The Side Dishes Are Pretty Tasty

Originally posted February 26, 2007

It’s kind of hard to know what to say about Don Nix.

Don who? I hear you say. Well, exactly.

It’s not like he was a nobody during the later 1960s and early 1970s; he recorded a series of albums on Shelter and Elektra and some smaller labels. He played saxophone as a member of the Mar-Keys with, among others, his high school classmates Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn of Booker T and the MG’s. And after his 1970s solo recordings didn’t sell well, he returned to his home town of Memphis and was a successful producer there and at Alabama’s Muscle Shoals.

But Don Nix’s name is not one that pops to mind too often.

And that’s too bad. Although his solo recordings are not, perhaps, at the top of the heap of southern soul and rock from that era, by no means are they at the bottom. They do provide some good listening, with a few caveats. The first – taking today’s share, Nix’s 1971 Living By The Days, as the example – is that Nix is not the most charismatic frontman we’re ever going to hear. His voice is a little thin and his sense of pitch is not always certain. And he seems at times reluctant to take a place at the front of the stage, preferring perhaps to be a part of the team instead of its leader.

That might not be the reason for his seeming self-effacement, but that’s the result. On several of the more energetic cuts on Living By The Days, it seems like everyone is waiting for someone to grab hold of the song and pull it forward, and no one does. The one exception, I thought, was the traditional gospel piece, “I Saw The Light,” which chugs along nicely despite its odd beginning: a spoken-word introduction by legendary blues and R&B artist Furry Lewis.

On the other hand, even with his vocal limitations, the laid-back quality Nix seems to have brought to these 1971 sessions works well on the more measured songs in the same way that J.J. Cale’s slow loping style would be effective just a few years later. That slow groove is best, it seems, on the album’s closer, “My Train’s Done Come And Gone,” but it works well on other cuts, too. The resemblance to Cale’s work is interesting because Nix worked for a few years in California and at Shelter Records with Leon Russell, whose influence on Cale’s long and successful career is well known.

Living By The Days is on the Elektra label and was Nix’s second solo album, following 1970’s In God We Trust, which was on the Shelter label. Hoboes, Heroes and Street Corner Clowns followed on  Enterprise in 1974, and Nix then moved to the Cream label for 1976’s Gone Too Long and 1979’s Skyrider. He returned to the studios 15 years later and released a trio of albums between 1994 and 2006, all of which – like his earlier albums – rely on Southern grooves for the entertainment.

There are worse things to rely on, of course, and a look at the credits for Living By The Days tells why the album is intriguing, despite Nix’s vocal limitations. The bulk of the backing comes from the boys from Muscle Shoals: drummer Roger Hawkins, bassist David Hood, guitarist Jimmy Johnson and keyboard player Barry Beckett. Also lending a hard are Chris Stainton of Joe Cocker’s Grease Band on keyboards, old friend Duck Dunn on bass, and guitarists Wayne Perkins, Tippy Armstrong and Gimmer Nicholson. A few of the background singers’ names are familiar, as well: Claudia Lennear, Kathi McDonald, Don Preston and Joey Cooper.

So the side dishes are good, even if the main course is a little bit thin.

Track list:

The Shape I’m In
Olena
I Saw The Light
She Don’t Want A Lover (She Just Needs A Friend)
Living By The Days
Going Back To Iuka
Three Angels
Mary Louise
My Train’s Done Come And Gone

Don Nix – Living By The Days [1971]

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2 Responses to “The Side Dishes Are Pretty Tasty”

  1. One Of Those Days « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] as I am loathe to leave the space entirely unmelodied, here’s a repost a reader requested, and a link to the original […]

  2. The Return Of A Familiar Sound « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] By The Days – Don Nix ([971] Original post here. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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