Errol Dixon – Midnight Train – Live at Vienna Jazzland 1973
23 tracks | 73 minutes
Errol Dixon is a master of boogie-woogie piano and vocal based blues. Born Errol Barnes in Jamaica in 1939, he moved to London in ’57 to study music. He had a hit his first time recording with “Midnight Train” in 1961 on Blue Beat Records. This intimate solo show at Vienna’s famed Jazzland allows the listener an aural glimpse into the past glory days of the ‘70’s when itinerant musicians with historical significance still mattered so much. The presence of the club’s loyal patrons along with the sound of clinking glasses and bottles adds to the ambience. They clap their hands and stomp their feet in perfect 4/4 time. Errol’s left hand eight-to-the-bar rolling bass lines set the pace. Errol gets better with each song. His humble answer to the crowd’s ever increasing delight is simply “Thank you very much. You’re very kind.”
The opening track “Stormy Monday”, by T-Bone Walker, starts the evening off with a proven blues classic. He shows off his right hand’s melodic know-how with trills, glissandi and cluster chords. Then he does an original instrumental aptly titled “Foot Stompin’ Boogie”. It ends with a simple single note major triad (C-E-G) going up to the octave above landing squarely like a rock on the Dominant 7th root chord with a high note tremolo-trill. His endings are pleasantly formulaic signaling there’s much more to come. Good solid endings help make for great evenings of music. His gift is the ability to get the crowd to always want more. 23 songs may sound like a lot but it goes by very quickly.
“Hey Bartender”, by Floyd Dixon, the source of Errol’s surname (see liner notes), gets the show on the road for good. This is followed by “Stagger Lee”, one of the best story songs in the genre. Sometimes he vamps his endings, sometimes he repeats the final turnaround two or three times, or to be different, he sometimes plays an instrumental last verse to bring the song to an end. He uses a well-honed set of boogie-woogie skills to detail each song in a variety of different ways. The crowd’s desire to participate is always present throughout the show. Errol’s “Pretty Baby”; “Baby, I Love You So“; and “I’ve Got the Blues” all have emotionally engaging lyrics which merge with his easy going and empathetic piano backdrops. “Every night about midnight I’m alone holding your picture tight. Your picture reminds me of you on the night you said goodbye. I got the blues and it’s all because of you.” Errol’s foolish pride won’t let him beg his baby to come home but he’s not to proud to tell us all about it. This is the foundation of the blues: The lost love confessional. The twist here is he can’t tell her but he can tell the listener.
Other stand out tracks include Junior Parker’s first hit on Duke Records in 1956 “Next Time You See Me”. This is the song with one of the most unforgettable chorus lines: “Well, you lied, cheated whoa, for so long”, a sure fire mid-set crowd pleaser. No song is too popular for Errol to tackle as he makes them all his own. For example: Leiber and Stoller’s old standby “Kansas City”, is so done, it’s overcooked but here he messes with the pronunciation giving it a down in the gutter feel and leans hard into the break making it perfectly well-done. Errol takes on Herbie Hancock’s jazzy blues “Waterman Man” and turns it into a boogie instrumental called “Driftin’ Funky Blues” with an almost New Orleans’s Second Line feel to it. B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby” is problematic for some but it’s such a loved song the audience explodes on hearing the first word. Some songs just work. Errol picks all the right ones and sprinkles them in and around his fine original compositions for maximum response. Errol’s hit is right up there with B.B’s. The imagery works because what’s lonelier than a midnight train? “My baby’s comin’ home, coming on the midnight train. Been such a long time, since my baby’s been gone.”
In addition to being a great live album this CD is also a primer in the art of piano boogie blues. His song selection and sequence plays a big part. Errol could be compared to many artists but most notably Memphis Slim and here he nails Memphis’ “Bye Bye Baby”. “Baby” is Errol’s “go to” melodic passion word. It’s the second to last tune on the record, the encore before the encore. Put this CD on, pour the drinks and clink your glasses with good music loving friends. The secret of success as a continuing performer long after the hits ware off is simply playing the music people want to hear.