Tag Archives: music

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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Celebrating our Centennial: 100 Years of Music at the MIM

Duane Eddy's double-neck guitar

Starting this Saturday, February 18, the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) will add its voice to the statewide centennial celebration by showcasing Arizona’s musical contributions to the world.

“I Am AZ Music: MIM Celebrates 100 Years of Arizona Music” examines Arizona’s history through a musical lens. Beginning with the original statehood celebration in 1912, MIM’s exhibition tells the story of numerous musicians, musical instrument makers, recording studios, performing arts organizations, and musical traditions significant to Arizona’s past, present, and future. The exhibition consists of more than 30 exhibits, each one including artifacts, photographs, and audiovisual content designed to bring the subjects to life.

“The traditions and personalities represented in our centennial exhibition highlight Arizona’s importance in the history of American music,” said MIM curator Cullen Strawn. “Country fans will enjoy our tributes to Buck Owens and Waylon Jennings, while jazz enthusiasts are sure to love the exhibit centered on Russell ‘Big Chief’ Moore, a member of the Gila River Indian Community who played trombone with Louis Armstrong.”

Below, we talked to Strawn about this exhibit, good musical “gets” and how it all came to be:

What was behind the inception of this exhibition?
MIM wished to contribute to the state’s centennial celebrations by creating a music-centric overview of Arizona’s first century.

How did you go about covering all of your bases?
Team research on Arizona’s musical past led to many interesting exhibit ideas. With the help of lenders across the state and beyond, a number of these ideas became realities in time for the exhibition.

Your mission was to document how music making continues to be an integral part of Arizona’s cultural fabric — can you explain?
From ceremony to social dance, from festival to concert stage, Arizonans have made music for all occasions. We aimed to highlight and honor these endeavors in the form of an engaging exhibition while pointing out that the work of contemporary musicians, instrument makers, and industry professionals who build on Arizona’s musical history continue to carry the state forward as an important musical hub.

What can one expect at this exhibit?
Guests can expect to experience a rich mix of audiovisual content, exquisitely built musical instruments, photographs, and other artifacts that will entertain and educate. Exhibits featuring various forms of country music, Native American music, jazz, rock, pop, and other themes will allow guests to leave knowing more about the history, cultural diversity, and musical heritage of the state.

What was your most exciting “get,” so-to-speak?
Because we’re displaying many exciting “gets,” it’s difficult to choose just one. Guests will see a double-neck guitar played by Duane Eddy on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand in the early 1960s; a trombone played by Russell “Big Chief” Moore, a member of the Gila River Indian Community who performed with Louis Armstrong in the 1940s and 1960s; Alice Cooper’s clothing and objects from various stages in his career; instruments played by the Gin Blossoms; imaginative, one-of-a-kind multi-stringed instruments by luthier William Eaton, and the list goes on.

People might be surprised to learn that we have quite the music scene… What do you make of that?
Arizona boasts a fascinating blend of international influences, regional traditions, and constant creativity. It truly has been a center for music in a wide array of forms.

What should people living outside of Arizona know about our music scene?
This state has produced some very innovative and influential musical minds, and it shows no signs of stopping.

Were there any musical surprises along the way?
While developing the exhibition, we were honored to host Duane Eddy and his wife Deed, who visited MIM for the first time. Duane is a Grammy-winning guitarist and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee known for his “twangy” sound. With him he brought the very Gretsch hollow body guitar that he purchased in 1957 and played on classic hits like “Rebel ‘Rouser” and “Peter Gunn,” recorded right here in Phoenix. Soon MIM will feature this guitar in an Artist Gallery exhibit, which will complement the I Am AZ Music exhibition nicely by offering a closer look at one of Arizona’s musical legends.


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Happy Hump Day… How About Some Free Music?

It’s hump day and sometimes you just need a little somethin’ to get you through the day. Well, I think I’ve got your somethin’ right here… First, let me say, I like free music downloads. I also like it when bands kick off their tours in my state. The Milk Carton Kids — think folk, but good folk, like Simon and Garfunkel, with a modern spin — will begin their 46 show tour in support of their latest album, Prologue, tonight at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix.

Because sometimes it’s just nice to listen to something mellow. Download Prologue for free or better yet, catch their show tonight.

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Filed under Et Cetera, Loco for Local