Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: The Gabe Dixon Band

The story of The Gabe Dixon Band is not an altogether uncommon one. The trio is one of many bands to see a major label deal turn sour before it had truly bloomed. But the unique aspect is that Dixon believes he and his ‘mates, Winston Harrison (bass) and Jano Rix (drums), emerged from the debacle as an even better band.916presspass

The story of The Gabe Dixon Band is not an altogether uncommon one. The trio is one of many bands to see a major label deal turn sour before it had truly bloomed. But the unique aspect is that Dixon believes he and his ‘mates, Winston Harrison (bass) and Jano Rix (drums), emerged from the debacle as an even better band.

916presspass

The Gabe Dixon Band (Photo: Henry Diltz)

Dixon and Co. inked a deal with Warner Brothers in the wake of the success of their 1999 independent release, More Than It Would Seem. Three years later, the then-jam band stood ready to release their first major-label album, On a Rolling Ball, only to watch Warner Bros. pull their tour funding just before they hit the road  to push their product. Just as the band was ready to explode onto the scene, their momentum fizzled.

There was a little salt on the wound too. Prior to the album’s release, Dixon, an accomplished pianist who has worked as a sideman for a number of established acts, turned down a chance to tour with Paul McCartney, one of his main influences and long-time idols, to focus on his own release.

It would take them six more years to print their next LP, this time on Fantasy Records, but over that time Dixon is convinced that the group’s writing has changed for the better.

“I really think I learned to be a much better composer since then,” says Dixon, a former piano major at the University of Miami.

It’s not rare for a songwriter to improve over time, but what makes the statement slightly surprising is that, even in their heyday, labels didn’t sign just any joker that could hold a tune. But now, Dixon firmly believes his band is even better than they day they signed on the dotted line with Warner.

The noodling was scaled back, replaced by more focused, pop-packaged, piano-based tunes. Suddenly tracks were tidy bundles that carried more power than the sprawling jams. And out of those it is even easier to identify Dixon’s obvious talent and to understand why the band has won over fans and fellow musicians with its long-awaited 2008 self-titled release.

It’s impossible to listen to tracks like “‘Til You’re Gone” or “Disappear” and not hear a sound akin to Dixon’s legendary forebears. His tunes can be likened to those of Billy Joel who ditched New York for a southern state of mind. Similarly notable are the finely-crafted melodies that are the result of McCartney’s influence.

In the wake of the album’s release, the Nashville-based band has raked in praise from across the sonic spectrum. Sara Bareilles called Dixon’s voice “flawless.” Dave Barnes labeled himself one of the band’s “groupies.” And next-generation piano man Jamie Cullum said frankly, “Seeing and hearing Gabe Dixon inspires me and upsets me. It inspires me because he plays superbly written songs, beautifully, with a superb band. It upsets me because I feel I may never be this good.”

It’s a good bet that Dixon could have done without the drama from the label debacle, but he, Harrison an Rix — together since their days at Miami — have emerged in particularly fine shape. Now they’ve honed their sound and are still having a blast at what they do best.

“I have an incredible amount of fun. Usually I lose myself a little bit on stage and the best performances, I wasn’t fully aware of what happened,” Dixon says. “When we finish I think, wow, that was a wild ride, I’ll have to watch the video.”

• The Gabe Dixon Band plays Jammin’ Java June 22. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10.

 

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