‘We were in Elgin,’ the very tall, very bearded Drew Dixon tells me downstairs at the Green Note in Camden Town on the London leg of his five-date tour which should have taken place in April 2020. ‘One of my first meals in Scotland, I am embarrassed to say, was a California burrito, the most stereotypical thing.
Drew moved to Nashville 11 years ago, so he’s primed to break through any day now under the ’10-Year Town’ rule. His buddy is the tour drummer for Luke Combs, who must be able to provide burrito fanatic Drew with tips on the cuisine he’s been enjoying (I’d follow that Twitter account).
‘I’m in Scotland eating a burrito! I don’t know what I was thinking. It was ridiculous! I felt bad so I went and had some fish and chips which were amazing.’
Two days after the London date, Drew would spend Saturday night in Blackpool with touring buddy Gary Quinn – ‘I’ve been told it’s like Atlantic City!’ – and a few nights later he would play the Greater Manchester village of Walsden. In London, Backwoods Creek played a set of old and new tunes to open the evening’s entertainment, which was put on by Gavin and Sue Chittick, who are preparing for Country In The Afternoon at the end of May and Millport up in Scotland in August.
Before the hour of acoustic music from Drew, where he was joined by the electrifying Dean Parker on guitar, he spared 15 minutes for CWOL to the gentle sounds of Backwoods Creek warming up about ten feet away. Drew joined the guys on record and on the night on the song Momma’s Prayers, a rifftastic tune where it must have been a delight for the guys to finally play the song live.
‘It’s the first time I’ve seen them live in person,’ Drew enthused. ‘We stayed in touch throughout the lockdown and they had a song which they thought my voice would be good on.’ We must see more of this sort of Transatlantic collaboration, something The Shires have done in recent years with Lauren Alaina and Jimmie Allen, and Tim Prottey-Jones did with Stephanie Quayle.
Drew opened his set with Music’s Over, whose melancholic lyric is underscored by Drew’s patented mix of Delta Blues and Southern Gothic. ‘I’m still figuring that out,’ he says of his sound, which he had ‘as far back as when I was first learning how to write a song in my mother’s house in Columbia, South Carolina.
‘I went to college in Athens, Georgia, playing music there. I could never pinpoint what genre my music was falling under. Being in Nashville, surrounded by great songwriters, the sound evolved. Sometimes the songs come out more blues, sometimes more straightforward rock or roots or country. The storytelling and the lyrics is where the Southern Gothic comes from. There’s some dark undertones.’
This is evident on songs like Whiskey and Wine, where Drew notes that a relationship would never work because he’s kinda whiskey and she’s kinda wine.
As with the music of Backwoods Creek, sometimes the riff drives the song. Drew encored with the effervescent Run (‘as fast as you can’), while he also played Madame D’s, a song based on a strange dream about a brothel, and the brilliant rocker Help Me.
‘That song came from a riff I was messing around with for years. I got in the room with the right guy and sat down. The rest of the song fell in. Sometimes you have a chord progression first and someone will play something during a jam and you add that to it.’
Drew’s first single Dead Man was released in 2015. Seven years on, have his influences changed? ‘I don’t know if they’ve changed. I can tell whether it’s a song I would like to keep for myself or show to someone else because it’s more their genre.
‘The core of my influences is older music from the 50s to the 70s. If I find new stuff from that era, that helps. Today’s music like Marcus King or Brothers Osbourne, even Luke Combs. It’s so catchy but so well done, with a powerful voice. That’s part of the whole mess of chaos that you hope a song can come out of that.
‘I played drums and bass. I had fun with them but I wasn’t very good. I still love getting behind the drumset but I kept at the guitar, and I always felt more natural singing my own stuff myself.’
Having been in Nashville for ten years already, the next ten will be about touring, building on his first UK visit back in 2019. ‘I’m self-financing this. I don’t have label, or management, or publishing. There’s no one behind me funding it upfront, so I don’t have to pay it back.
‘After this tour, I’ll go back and look at the books and say, “This was worth it, this wasn’t.” Is it worth spending that amount on plane tickets, getting people from the US over here or using guys from here entirely? Where am I staying, how much am I spending on promotion?’
As a Carolinian, Drew is enthused by Luke Combs, who is from Asheville, NC. ‘Every song he puts out is incredible. Even the album tracks. There’s no animosity between North and South Carolina. It’s cool to see a guy that’s humble and talented and that surrounds himself with a great team. You like it when the good guys win.
‘Luke had such a singular experience because he walked in the room with the label with so much leverage. “This is what’s gonna happen or I’m out the door” and the label had to take it or leave it. TikTok wasn’t around back in 2015, 2016, but you also didn’t have to prove you can transfer that to ticket sales and make more money.
‘In Nashville, you hear songwriters sing their songs in the writers’ rounds and it sounds one way, then you hear them on the radio and it’s entirely different. The songwriters aren’t gonna complain about the cheques that come in the mail every month.’
Drew’s music sounds on record as it did at the Green Note, with some additional production to flesh the songs out in the studio. I hope we see a full-band show at some point, given the ferocity of the studio and band version of Run. Alternatively, such was his fondness for sad songs that Drew promised to ‘bum you out then dig you out of the hole!’ with a happy song. The variety was appealing.
A fine cover of the John Prine standard Angel From Montgomery showed Drew as a great interpreter of song. He previewed future sing Lovin’est Kind, a gospel blues which will sound massive, while the unreleased song Leather (‘life is like leather, ain’t meant to be flawless forever’) showed his skill in lyric writing. In a Luke Combs style he posted it on Instagram at the end of 2020; if the major artist who has it on old releases it, Drew will be able to pay bills much more easily and might be able to afford better hotel rooms in his next UK visit to promote the forthcoming EP.
‘I don’t want it to be anywhere near close to two years before I come back again,’ Drew sighs. Judging by the brilliant reaction in Camden, he’ll be back soon enough.