Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

February 23, 2012


Host: Ted Simons

Arizona ArtBeat: Arizona Music History


  • 100 years of Arizona music is featured in “I Am AZ Music”, a new exhibition at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. Get a sneak peak at the exhibition and learn about Arizona’s rich music heritage from Arizona music expert John Dixon.
Guests:
  • John Dixon - Arizona Music Expert
Category: The Arts   |   Keywords: artbeat, arizona, music, history,

View Transcript

Ted Simons: On tonight's "Arizona Artbeat," we rediscover Arizona's music legacy with local music historian John Dixon. But first David Majure takes us to the musical instrument museum in Phoenix, the museum is celebrating Arizona's centennial with an exhibition of the state's music. ¶¶ ¶ I love you Arizona ¶¶

Cullen Strawn: When you look at Arizona's musical history, you find that what has come out of the state is incredibly rich and varied. And just contains so much ingenuity.

David Majure: The curator organized the museum's IM AZ music exhibition with a set of the MIM's wireless headphones, visitors take a sonic stroll through a hundred years of Arizona's music history. ¶¶

Cullen Strawn: It's difficult to narrow it down to a single sound, because you're talking about band music, you're talking about early cowboy music. Native American music that predates statehood as well as contemporary Native American music, which canyon records has been a big part of promoting and getting out there to the public. ¶¶

Robert Doyle: We've been specializing in Native American music for the past 60 years. And what's important about this very small independent record label was that we were able to record, produce, promote, and bring a music that was unknown to the greater population, not just to the people of Arizona, but to the rest of the world.

Cullen Strawn: Arizona is a special place, and it's generated and nurtured lots of different kinds of music. It is indeed an eclectic blend. ¶¶ We're talking about country music, honky tonk, the early days of rock and roll. We got a visit by Dwayne Eddie, who is a Grammy award winning guitarist and has gone down in history as probably the most successful rock and roll instrumentalist, and he's a person who created a fresh sound from right here in Phoenix. ¶¶

John Dixon: It's the twang, it's a sound of the twang. It's really echoey, reverbery, guitar sound which created here basically 1958. ¶¶

David Majure: It's a sound made famous by rebel rouser, Dwayne Eddie's first big hit.

John Dixon: It inspired so people all over the world to pick up a guitar and start playing, because they heard that record, and it was made right here in Phoenix. It's a neat thing to think about. That's the actual board that "Rebel Rouser" was recorded on. There's -- this is the microphone that was used for the "Rebel Rouser," and before that the fool. This instrument here is a double-necked Howard guitar, one of a kind that was made here in Phoenix. That's what is so unique about this guitar, is the fact that unlike most of Dwayne Eddie's other guitars, this one was made right here in Phoenix for Dwayne.

David Majure: The exhibition features a variety of instruments that were made in Arizona.

Cullen Strawn: All sorts of instrument makers, instruments produced very stimulating interesting sounds I think of William Eaton, whose instruments are just completely unique.

David Majure: It's as difficult to define these one of a kind pieces of art as it the Arizona artists who play them.

Cullen Strawn: Of course you have pop musicians who were hard to pin down in terms of saying, this person performs in a particular genre, I think of Marty Robbins Linda Ronstadt, Lalo Guerrero, the founder of Chicano music. It was hard to pin him down, he drew on swing, boogie-woogie, rock and roll, he was writing songs that highlighted Mexican heritage. You think of why the music from the reservation in southern Arizona, this is also called chicken scratch. It's a blend of Polkas that came to the area from Europe, blended with regional sound, northern Mexican tunes. When you add that together, it's tough to say there is an Arizona sound. But one theme that I've realized people have mentioned is that the landscape itself has in some way shaped their music. Dwayne Eddie, for example, has figured out over the years sort of subconsciously as he says, that the wide open landscape has shaped the types of notes that he plays and the space between the notes, sort of the space -- and of course other musicians have made similar comments. If I had to pick out one theme, I probably would say that the landscape in various ways has influenced what might be called an Arizona sound.

Ted Simons: Joining me now is long time music historian and a major contributor to the MIM's Arizona exhibition, John Dixon, or as he's better known, Johnny D. Good to see you.

John Dixon: Hi, Ted.

Ted Simons: This we could talk forever about this exhibit. But tell me what it's designed to do.

John Dixon: It's designed to give I think locals and tourists, anyone a better appreciation of the history, the culture of Arizona music for the past hundred years. As you know, many folks have moved here from other places, there aren't too many natives around that were here in the '50s and '60s for the music, and the MIM covers it well, starting off with the first -- as far as I know, the first recordings by an Arizona artist. In fact, there are two, Billie Maxwell and the Arizona Wranglers, that were made in 1929. So these are the earliest recordings by someone from here not necessarily done here, but people that had a part growing up here, some culture of the valley, and then it follows it all the way through the current times. But the main focus is just giving people a good idea of some of the history, the wide variety of history, and some of the better known acts, like the Marty Robbins and the Linda Ronstadt’s, Dwayne Eddie, and some of the lesser known acts like the Billie Maxwell, some of the chicken scratch bands. So it's really a pretty amazing group of exhibits.

Ted Simons: Lots of photos, lots of artifacts, lots of stuff, instruments, obviously. How did you get a hold of all these things?

John Dixon: Well, I was brought in -- this is something that the MIM had wanted to do. I'm good friends with the folks at Canyon Records, who are the longest-running Arizona record company, over 60 years now, making music. So through Jack Miller, who's been working out there, I came along on the early days, this is like I'm going to say three years ago when they were building the MIM, and during the course of going out through these early tours, it was mentioned that I am kind of the unofficial Arizona music historian, and if you ever decide to do anything Arizona, this is your guy. So it turned out they had already decided to do, because of the centennial, to do some sort of an exhibit, and so plans were pretty much underway when I was brought in to help them with some of the artists that they'd already chosen, and provide information and maybe suggestions on some of the people that maybe they hadn't thought of, i.e., Billie Maxwell. And when I remember bringing that up in one of the first meetings we had to say, in Billie Maxwell from the White Mountains, Springerville area, made her first recordings in 1929, Ted, and she drove with her family from the White Mountains to El Paso to make the recordings. They get to El Paso, and they're recording in a hotel, and the gentleman says do you have any songs to Billie, it's a four-piece, a family band, and she was the only female in the band. She said, I can learn some. They drove back to Springerville, she drove back a couple weeks later and made three records, six sides for Victor records that came out. And then drove back to be farming and ranching, which is what they did. These weren't entertainers in those days. These were just people that enjoyed music as a family thing and would play at a dance and such around. So no radio at that time, I mean, just think of it. Now, everybody is into it about the fame. And in those days, it was just because music was fun and the family was into it.

Ted Simons: Is there a connection, we saw Dwayne Eddie, most folks know about him, a general understanding of what he did and what a pioneer he was, we know Buck Owens got the red, white, and blue guitar there, I believe?

John Dixon: They do down below. He's got a display up there and he's featured on the first floor during -- with another set of exhibits they have there.

Ted Simons: You got Chicano music, pretty much the father of the Native American flute new age kind of music, you got Lee Hazelwood, is there something, is there something that connects them all, is there like an iconoclastic thing, is there something that binds them or is it just a bunch of folks from the same part of the world?

John Dixon: Really, the other major thing is just the instruments. The music instrument museum is about instruments. With Dwayne and some of these people obviously played instruments, and there are also quite a few instrument makers featured in this display which is wonderful. And that guitar I mentioned, that Howard double neck guitar made for Dwayne Eddie was made here in Phoenix. So that's a great part of it. What they all bring to the table Arizona, it's kind of hard to say. Because to me, the most important sound, if you were, is that twangy sound from 1958 "Rebel Rouser". That echoey guitar sound that when you hear it now, you go oh, yeah, where I have heard that before? And it was really created right here on the corner of Seventh Street and Weldon, in that little studio with Dwayne and Lee Hazelwood and Jack Miller the engineer, and a wonderful studio band that were just going for something that was yet to be created. Once they found it, I mean, you gotta think, Rebel Rouser" was a huge international hit at the time. What a heady feeling to be there in this little studio and your music is heard around the world. And Dwayne Eddie in the early '60s was as big as the Beatles in England. It was the most to my humble mind was the most significant contribution soundwise to all styles of music from Arizona.

Ted Simons: And you mentioned that groups literally in the '20s and '30s are going from the White Mountains to El Paso and back and forth. Arizona as it's located, it's not L.A. Relatively close, but not L.A. It's not Texas. Relatively close, but it's not Texas. Obviously it's not East Coast. Because we're kind out here on the desert, I think of the Meat Puppets, a modern band, and what's influenced a whole bunch -- between the instruments and the artists, is there something special in the air, because of our location?

John Dixon: Well, I think there probably is maybe there's an attitude that I think people are looking for. You look at the bands of Tucson, all those bands down there, they've got European deals. Sometimes it seems like the biggest fan base is elsewhere, and it's not here. And then you look at all the bands that had to leave, like The Tubes, like Alice Cooper, that you can take it to a certain point in Arizona and then you had to leave to go further. But of course now with the internet and YouTube, and American Idol, it's a completely different way. You can become successful like Jimmy Eat World, who were able to do it here, stay here, have their success and they're still based here. So times have changed, you don’t have to leave.

Ted Simons: That's a good point. I want to ask if that nature has changed, are we blending in more, or are we -- because of the nature of the business? The nature of entertainment, the nature of music? Is it such that everything is becoming kind of the same?

John Dixon: Well, probably in a way you're right. And it's becoming the record companies, the management, all of that mystery in the '60s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, now a kid can sit in his bedroom with his pro tools software and a video camera and he can do the music Ted, put something up on YouTube and you start getting hits on YouTube and suddenly the record companies are watching that and coming to you because you've gotten 300,000 hits on your little record that you created all by yourself in your bedroom. So, yes, it's changed.

Ted Simons: What do you want people to take from this? Are there surprises you think people will just, whoa, I didn't know that?

John Dixon: I just want them to realize what a wonderful variety of music there is in the past of all different styles in Phoenix. Soul -- there's so much that they really couldn't work it in there. We talked earlier about placebo, the punk rock, the skateboards scene, that's something else that's uniquely Arizona. But I really am so appreciative to the MIM, because I've collected a lot of this stuff over the years and this is really the first time I've been able to display a lot of this stuff properly, and it's one thing to have it, but it's another thing to share it, and that's the greatest thing that the MIM is bringing to the table. This is running for a year. I mean, and people from all over the world are going to be able to come and check this out and hopefully learn something and appreciate more of the history.

Ted Simons: Did you learn something?

John Dixon: I sure did. And that's the fact, Big Chief Russell, who played with -- played trombone with Louie Armstrong, this is something they had already gotten under way, the MIM. When we originally had our early meetings and they were discussing the projects they were working on, and I saw that they were planning on getting his trombone as a loan, I went wow, man, this is just an amazing story of this Native American Pima Indian who played with Louie Armstrong. It's fantastic. And came back to the reservation for spiritual, when he needed his spirit kind of revamped, he would come back to the Pima Indian reservation. And he was famous all over the world. So that was – I heard the name before, but to see the story and see his trombone there on the wall, that's one of many stories you'll see out there.

Ted Simons: Very good. Where is the musical instrument museum and again, where can people get more information?

John Dixon: It's at Tatum and Mayo, and you go to theMIM.org, and you'll get all the information. This I Am Arizona music will run for a full year, and so you'll have plenty of time to see it. And the MIM itself, Ted, this is just part of what they're doing out there. You can spend days out there. They have over 7,000 instruments of which maybe 3,000 are on display at any given time. So I'm just thrilled to be part of this, and honored that we can share some of Arizona's music history.

Ted Simons: We're glad you're on the show and sharing your history with us. It's always a pleasure. Good to see you again.

John Dixon: Thanks, Ted.


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