Any appreciation of the roots of rock’n’roll has to include jump blues pianist and singer Floyd Dixon – the self-appointed “Mr Magnificent.”
A seminal influence on Ray Charles, anticipating the emergence of soul music by more than a decade, Texas-born Dixon is another vital link in the evolution of swing to R&B, and thence to rock’n’roll.
Born in 1929, he grew up not far from the Louisiana border, absorbing the blues, gospel, and roots music of bayou country, and teaching himself piano.
After his family relocated to Los Angeles in 1942 he studied hotel management and pursued a career in professional football, but music remained his passion.
At a series of amateur showcases he caught the eyes and ears of bandleader Johnny Otis, and pianist Charles Brown became his mentor.
Dixon cut his debut single, Houston Jump, in 1948 and over the next year or two he developed his own signature sound, channelling the gospel and Delta blues influences of his youth to forge a gritty, dynamic style.
He played a key part in music history while on tour with a young Ray Charles when he suggested shifting away from Nat King Cole-inspired pop to “try it with more of a Gospel flavor.”
Dixon’s importance to music history somehow got lost in the shuffle as a new generation of artists began dominating the charts during the 1950s.
He virtually disappeared from sight in the 1960s, living in seclusion in Paris, Texas – yes, that one! – until a Swedish label reissued some of his classic postwar material in the mid-1970s.
He went back on tour in Europe with his old friend Charles Brown and also toured with the then unknown Robert Cray.
In 1984 he was commissioned by the Los Angeles Olympic Games organising committee to write the games’ theme song, Olympic blues.
In the 1990s he played the Monterey Jazz Festival and Chicago Blues Festival and toured with fellow pianists Pinetop Perkins and Henry Clay in 2006 before dying of cancer weeks later at the age of 77.