Thursday, January 25, 2018

Sinking & Falling: Free Fall

Dixie Dregs: Free Fall

One of my minor pleasures is when I get to write about a band that I like, but which has never been featured here. The Dixie Dregs fit that bill. And speaking of Bill, the only time I saw the Dregs was, inexplicably, in a dive bar in Kingston, New Jersey in August, 1981, with some fellow WPRB staffers, including my friend Bill Rosenblatt. (Inexplicably, because shows that a couple of months before that show, they played Pier 84 in New York, a fairly large venue, the night after playing the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia, another large venue, and a couple of weeks later, they played the Lakeland, Florida, Civic Center, which holds 8,000 people.)

My memory of that show is basically limited to the fact that they were incredible, especially in a place the size of a large living room, and that I was able to talk with them, go “backstage” (the kitchen, if I remember) and drink their beer. Bill’s more detailed memories of the evening can be found here. We did promote some other shows at the Tin Lizzie, but this was the only “big name” that I remember being there (although the Internet has evidence that Jorma Kaukonen played there about a year later, after I graduated).

It is also fun to be able to follow my first post in this theme, about a ska-punk song, with a sunny, fusion song. The Dixie Dregs were one of the best fusion bands of the 70s and early 80s, and as is my habit when someone else has written something better than I could, I’ll quote Rosenblatt:

The Dixie Dregs were a band from Georgia that played jazzy instrumental rock in a style that sounded sort of like Kansas without the vocals, or Lynyrd Skynyrd meets Mahavishnu Orchestra.. . .Their leader was guitar virtuoso Steve Morse, who would later join Kansas and Deep Purple when those bands reached their “playing the zoo” stages. 

Although they were mostly from Georgia, they really came together as a band at the University of Miami, at a time when musicians such as Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny (and future members of his band, Dan Gottlieb and Mark Egan) and Bruce Hornsby were studying and/or teaching there. After self-releasing an album of demos, they were signed by Capricorn Records, the Allman Brothers’ label, and released their first official album, Free Fall. The title track, which leads off the album, is a good example of their music—generally upbeat, complex but not annoyingly complicated, impeccably played, and with a southern twang. And no vocals (until an early 1980s bad experiment with guest vocalists…..). I found a review of the album that refers to the song as "a jazz-country-funk breakdown with a digital synth alien laser beam effect solo, whilst a footstompingly good delay-drenched electric violin follows up with a pentatonic jam." 

The Dixie Dregs (briefly officially shortened to The Dregs late in the game) continued to release a string of similarly excellent albums, despite some turnover in personnel, until 1982, without much commercial success despite critical acclaim and a few Grammy nominations. Because instrumentals are a hard sell anyway, and certainly during the 80s. There were a few reunions in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but basically, the band has been quiet. Until now—a tour of the Free Fall lineup has been scheduled, and it doesn’t look like they are playing any place like the Tin Lizzie.

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