played in bands with Willie Dixon. The spirit of Little Brother Montgomery also came into play as he was a huge influence on Willie Dixon. Alex was being groomed to play with his grandfather on the stage at an early age. He was also a part of the first Blues In Schools programs put on by Blues Heaven Foundation, in which Alex would play different styles of blues while his grandfather narrated.
Alex accompanied his grandfather on piano in shows across the country, including many festivals and clubs throughout Los Angeles and Chicago. He co-wrote with his grandfather on the Grammy award winning album “Hidden Charms”, produced by T-Bone Burnett, which was the last album recorded by Willie Dixon. Alex was raised among the “Who’s Who” of Blues, including Bo Diddley, B.B. King, Chuck Berry and Koko Taylor. He was featured in Willie Dixon’s autobiography “I Am the Blues” and in his songbook. He has co-written over 40 songs with his grandfather, some of which will be released in upcoming projects. He was also recently featured on the cover of Southland Blues Magazine and was a spotlight article in the European blues magazine Blues Matters!.
Alex’s first CD titled “The Vintage Room” was his take on the Chicago Blues sound, led by vocalist/guitarist Cash McCall. His next CD, released April 28th, 2009, titled “Rising From The Bushes” by The Alex Dixon Band, is a mixture of blues and rock, and really showcases his many musical influences. Accompanying him in the studio was legendary drummer James Gadson (Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye), bassist Gerald Johnson (Steve Miller Band, Crosby Stills & Nash), vocalist Marcella Detroit (aka Marcy Levy – Eric Clapton, Shakespeare’s Sister), drummer Alvino Bennett (Koko Taylor, Dave Mason Band) and guitarist/vocalist Alan Mirikitani (aka BB Chung King), to name a few.
Alex, who is also currently Vice President at Blues Heaven Foundation, is doing his part to continue the legacy of the Dixon family and to ensure that the world will know about the “Roots of all American Music”…the blues.
Cincy Groove: Your new album just came out recently didn’t it?
Alex Dixon: Yes, Rising From The Bushes came out on April 28. We are getting some pretty good response from it so far so we are happy with it. My inspiration initially has always been the blues, but at the same time I wanted to try and take it to a different place.
Cincy Groove: What about collaborations on the record?
Alex Dixon: We used this lady Marcy Levy, she played in a band called Shakespeare’s Sister and also wrote Lay Down Sally with Eric Clapton. She is an incredible singer. We also used this up and coming guy , David Deals, a local guy and amazing singer. We have another guy named BB “Chung” King (Alan Mirikitani), its a funny name but he is a great guitar player. The band we use is like the who’s who of rock, R&B, blues. The drummer we use is James Gadson, who played with Bill Withers, Jackson 5, The Temptations. The bass player, Gerald Johnson is from the old Steve Miller Band, he played on The Joker and came up with that bass line in the song. He also played with Crosby, Stills, & Nash. A lot of the guys we use are the guys we would see with my grandfather (Willie Dixon). I knew a lot of them since I was young, so when it came time to put the record together I said I need a killer band that nobody would question.
Cincy Groove: When did you first play on stage with your grandfather?
Alex Dixon: I started playing piano at the age of 5 and by the time I was 10 I was playing on stage with him. We played together in this program called Blues in Schools, that they started about 20 years ago. We would go around to schools and my grandfather would narrate and we would go through different styles of blues. We would show the connection between blues and rock. I would do that during the school year and then during the summer I would get to go on the road which was a blast.
Cincy Groove: It had to be amazing to get to play with all these famous musicians that knew your grandfather.
Alex Dixon: Yeah, I got really lucky. I just turned 34 and I got to play with Bo Diddly, Stevie Ray Vaughn. A guy like Stevie Ray Vaughn, who is a legend, was also one of the most humble guys in the world. Which is kind of funny considering so many guys try to copy his style and he would say I’m just copying Albert King and Freddie King. It was the perfect environment to get my chops together.
Cincy Groove: I saw the photo of you sitting at the piano with your grandfather standing next to you. You had probably one of the best music teachers.
Alex Dixon: That was a photo that my grandmother had taken. In the beginning I didn’t want to practice all the time until I got to the point where I was comfortable with the piano. You know in the building stages its kind of difficult to stay interested. But after a while of playing shows and learning more it became a lot more fun.
Cincy Groove: Was there anything you wanted to pursue as a career besides music?
Alex Dixon: After high school and my grandfather passing away when I was about 17, I went to college. After college I actually had a government job for a while, but it just wasn’t that fulfilling. I did that for 7 years but it always seemed to come back to music. I went to the Chicago Blues Festival to help out with my grandfathers foundation, The Blues Heaven Foundation. I saw all the entertainment that was there and realized I didn’t want to stand on the sidelines so I put an album out (laughing).
Cincy Groove: Why did you end up forming Dixon Landing Music?
Alex Dixon: I wanted to have an outlet to give musicians who are just starting a little push that they might need. Learning from my grandfather and seeing what happened to him at Chess Records and the whole Led Zeppelin thing it just seemed easier for us to start our own label as opposed to going with a major company. The major labels have a lot more capital but if you have a good product and can get it out to a certain number of people you can be on a even playing field with the other companies.
Cincy Groove: Who are some blues artists that really impress you?
Alex Dixon: I really like Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. When I’m just listening to music and not writing I like to listen to the Derek Trucks Band, Lonnie Brooks. I try to tell the guys that when my grandfather, Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters were putting electric to the blues in the 1950’s they were considered crazy. People still thought the blues should be played on the porch with an acoustic guitar. People came to understand its all about pushing the envelope. The blues is more than just chord changes or a signature riff.
Cincy Groove: I see that you are heavily involved with the Blues Heaven Foundation.
Alex Dixon: Yes, I am the Vice President of the Blues Heaven Foundation, started by my grandfather in 1984. We were lucky enough to buy the old Chess Records building in Chicago and make it the foundations headquarters. We do tours everyday and are in the process of putting in a major recording studio upstairs. We are going to make it so up and coming artists have a chance to record in the studio.
Cincy Groove: Do you have any gigs coming up?
Alex Dixon: We are going to be opening for Dave Mason (Traffic) near the end of the summer and have some more gigs soon after that. We have been busy getting our music in commercials, movies and I have been busy with the foundation also. We will also be doing a Howlin Wolf tribute on the main stage at the Chicago Blues Festival in 2010, I know that’s weird to say but we are booking for next year already (laughing). We also will have a lot of gigs overseas where the blues seems to be more mainstream than it is in America.