Rebel Rouser

Against all odds, John Dixon continues to carry the torch for Phoenix's unsung musical history

"Then when I moved back from Hawaii, Weize was putting together a Duane Eddy box set," Dixon says. "He's always looking for outtakes and tapes that he doesn't know about 'cause he's an anal completist. So he wanted me to see Floyd Ramsey to see if he had anthing we didn't know about. So I got involved in writing the liner notes for the Duane Eddy set. That was my first really big project.

"So then I made a deal with Floyd; I'm kind of his in-between guy. He offers a price, they either say yea or nay, and then he'll write up a contract, and I'll make sure it gets signed. And then I'll follow up and get the pictures and tapes."

If he hadn't been before, in the '90s Dixon became the undisputed, ultimate source of information on Arizona music. He enabled Bear Family to broker deals for old records, and provided it with concert photos and historical information.

Thanks to Dixon, seminal artists like Al Casey, the unsung virtuoso behind the Duane Eddy sound, started to see their catalogues resurface. Casey's mid-'60s instrumental hit, "Surfin' Hootenanny" has been licensed in recent years to both Rhino and Capitol, offering Casey welcome financial rewards for his work.

"Al's laughing," Dixon says. "He's making more money now than he did the first time around, 'cause even though it was a hit, he never really saw that much money off it. So that's a kick, seeing that happen."

Along the way, Dixon started suggesting projects to Bear Family, such as a collection by the Velaires, a band that moved from Iowa to Phoenix and had some minor national success. He's also established a relationship with labels like Ace and Sundazed, and now can determine which label might be best suited for a particular reissue project.

When Rhino called about using two 1965 tracks by Alice Cooper's early band the Spiders, Dixon represented the tape's owner, Jack Curtis, in the licensing negotiation. The two songs, the Stonesy original "Why Don't You Love Me" and an appealingly raw take on Marvin Gaye's hit "Hitch Hike," promise to be highlights of Rhino's four-CD Alice Cooper box set in February.

But perhaps the project closest to Dixon's heart would involve contemporary Arizona bands covering tracks by their forebears. Along these lines, The Revenants have already tackled Jody Reynolds' brooding "Endless Sleep," and the Beat Angels have expressed an interest in covering Tucson's Dearly Beloved, but Dixon is still working on getting financing for the project.

As much as he involves himself in the business side of music, it's obvious that Dixon's passions have less to do with money than with seeing important seminal artists get their just due in their own hometowns. All these years after he got his start spinning discs at local sock hops, he still relishes the chance to turn people on to an exciting piece of music.

About five years ago, Dixon worked a weekend graveyard shift at KZON. From midnight to 3 a.m., he followed the station's strict format. But from 3 to 4 a.m., Dixon shut off the tape recorder meant to monitor each DJ's performance. For one hour, Dixon played what he wanted, a tasteful combination of world rhythms, hip rock obscurities, and local favorites. For one hour, Johnny D's loyal army knew that in an age of stifling radio regimentation, they'd get to hear the real deal. When the subject of his KZON adventurousness comes up, Dixon's smile gives away his satisfaction.

"I kept thinking, 'Maybe this is the night that the program director is burping his new baby and will listen in at 3 a.m., and I'll get fired,'" he says. "But that was part of the fun. It was the last real vestige of true radio for me.

"So yes, I've been known to do that," he says. "But if I ever get another radio show, I'll never do it again!"

Contact Gilbert Garcia at his online address: ggarcia@newtimes.com

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