Alex Dixon’s Vintage Dixon – The Real McCoy
11 songs – 37 minutes
No one in the world today is rooted in Chicago blues as firmly as producer/bassist/keyboard player Alex Dixon, and that comes through loud and clear on this CD. Serving as the recording debut of vocalist Lewis “Big Lew” Powell, it delivers a powerful reminder that the old-school sounds of the Windy City are just as important and viable today as they were in their heyday in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.
Alex was raised by grandfather Willie Dixon – without question one of the most important bluesmen ever, and grew up in a home that welcomed a steady stream of superstars. He took piano lessons from Leonard “Baby Doo” Caston of Big Three Trio fame, his uncle Butch and Little Brother Montgomery. And at age 10, he played keys in various styles as Willie narrated as the duo laid the groundwork for what would become the international Blues in the Schools movement.
Now based in the San Francisco Bay area, Alex toured with Willie for four years and wrote co-wrote 40 tunes with him, including “Study War No More,” a key cog in his grandfather’s last album, the Grammy-winning Hidden Charms. As an adult, he’s a past-president of the Dixon family’s Blues Heaven Foundation, and currently serves as royalty director of Hoochie Coochie Music, Willie’s extensive songwriting catalog that’s been covered by Cream, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and hundreds of others.
This is the third CD Alex has written and produced, following The Vintage Room, a 2007 blues-rock collaboration with guitarist Cash McCall billed as The Blues Experience, and Rising From the Ashes in 2009, billed as The Alex Dixon Band. Dixon met Powell – the drummer for Chicago vocalist Nellie “Tiger” Travis – at the 2015 Chicago Blues Festival, fell in love with his voice – a powerful baritone reminiscent, but rougher than his grandfather – and has been developing this project ever since.
Powell’s featured throughout with Dixon doubling on electric and upright bass and piano. They’re surrounded by several of the most important second- and third-generation blues artists today, including Sugar Blue and Steve Bell – Carey’s son – on harmonica and Alvino Bennett (Koko Taylor, Mighty Joe Young) on drums with Melvin Taylor and Gino Matteo on guitars throughout with guest appearances from Rico McFarland and Joey Delgado on two cuts each. Alex’s 13-year-old daughter Leila and Maori sound weaver Whaia sit in on backing vocals.
Composed of seven originals penned by Alex and four familiar covers from Willie’s catalog, this album was recorded at EastWest Studios in Hollywood, Calif., the site of the elder Dixon’s final recordings and fulfills Alex’s desire to deliver music with an authentic traditional Chicago blues sound.
Blue explodes out of the gate to open “Nothing New Under the Sun” with Powell hot on his heels, proving he’s a blues belter of the first order, albeit with limited range. It’s a hard-hitting shuffle that takes its time before flowing into “Spider in My Stew.” A soul-blues hit for Buster Benton in 1973, it gets a complete makeover and comes across with an uneasy feel that enforces the subject: that the singer suspects his lady’s cheating.
The tempo picks up for medium-paced shuffle “The Real McCoy” in which Powell cautions that he can spot a phony in a glance and warns: “The time right here/Is all we got/I’m gonna love you/If you like it or not.” An unhurried harp solo opens the ballad “My Greatest Desire,” the original complaint that the singer’s given his lady everything she wanted, but he’s in agony now that she’s gone.
A block of three Willie numbers — “When I Make Love” first recorded in 1973 by Margie Evans, “Howlin’ for My Darlin’” — co-written with Howlin’ Wolf and released by Chess in 1959 and “Groanin’ the Blues,” first laid down by Otis Rush on Cobra in 1957 – follow before four more originals fill out the set.
The percussive “10,000 Miles Away” – which features Bell and Whaia — revisits the separation theme, this time with Powell stating he has to move halfway around the globe because his love’s still strong before the action heats dramatically for the stop-time pleaser, “Chi-Town Boogie,” featuring McFarland. “I Want to Be Loved” borrows heavily from Willie’s “I Want to Be Loved” before the band reprises the previous song as “Chi-Town Boogie Instrumental.”
This one’s available in all formats and is a definite recommendation for anyone with old-school tastes.