John Dixon is a wealth of information…which is something that he tells me he’s been called before. As a native to the valley area, he feels a passionate urge to educate, and his show is used just for that purpose. While the music he mainly focuses on is firmly planted in 50s and 60s, his set might be more off the wall on any given night. Sometimes 01′ Johnny D will take certain factors into consideration, like the death of an artist. Dixon says, “Joe South recently died and I pulled out his music and did a half hour set focused entirely on him. There are also some local groups like Calexico that I’ve followed over the years. For me the most exciting thing is to have all my music in order, on shelves.”
John admits that his radio show is kind of off the wall, like when he finds local music when traveling to feature. “We went to Maui and I picked up some records there, so I knew I was going to do a set on that.” This is just one of the few liberties he’s been able to do with his stint over the last year for KWSS.
John Dixon is a staple of his locale. Born and raised in the Phoenix area, his interest in being a DJ began in the 7th grade, playing records during lunch and recess as the other kids chatted and ate. His teachers saw a strong interest early on and were able to nurture it as best they could. From there, he spent a part of the 80s living abroad and worked at a station in England.
While most radio DJs are comfortable remaining faceless, John Dixon has been invited to perform live to open for other DJs and artists. “Z-Trip has been a great supporter. I’ve opened up sets for him. I don’t do any of that scratching, not just because I can’t, but I can’t see myself abusing my records that way. I’ll play a record the way I normally would from beginning to end and do my little spiel about it in between. It’s a bit nerve-wracking because these kids are at the lip of the stage where I’m standing and my hand is shaking. Some of them do appreciate it, which is great.”
My conversation with John goes to Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum, or the MIM, where he’s signed on as a consultant. The Museum houses instruments from all over the world and people are brought in to play them or show how they’re made. It also has a 300-seat auditorium. I digress, but it’s worth looking into.
As mentioned earlier, Dixon’s wealth of knowledge, and also his collection of music, have made him a sought after commodity from time to time. Record labels, like the amazing Numero out of Chicago, have contacted him looking for masters or to track down musicians. John has about every record ever made from square dance to Central High School’s 1965 glee club records (all out of AZ). That’s been part of his mission in life, cataloging all this music.
“For me it’s the history of Arizona music,” he says. “I have a perspective on music from Arizona that other people don’t have. It’s just because I grew up here, I left here and could see it from afar and then came back. When I did return, I was working for a music promoter that was gobbled up by Clear Channel so I’ve always been able to work with music one way or another. What I’m doing now with my show is bringing an Arizonan perspective. That’s the angle I’m able to bring.”
Words: Eddie Ugarte | Illustration: Benjamin Simonson