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Jump-Blues and R&B Legend Floyd Dixon Dies at 77

Acclaimed jump-blues and R&B pianist, vocalist and songwriter Floyd Dixon died Wednesday of kidney failure in Los Angeles. He was 77.

Best known for his song “Hey Bartender,” which was immortalized by the Blues Brothers, Dixon was part of a cadre of musicians, along with Charles Brown, Ray Charles and Louis Jordan, who brought rhythm and blues to the masses.

Born Feb. 8, 1929 in Marshall, Texas, Dixon was raised by his paternal grandmother after his parents separated when he was an infant. After she died a decade later, Dixon lived in a tree with his dog until moving to Los Angeles at age 13 to live with his mother and maternal grandmother.

Dixon began recording in Los Angeles, first in 1947 with Supreme Records and then in 1949 with Modern Records. A switch to Aladdin Records provided Dixon’s first hits, with “Telephone Blues” in 1951 and “Call Operator 210” in 1952. His biggest hit, “Hey Bartender,” came in 1954 with the Cat label, and he received both a Billboard Blues Award for the song in 1984, as recorded by the Blues Brothers, and a Billboard Country Award in 1985, as recorded by singer Johnny Lee.

Dixon, whose nickname was “Mr. Magnificent,” toured constantly, sharing the stage with fellow R&B and blues artists Ruth Brown, B.B. King, Charles Brown and Ray Charles. However, by the 1960s and early 1970s, the pianist was living a secluded life in Paris, Texas. It was only when reissues of his music started becoming popular in Europe during the early 1980s that Dixon began to tour again.

In 1996, Dixon released “Wake Up and Live!” on Alligator Records to critical acclaim and multiple awards, including “Comeback Album of the Year” from the Blues Foundation in 1997. He followed “Wake Up” with “Fine, Fine Thing” on the HighJohn label in 2005, and a live CD and DVD collection with fellow pianists Pinetop Perkins and Henry Gray is slated for release in the fall.

Dixon is survived by first cousins Marie Banks of Los Angeles and Mary Dixon of Marshall, Texas. Funeral arrangements are not yet available.

Originally Published