Don Dixon and Secret Monkey Weekend at Imbibe, Chapel Hill NC
This was not a typical show for Don Dixon, the North Carolina rock legend, voice of Arrogance, and fine solo artist. Seated on stools coffeehouse style, were Don, guitar in hand, alongside novelist John Bare, who read from his book manuscript, Fair-Skinned Brunette with the Porcelain Shine. The protagonist in the book is one Lasssiter “Lassie” James, and the story is set around and about the town of Chapel Hill and the UNC campus. The travails of Mr. James and his adventures with the title character, a fair skinned brunette named Fats, were the thread of the songs and readings.
Bare’s novel is not published as of this date, but we plan a Singles Going Steady Podcast for the book release. The novelist wrote the lyrics to the songs that Don played, with Dixon providing the melodies and music. Don told me after the show how much he loved working this way, kind of a Brill-Building old school approach to songwriting. So with John Bare sitting by his side providing the set-ups, readings, and commentary, Don Dixon played for the first time from the ‘Lassie James Songbook.’
This was as interesting and as eclectic a set of songs as you might expect, Bare’s lyrics touching on young romance, lust, college life, and what he claimed was an obsession with biscuits and whiskey, the book’s constant companions. There is even a murder mystery subplot, but I don’t want to give everything away.
Don Dixon, famously known for his record production acumen, is one of the great voices to come out of the North Carolina music scene. His supple, sturdy vocals are the epitome of a fine rhythm and blues man, and are so powerful he rarely even needs a microphone. He can still swoop up the falsettos and high harmonies. With range, control, gravel, and purr: his voice is truly awesome. The chord changes for these songs were often elemental, but always impressive and spot on.
He rolled through the Lassie Songbook, there were fun, humorous tunes like ‘She’s A Baptist And A Communist,’ ‘No Songs About Mamas Or Trains,’ and ‘How Do You Like Your Eggs?,’ there were also touching songs like ‘The Displaced Man,’ ‘Whiskey Kisses,’ and ‘I Fell In Love With Emmylou.’ Chapel Hill spots were name-checked, places like Sunrise Biscuits (as we passed by on the way to the show, Lady Zub explained to me that Sunrise was THE place for biscuits). All in all, this was a fascinating and entertaining night of great new music, performed by a real master. I hope to see the book published soon.
Playing after Don Dixon was the charming and funny Secret Monkey Weekend, the family band with the dad and his two young daughters (see www.tinyurl.com/zubsmw for their first review). Tonight they were sans added keyboards and playing as their true core: a rockin’ three piece. I’ve seen this band many times and they continue to get better. Dad Jefferson had what looked to be a new Strat and was sounding great on guitar and vocals. Bassist Ella was really laying it down on her Rick bass. And Secret Monkey secret weapon Lila had her smaller custom-made ‘suitcase’ drum kit (perfect for this smaller venue) and was singing and drumming up a storm. I really love their recent original songs, such as the earworm ‘Honey Num-Num,’ their ode to their dog ‘Maybelle,’ ‘Candy Station,’ and the better-than-fun ‘Do the Secret Monkey (Dance).’ They also covered some great NC bands, like The dB’s ‘Big Brown Eyes’ (held together by Ella’s standout bass playing), and getting Don Dixon up to sing with them on his own song, ‘Your Sister Told Me,’ a track from his Romeo at Juilliard album. Also of note was the cover of Rick Rock’s ‘Buddha Buddha’ mashed-up with ‘Hang On Sloopy,’ the not-so secret precursor of that song. It was a fun and impressive performance from this family band.
A night of music and literature that was the best way I can think of to spend your time in Chapel Hill. It could only be improved by the addition of a Sunrise cat-head biscuit.