Many years ago I got an album "Hobos, Heroes and Street Corner Clowns" in 1986 on a sale and I loved it, well, not all of it, but a lot of it.
I bought it because it was from the 1970s (1973), was recorded in the South and looked interesting enough. It was also a gatefold and a US pressing which always felt heavy and substantial compared to our thin sleeves here in Australia.
The highlights of that album were "Black Cat Moan”, and “When I Lay My Burden Down” with Furry Lewis’ spoken intro which was magnificent and it was enough to interest me in Southern rock n roll, n funk, n gospel, n soul, n country, n blues.
1970s Southern rock though not necessarily traditional in its look but it was the inevitable descendant of 1950s Southern American rock n roll, the music that started it all. It contains all those elements above, doesn't look for new forms of experimentation and is quite backward looking, always referring to memories and times and people passed.
The music is visceral, emotional and rarely intellectual.
That's not to say it is smart but it is not designed to act on that part of the brain that makes you think (analytically) if music ever should.
I was familiar with the Southern rock style as Elvis Presley was playing a similar music though he was more mainstream (naturally enough) and he peppered his Southern rock albums, with ballads, MOR and other sort of Elvisania.
That's what Elvis does.
But Don Nix was something altogether different and cut from the same cloth.
His music is the descendant of 1954 Memphis if it hadn't gone to the movies, visited the big towns, travelled internationally or, otherwise, incorporated foreign sounds.
I had no idea who Don Nix was and in those pre-internet days and only the smallest of information would come up. He was from Memphis, he was in Memphis band the Mar-Keys, and he backed people at Alabama's famed Muscle Shoals studio.
I must adit when I bought the "Hobos" album it was mainly because "Memphis" was mentioned on the back.
William Donald Nix was Born in Memphis in 1941 and "attended Messick High School with Donald "Duck" Dunn and Steve Cropper of the famed Stax house band Booker T. & the MG's. After graduation, Nix spent a short stint in the Army before returning to Memphis, where he joined Dunn and Cropper, along with Wayne Jackson, Packy Axton, Terry Johnson, and Smoochy Smith, as a saxophonist in the Mar-Keys … The group scored a smash hit with the instrumental "Last Night" on the Satellite label (later Stax/Volt), and Nix went on the road with the group, while a house band from Memphis attempted to recorded follow-up hits under the Mar-Keys' name … After the success of "Last Night" fizzled, Nix returned to Memphis and spent the next several years as a horn for hire, occasionally playing gigs with a re-formed version of the Mar-Keys or backing Stax stars such as William Bell and Carla Thomas … In the mid-'60s, Nix began making trips to L.A. to visit Leon Russell and Carle Radle, friends he'd met through touring. The friendship with Russell, a big producer at the time, landed Nix a position in Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars backing one of Russell's acts, Gary Lewis & the Playboys. Their friendship also provided Nix the opportunity to see how a session was put together, and he began engineering and producing at studios around Memphis such as Stax and Ardent … Nix spent the next several years writing and producing for artists such as Freddie King, Albert King, Sid Selvidge, and Charlie Musselwhite. In 1970, he signed a recording deal with Shelter Records (co-owned by his old friend Leon Russell) and released a solo album, In God We Trust and followed it a year later with Living by the Days. Neither album sold very well, and after a few more attempts, Nix returned to recording other artists, producing records for John Mayall and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section”. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/don-nix-mn0000155572/biography
"Living by the Days" is his second album (his first album "In God We Trust" also came out in 1971) and it is a product of its time and, importantly, its place. Delaney and Bonnie (Nix produced their 1969 album "Home"), The Band and Leon Russell were, also, all doing the same fusions of rock, blues, gospel, and soul and introducing personal observations, and subtle societal commentary into the music, though one that never got in the way of the sound.
The music was everywhere for a while The Allman Brothers Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Lonnie Mack, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Oak Arkansas, Tony Joe White, Derek and the Dominos, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Jerry Reed, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Hank Williams Jr, traced sideways to The Rolling Stones, Ian Matthews Band, and Led Zeppelin, but it never really disappeared, and has continued to be revived in one form or another down through Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, The Georgia Satellites, The Black Crowes, The Immortal lee County Killers, North Mississippi Allstars and The Kings of Leon, Drive-By Truckers, My Morning Jacket, Hank III and others
This album captures that place and time and could sit comfortably to a revival band. The musicianship, as you'd expect from experienced musicians steeped in this culture and music, is superb. The album compares favourable with The Rolling Stones "Sticky Fingers" from 1971, and, I don't know for sure which album came first, or whether it was accidental or not but there are similar sounds .. having said that, both albums were recorded at Muscle Shoals studios, Alabama.
The only curious thing that remains to be answered is why is he wearing a Civil War northern states Union uniform on the front and back sleeve?
All songs by Nix unless indicated
Tracks (best in italics)
- The Shape I'm In – a church type organ opens this Leon Russell type song (naturally enough as Nix played with Russell … and not the Robbie Robertson song of the same name) which starts off slow but soon works its magic (did Mick Jagger hear this?).
- Olena – a good, Southern rock song
- I Saw the Light – (Hank Williams) – In your face gospel which is great with a magnificent intro by Furry Lewis but it's not Hank.
- She Don't Want a Lover – Lynyrd Skynyrd have been listening I suspect.
- Living by the Days – surprising relaxed for the title song.
- Going Back to Iuka – a rock shouter. All up front instruments – keyboards, bass and southern rock guitar. Fictional band Blueshammer (and many real bands) would later destroy something like this.
- Three Angels – (Lonnie Mack / Don Nix) – very heavy gospel and quite persuasive. CO-writer Lonnie Mack also released the cong on his 1971 album "The Hills of Indiana".
- Mary Louise – (Marlin Greene / Don Nix) – a hoot of a song. Thumping and pumping with a hint of Jerry Reed.
- My Train's Done Come and Gone – very like something the Band would do and it hold its own.
Anyone have an Adult Cherry Limeade? I want to kick back and listen to this again and again …. I'm keeping it.
The Shape I'm In
I Saw the Light
She Don't Want a Lover
Living by the Days
Going Back to Iuka
My Train's Done Come and Gone
- Backing came from guitarists Jimmy Johnson, Tippy Armstrong, Gimmer Nicholson and Wayne Perkins, keyboardists Barry Beckett and Chris Stainton, bassists David Hood and Donald Duck Dunn, and drummer Roger Hawkins (Johnson, Beckett, Hood and Hawkins being the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section).
- Produced and arranged by Don Nix.
- There is a "very special thanks" to late Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips on the back sleeve.
- You have to love album art … the front picture is a felt inlay.