Arizona’s Unofficial Music Historian: John Dixon

Kayla Frost

Kayla Frost

If anyone knows anything about Arizona’s music history, it’s John Dixon. Since the early 1960s, Dixon has acquired an impressive collection of records, CDs and cassettes of Arizona-made music… no wonder people call him the state’s “unofficial music historian.” Dixon says his archive (which isn’t limited to just music made by Arizonans) started as a hobby when he was a DJ at sock hops. Over time, the collection grew, and grew and grew — and now it fills a room in his house, as well as a building in his backyard and an off-property storage unit.

Though you might not know it, out of all that music, Dixon says Arizona’s biggest contribution to the music world is the twang. According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Website, the twang is “a reverberating, bass-heavy guitar sound boasted by primitive studio wizardry.” As for those studio wizards who created the twang in Phoenix nearly 60 years ago, they were none other than producer, Lee Hazlewood, and guitarist, Duane Eddy. With barely a budget to speak of, they developed unconventional musical methods to get the sounds they wanted.

“[The] twang came to represent the sound of revved-up hot rods and an echo of the Wild West on the frontier of rock and roll,” according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Website. The sound is most famously heard in Duane Eddy’s hit song “Rebel Rouser,” which inspired a young generation to dabble in rock and roll.

“There was really nothing like it before,” Dixon adds.

Dixon also tips his hat to Alice Cooper, Linda Ronstadt and Stevie Nicks for putting Arizona on the map. But it’s a little-known musician named Billie Maxwell, a cowgirl from a farming family, who stole his heart.

“They were real down to earth working people who were making music because there was not much to do in those days,” Dixon says. Maxwell laid down the tracks for her first album in 1929, making her the first Arizonan to record music. She’s also hailed as the first cowgirl singer — at least by those who know who she is.

Fortunately, because of Dixon’s affinity for the singer, some of Maxwell’s records are on display at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. Other items from Dixon’s collection that are on display at MIM, include Duane Eddy and Linda Ronstadt album covers.

“Slowly but surely, some of this stuff is getting out as an educational thing,” Dixon says. “Hopefully, someday, somebody will march in and buy this archive and I’ll still be around to put it together.”

Until the collection gets a more official home, Dixon is happy it’s at least in one place  — even if it’s his backyard.

—By Kayla Frost

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