About The Group
The Dixon Brothers (Dorsey (B: October 14, 1897 — D: April 18, 1968) and Howard (B: June 19, 1903 — D: March 24, 1961) — were products of the Carolina Piedmont textile mill culture.
Dorsey played guitar and Howard played guitar in the Hawaiian guitar style or steel guitar (but not electric). Dorsey was a gifted songwriter. Their somewhat rough duet-style was nonetheless appealing and they recorded more than fifty numbers for RCA Victor's Bluebird label from 1936 until 1938 (some were released only on Montgomery Ward).
They were popular enough to have related spin-off duets as Dorsey and his often estranged wife Beatrice (B: February 22, 1912 — D: November 4, 1988) put a dozen numbers on wax and Howard and fellow mill worker (Joe) Frank Gerald (B: January 25, 1915 — D: October 17, 1983) cut even more numbers under the name The Rambling Duet. Later, somewhat disillusioned with the music business, returned to mill work. In later life, Dorsey did record again and found a new, if limited interest in his music. And from 1946, he received royalties for his classic country original "Wreck on the Highway."
Both Dixon's were born in Darlington, South Carolina where their parents were mill workers. After some years of moving from one mill job to another, they both settled in East Rockingham, North Carolina in the mid-1920's. In those days, they played mostly for their own amusement or in churches. Later, Dorsey often composed poems which were sometimes reprinted in the local newspaper. His first was apparently a memorial to a tragic fire at a school in Cleveland, South Carolina.
The Dixon Brothers began to attract wider attention from 1932 when they first developed their rough but appealing duet style accompanied by Dorsey on guitar and Howard on acoustic Hawaiian guitar. Their style was inspired by Columbia-Victor recording artist Jimmie Tarlton.
In 1934 they began to make periodic appearances on the barn dance sponsored by Crazy Water Crystals over WBT Charlotte. Later they also appeared on WPTF Raleigh. For a few months they may have even have left cotton mill work but gave it up when one of Dorsey's children became quite ill and he returned to East Rockingham and the Hannah-Pickett Mills.
Their radio career may have been pretty much over when they began recording for Bluebird in February 1936. They cut their first six songs which included "The Intoxicated Rat," "Weaver Room Blues," and "Two Little Rosebuds," a number about two girls who drowned in a millpond. From then until September 1938, they cut about 88 numbers that were eventually released including a dozen by Dorsey and Beatrice, and twenty by the Rambling Duet. On a few of the Brothers songs, and a few by the Rambling Duet, another musician James Mirtz "Old Mutt" Evans (1913-1979) helped out on guitar and vocals.
The better selling Dixon discs seemed to have sold in the 20,000 range while a few of those released only Montgomery Ward may have sold only a few hundred. Later Dixon songs that have attracted considerable attention included "The Old Home Brew," "Down with the Old Canoe" (about the Titanic), "Weaver's Life Is Like An Engine" (a song of Dorsey's that Tarlton recorded in 1932), and "I Didn't Hear Anybody Pray," later known as "Wreck on the Highway."
After their Victor contract expired, Dorsey, learning that he had been ill-treated by record producers and others in dealing with copyrights, became disillusioned and quit music except for in church and among friends and family. Howard worked for a few months at WWNC Asheville for Wade Mainer and with the onset of World War II also returned to mill work. From about 1950 he played and sang in a local sacred quartet called the Reaping Harvesters. Dorsey retired on Social Security Disability in 1953 and spent many years feeling distressed and thinking his life a failure although he kept composing poems. His religious faith seemed the only thing that kept him going.
In the summer of 1960 he received a spiritual uplift when contacted by Australian record collector John Edwards (namesake of the John Edwards Memorial Foundation) and even talked about reviving the Dixon Brothers act although Howard thought it futile. Then Edwards died in a car wreck on Christmas Eve and then Howard died of a heart attack. Two Edwards protégés Eugene Earle and Archie Green made contact and recorded Dorsey, songs that appeared on the album Babies in the Mill (Testament T-3301). He then did a few solo concerts at colleges and the Newport Folk Festival.
In 1964, Dixon suffered a heart attack and spent his last years with his minister son and family in Plant City, Florida. A trusting soul, he continued correspondence with fans (me (Ivan Tribe) included) and would loan reel to reel tapes containing most of his old recordings as well as Darby & Tarlton to hear and copy and then return them.
Another heart attack in the spring of 1968 proved fatal.
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