By the time Carl Dixon was old enough to go to school, the Sault Ste Marie native was already taking piano lessons. He eventually also picked up a set of drumsticks, and then the guitar, then took vocal lessons – emulating what he was hearing on the radio – The Beatles, The Guess Who, CCR, Kinks, Cream, Led Zep, and almost anything from Motown.
His first paid gigs was while he was still in high school in a group called Apricot Brandy, where the older members of the group got him in the bars. While attending Barrie North Collegiate, he took part in the music program and played in the concert band, eventually earning Royal Conservatory of Music Grade 8 requirements with honours for percussion.
He later joined Alvin Shoes, where he got his baptism by fire by touring Northern Ontario and then the Maritimes. Looking back, he commented the trip was a fiasco from start to finish. “The huge gap between our readiness and understanding of how to be a touring band was thrown in our faces right from the start to finish,” he said.
But before the tour was halfway done, one by one, everyone in the band had had enough. By ’79 Dixon moved to Montreal and joined Firefly, a band he met while on the east coast. Although he auditioned for the drummer’s position, he ended up joining as the third guitarist instead.
A year and a half later and homesick, he returned home to Barrie, Ontario. But sitting on the couch pondering his future only lasted a few weeks, when he answered a newspaper ad from a band looking for a new guitarist/singer. Coney Hatch was signed to Anthem Records (Polygram-Mercury worldwide) and recorded three gold albums over the next four years, starting with their self-titled debut in 1982, penning light metal classics like “Monkey Bars,” “Devil’s Deck,” “Hey Operator,” “This Ain’t Love,” and “The Girl From Last Night’s Dream.” In the process they toured relentlessly throughout Canada and the US, and also made a few trips to Europe. In the process they shared stages with the likes of Kim Mitchell (producer of their debut album), Lee Aaron, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest.
When he felt the band had finally run its course, Dixon formed The Carl Dixon Band, and then Rough and Ready. In both cases, they played a mix of original material with Coney Hatch favourites and a few covers. But in ’89 he jumped at the chance to re-unite with his old band to perform a benefit show in Toronto. The one-off show led to a full-fledged reunion that lasted a year. In 1989, his demo song “Fool’s Paradise” was also used for the soundtrack to the horror film “Freakshow.”
But restless once again, he went back to working on a solo career, which ended up morphing instead into a staff songwriting deal with Rondor Music in New York in 1990. Most noteable about this period was the song “Taste of Love,” which he wrote with Brett Walker for Jimi Jamison. The song also wound up on an episode of “Baywatch.”
In 1992, with the deal with Rondor now over, Dixon got back to the business of a solo career. With financial backing from a German named Martin Frankenberg and Canadian Eric Wilson, his debut album, ONE, was finally in the stores by the following spring. Featuring songs like “One Good Reason,” “Blood Rises,” and “Taste of Love,” it was 14 original tracks co-written with the likes of Brett Walker, Stan Meissner, and David Warner, and saw a host of friends helping out on, including bassist Tim Harrington (whom Dixon played with in Rough and Ready), Mark Santer, Mike Shotten on bg vocals on “Taste of Love,” and ex-Coney Hatch alumni Steve Shelski and Andy Curran. It also featured a cover of Free’s “Get Where I Belong.”
He assembled a backing band and did promo tours of Canada, and then into Europe. During this period, he also produced demos for other promising Canadian talents like Emm Gryner and The Jessicas. In the mid ’90s, he also joined Coney Hatch for another batch of reunion shows, and also worked as the Canadian rep for Germany-based Long Island Records, helping them acquire the rights to many of their “Rock Classics” re-issues.
In ’97, he jumped at the chance to join a reformed Guess Who, working constantly and primarily in the US for the next three and a half years, until mainstays Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman re-joined the fold for a short-lived reunion. But during this period, Dixon produced the band’s live album, 1999’s DOWN THE ROAD, and also managed new artist Rebecca Timmons, producing her album, THE TURING EVENT (named after inventor and cypher Alan Turing), also in 1999.
Before the end of the decade, he’d contacted Sweden-based MTM Music. But what was initially intended to be a new Coney Hatch album eventually became Dixon’s second solo album, INTO THE FUTURE, in 2001. Critically hailed and recorded in his home studio, it featured covers of Robin Trower’s “River,” Badfinger’s “Lonely You,” and Free’s “Little Bit of Love, as well as the originals “Strange Way To Live,” “Lonely You,” and the title track. Once again, friends came out in droves to do cameos, including Brian Greenway on “Back To Where We Started,” and Steve Shelski on “Hot Streak Gone Cold.”
But before he could even think about touring to promote the album, April Wine came calling. He toured with them from 2001 to the end of ’04, and during that time appeared on the GREATEST HITS LIVE album in ’03. During many of the shows during that period, Dixon also opened for them with a solo acoustic act. It was the one-man act, and the reception he received, that spawned the idea for him to record a live album, and ONE VOICE TWO HANDS was released in the fall of ’03.
Along with a few originals, the disc contained mostly covers of some of the songs he’d grown up with and was heavily influenced by, including John Cougar’s “Lonely Ol’ Night,” The Guess Who‘s “No Sugar Tonight” and “Undun,” Joni Mitchell‘s “Big Yellow Taxi,” and Led Zeppelin’s “Over The Hills And Far Away.” Released on the Diamond Ditty label, the album was both praised by the critics for its genuineness, and cherished by the fans for his unique take on the many classics, and soon became his biggest selling solo album.
With his run with April Wine almost over, he got a call in 2004 to re-join The Guess Who, now that Bachman and Cummings had left. They toured primarily in the US on a regular basis for the next few years, with Dixon again gaining praise for his faithful renditions of the band’s classic hits.
But in April, 2008, with the group taking a break from the touring schedule, he traveled to Australia to visit his family. His teenage daughter Lauren was starring in a popular children’s show called “The Saddle Club,” and while there, he was involved in a head-on collision on a quiet, dark country road. His injuries were numerous and severe, and it took a trauma unit 35 hours to save his life.
Back in Toronto, several benefit concerts were arranged over the next couple of years to help ease the financial burden Dixon and his family endured because of the incident. He used music to help in his recovery, and began touring again as an acoustic solo artist a year after the crash. As a result of the incident, he also began making appearances as a motivational speaker, and wrote an autobiography about being a singer, and his recovery after the crash.
He released LUCKY DOG in 2011, featuring the lead-off “An Average Guy,” “Stitches, Sutures, and Staples” (recounting his auto accident in Australia), and “Mercy.” Some solo dates were interwoven with another Coney Hatch reunion that same year. It was a hit, primarily in the UK at Firefest, one of Europe’s biggest hard rock festivals. It sparked enough interest that several labels came calling, and a new album is expected in the spring of 2013 on Italian label, Frontiers Records.