Like many musicians before him, Caleb “Tennessee” Dixon started his music career in middle school, playing lead guitar in a classic rock cover band, happily bashing out, among other tunes, KISS’s “Rock and Roll All Nite.” It’s hardly an anecdote, barely worth mentioning because: A.) zillions of guitar players who grew up on classic rock know how to play that song, and B.) Dixon told me that band would also play AC/DC songs, which I’d argue are a better testament to the skills of a 13-year-old guitar slinger, seeing as how the easiest AC/DC jam is probably harder than the bulk of the KISS catalog. But I bring it up for two reasons. Now 26, Dixon doesn’t really play rock anymore, certainly not all night. Moreover, he is kind of over partying every day.
Of course, I did interview him at a bar, and he was drinking a Shiner while we talked, and I left first, so it stands to reason that he might have had more beers after I was gone. He hasn’t exactly sheared all his proverbial wild hairs, in other words. But Dixon, who at 16 dropped out of his home-school program in Tennessee’s rural Dickson County to move to Fort Worth and work construction, expressed a desire to settle down, which, according to him, engenders a spirit of conflict in his music. I asked him what drove the tension in his songs.
“You know, just, like troubles,” he said. “Women troubles and how it feels like when you’re coming home at the end of the road.” He paused. “Settlin’ down.”
While Dixon’s ideas about curtailing wild nights fit into the notion of settling, you might say that he started that process long ago, when he abandoned Ace Frehley hot licks for what he describes as his main influences, folk and bluegrass. He said music is in his blood, and as proof of that, he talks about his grandfather, a Pentecostal preacher who “always played a lot of bluegrass hymns.” Getting to where Dixon is now took a detour in his late teens, when he and his guitar got weird in a psychedelic rock band called Sonic Buffalo. “But I wanted to play more down-home music,” Dixon said. “Bluegrass is where I’m supposed to be. It feels natural to me. It’s just simple writing.”
Dixon became comfortable wearing that roots music coat with his debut album, 2017’s Man of Few Words, followed by a single called “Taylor Swift” and, more recently, Dream Up Over Yonder, the follow-up to Man of Few Words that he released digitally in July and will drop in CD form this Friday at a show at Lola’s Saloon with piano-pop crooner Andy Pickett and raucous, guns-a-blazin’ C&W outfit Convoy & The Cattlemen.
Dixon recorded the album at Cloudland Recording Studio with Britt Robisheaux (B.J. Thomas, Sub Oslo, War Party), laying down acoustic guitar tracks for his studio band to fill in the rest. Dream’s roster includes Mitchell Albers on drums, Chera Cameron on backing vocals, Lindsey Duffin on fiddle, Steve Hammond on organ and piano, giving what Dixon describes as “sad blues songs” plenty of rootsy color, and Tommy Luke on vocals and upright bass.
Much of the album’s material arose after the collapse of a relationship, which makes tracks like “Baby Girl” and “Honey, Won’t You Take Me Back” hauntingly authentic. Yet, for all the heartbreak in his songs, Dixon remains optimistic.
“It’s a circle,” he said. “You just keep moving forward, but my songs are also about just living and having dreams and doing whatever you want to do.”
Dixon’s dreams evince a push and pull between living the troubadour life and domesticated stability –– in his own words, the title track refers to “driving down the road in Justin and seeing all those huge houses.” But he definitely has forward momentum –– he has a new girlfriend, a new live band (Garret Peltier on drums, Betsy Stelzer on piano, and Matt Williams on electric bass) – and is anxious to get into a studio to record a slew of new tunes.
“I kind of want to start a new record with this new band,” he said. “Like [Dream] is the old sound, and I’m ready to start the new one.”
Tennessee Dixon album release
9pm Fri w/Andy Pickett and Convoy & The Cattlemen at Lola’s Saloon, 2736 6th St, FW. $10. 817-877-0666.