Back when she first formed the Shelly Dixon Band, Shelly Dixon found herself an instant favorite with whatzup readers, as was evident by her Whammy Awards for Best New Artist and for her band’s debut CD, Drive). Dixon’s powerful rock vocals led an energetic group of musicians who started out in 2000 and could have gone on forever – except for some interference from life. Dixon says now that as much as she loved the band and other aspects of her professional life, she knew she needed to step back for awhile. “My son was little, and I owned my own painting business doing finishes and murals,” she says. “It was great working in these big, beautiful homes and a privilege to be paid for art, but I needed to stop that business so I wouldn’t have to take work home with me. I needed a job where I could just go to work and then come home and have a life.”
Part of stepping back also meant ending the band’s tenure, a difficult choice for someone so dedicated to her music. She felt the separation from the band even more keenly than she did her business.
“It was such a great group of people. They were so dedicated, and I never had to chase people down for rehearsals or worry if they were going to show up. We wrote together and played together, and they were such talented musicians. I didn’t know how to deal with the loss when the band ended. You don’t know how much something feeds your soul until you don’t have it anymore.”
In the end, music followed her into her new job at Cork ’n Cleaver. One night Jim Bordner was in the restaurant, and a conversation between the two led to Dixon giving Bordner her CD. That chance encounter helped bring Dixon back to music.
“He produces commercials and brought me in to work on some jingles, and it was nice to be paid for vocal work again. Then I decided to celebrate my 40th birthday with a show at Club Soda, and when that went over really well, it gave me that fire back. It only took a minute to know what I wanted to do.”
After a few false starts at putting together another band, Dixon opted for a duo instead, and her acoustic shows with guitarist Jeff McRae every Tuesday at the Corner Pocket in Riviera Plaza have filled the void she felt after the dissolution of the Shelly Dixon Band. For the time being she’s performing recognizable songs by other artists, a process she says has helped her grow as a singer.
“Jeff lets me choose whatever material I want to do, so I mostly do songs by female artists. Doing these acoustic covers has made me a better singer and performer because it’s just the two of us. I don’t have a bunch of people to hide behind, so it has really helped me get over my shyness when I’m performing. I think I’m more attentive to the audience now.
“I know a lot of songwriters in this town don’t really want to do covers, but I really think it’s teaching me a lot about singing. I do a Bob Dylan song called ‘Make You Feel My Love’ which Adele has recently done, too. Obviously I sing it more like Adele, but it shows how a song like that can come full circle. There’s a lot of variety in the songs we cover, plus we throw in some of my originals along the way.”
There may well be more originals in the future and even another version of the Shelly Dixon Band ahead. Dixon is anxious to have the best of both worlds, continuing the acoustic covers with McRae while enjoying the excitement of singing out with a full band again.
“I want to do both because they’re such different entities. I got away from writing when I stopped playing with the band, and I shouldn’t have done that. Now I’ve opened back up and have more confidence. The lesson that cover music teaches is so powerful. I learn so much from how others sing and how they write. I learn so much from singing songs by Stevie Nicks, Carly Simon, Adele, Norah Jones – the lesson from these artists is amazing. I’m starting to write again and have these little seedlings that are just waiting to be fertilized.”
Dixon’s perspective has changed since she began writing, as she now comes to the process as a wife (her name now is Shelly Dixon-House) and a mother. She says her age and life experiences have brought her to a new place as a songwriter.
“Life is different now than it was when I was 30, and you learn as you go. You learn to embrace yourself and express yourself differently. I think when you’re younger you’re so dependent on outside feedback, but now I think more about what I see, what I think of me.”
Dixon has also learned from singing country music, a genre which is so rich in female vocalists to cover, and feels that country songs are very much like her own originals in their ability to tell a story. She hopes that these lessons will pay off soon with a band she sees performing all kinds of musical forms. Dixon remains soft-spoken and humble, often reiterating her gratitude for the people in her life who have made this journey possible.
“I can’t do what I do without the support I get from my husband, my family and even my boss at Cork ’n Cleaver, Josh Seward. Not everyone has a boss who would be willing to work with my schedule so I can perform every Tuesday and rehearse every Monday.”
Until the new band comes to fruition, it’s still good to know that Dixon is once again finding ways to share her voice. She credits McRae’s guitar acumen for making it easy for her to focus on her singing.
“Jeff is an amazing player. He could be on tour anywhere in the country if he wanted to be, and he believes in me and my voice. It’s good to sing with someone who’s a master on the guitar so I can be the master of my vocals.”