Eulogy for Robert Lorenzo Dixon, 11.22.08
I’ve been asked to speak today about my best friend, Bobby Dixon. There are three men in my life of whom I could say I truly loved. One was my father, one is my older brother, and the third is Bobby D.
My recollections of Bobby are deeply personal and that’s appropriate because Bobby was the kind of person with whom you always felt you had your own special relationship. I’m sure everybody here who knew him felt a close personal relationship with Bobby because that’s just the kind of guy he was. When you became his friend, he truly embraced you.
I met Bobby almost nineteen years ago at his house in Monterey Park on a Sunday, and we played our first gig together on that Friday night. We were brought together by Andy Gutman, a guitarist with whom I had, to say the least, a stormy relationship. Andy was trying to convince me to re-join his band, The Hitmen, which I was resisting and his chief selling-point was this new drummer he had recently discovered. That was Bobby, and he was such a positive spirit and an incredible musician that, despite my reservations, I agreed to stay, and we started making great music together. The best part of The Hitmen was that it saw Bobby transition from being purely a sideman to front man as his voice became ever more prominent in the songs we performed. When that band broke up some two years later, Bobby and I went our separate ways for a time. But within the year, he was putting together his own band, Bobby D and the Mixx he called it, and asked me to be a part of it.
Over the next 16 years, we played hundreds of gigs together. One thing for sure is that on a Bobby D gig, you never knew what was going to happen, but you always felt that along the way, there was going to be some kind of magic. First of all, you never played the same gig twice with Bobby. The gig might have been in the same location you’ve played before, same club, same venue, same night. But there was always something new going on. Bobby loved to find new talent and showcase it in front of the world. I’d show up at the gig and meet a musician for the first time who was about to go onstage with us without any prior rehearsal. Bobby would say “Oh Ronnie, this is so and so and he’s gonna play with us tonight.” I’d look in the new musician’s eyes and see the fear of the unknown mixed with more than a little stage fright. But after years of playing with Bobby, I grew to expect the unexpected. So I always said to the new guy (or girl), don’t worry, you’re going onstage with Bobby D. And one thing I’ve learned over the years is that when you’re playing with Bobby, somehow it always works out. And it always did.
I know I speak for all of the musicians here who have played with Bobby who know just what a special thing it is when he is there locking down the groove or carrying the song with his incredible voice. Whether he was backing up great singers like Brenton Wood or the jazz funk of Soups Ready or the Motown Soul of our band, or blues, rock n roll, or reggae -- Bobby was just such a natural musician in that he could drift effortlessly from one style to the next. Bobby was the only person I’ve ever met who could be the front man while sitting behind a drum set. We just moved him closer to the stage front so he could connect with the audience. His warm and engaging personality was always a hit with audiences as he immediately formed a bond with whoever was in the room. He had some kind of magic.
You had the feeling that he could pull off just about anything. The last gig we played together was a few weeks ago at a club in Riverside. As downbeat neared, Bobby couldn’t find his bag of drumsticks. He searched everywhere but couldn’t find it. As he hit the stage, and was about to begin the first song, I looked over and saw in his hands the substitute “drumsticks” he was about to use: two pieces of metal tubing: one was a piece of a mic stand. The other was a part of a drum stand. But I knew he was going to find a way to make it sound good. Fortunately, just before the count-off he finally remembered where he put the stick bag so I never got to hear the metal sticks. But I knew he would make them work.
I often told people that I liked being close to Bobby D because God obviously loved him so much that he shined a special light on him. I figured that if I was close to Bobby some of that love had to rub off on me. To give him such an amazingly beautiful voice, such uncanny musical ability on the drums and other instruments and such a positive light of his spirit – God bestowed many gifts upon Bobby and fortunately he willingly shared those gifts with us.
I’m sure our favorite performances together were on the larger gigs where we could afford to put our big band together, Bobby on drums and vocals, me on keys and key bass, "cousin" Zuri’s gorgeous voice up front, any of our wonderful guitar players, Tony Mathews, Lucky Lloyd, Rob Hernandez, Butch and Michael Coles or our brother Michael Richard, who we lost so tragically to cancer two years ago. And then there were those great, great horns, Bubbles, Chuck, Toby, Smitty, Wayman, Victor, Gary Baynes. Forgive me if I’ve left anybody out. But when we had our big band together, magic always happened.
But then, there were the other gigs: many as a quintet, a quartet, many as a trio, and probably just as many as a duo, just me and Bobby. That was when Bobby D and the Mixx was really just Bobby D -- and I was the Mixx. We made a lot of music for just two guys and it was frequently just as satisfying an experience as the big band. The ballads were no problem, quiet music isn’t so hard when you’re a band of two. But then, after a while when we’d exhausted our supply of the slow tunes, Bobby would look up at me with this gleam in his eye and say two words that struck fear in my heart – "James Brown." That meant we were about to try and replicate James Brown and his 40 piece band doing “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” and “I Got You, I Feel Good” with Bobby on one African drum and me on everything else. But of course, Bobby made it all so easy.
I’ve talked a lot about his music, but above all, Bobby loved his family. I know some of his proudest moments in life were watching the accomplishments of his children Monica and LaTrail. Over the years, as we set up our equipment for gigs, we’d talk about what our kids were getting into – school, music, sports, theatre -- and how they were growing and he would just beam as he told me their stories. Monica and LaTrail, I know how much he loved you because of how often he spoke to me about you. He was always so proud of you and the fine people you were growing up to be. And even though this last year was difficult, I know of the many, many years of life and love that he and Sandy shared together. Despite any separation, that kind of love can’t be forgotten.
And though he made choices this year that took him away from his life with Sandy and his children, I know that he loved them all so dearly. He was torn. I know this. Bobby didn’t talk to me about those choices that he made, and although I wanted to, I didn’t question him about it. I felt that he was working through some issues and that when he had them resolved we would sit down and have a good talk about it. But now we will never have that chance. And so, because he was taken from us at so young an age, a lot of Bobby feels unfinished. He still had so much to give to the world – to all of us. But in spite of the shortness of his life, it will always have meaning if we all remember the things that we learned and the ways in which we grew because of the very special light that he brought to our lives.
Some of the best moments of my life have been with Bobby. He was with me at the gig at the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica where I first saw this beautiful girl Beverly across the dance floor, and after we ended the gig he encouraged me to go talk to her. Four years later, he blessed us at our wedding, and then later he celebrated with us at the birth of our daughter Meredith as we celebrated when Monica and then LaTrail joined Bobby and Sandy. Our favorite summer gigs were the annual 4th of July concerts in Monterey Park where after playing our set, we had picnic lunches on blankets where our toddlers -- Monica and Meredith -- played together the whole day as we got ready for the spectacular fireworks display. And then Bobby and I subbed as guest musicians on stage with the all-policeman rock n roll band, the only time I ever arrived on stage from the back of a squad car with sirens blaring and beacons flashing.
I know that Bobby changed the lives of hundreds perhaps thousands of kids as music teacher at the Sherman Indian School where I know he will be sadly missed by faculty, friends and students. I remember the first time Bobby had our band play for the school, it was in his first year teaching there. We played outside on the quad and the students didn’t come anywhere near us. That’s actually an understatement, because they stayed about a football field away from us. I asked Bobby if they didn’t much like our music. He took it in stride and said, “Don’t worry, they’re checking us out. It just takes them a while to get to know you.” The next time we played, they got a little closer, as they did each year. Eventually, they not only came closer but picked up rhythm instruments or sang or did rap tunes with us. And in recent years if you walked into Bobby’s music room you would hear it erupting with a cacophony of sound with kids playing all kinds of instruments and music in all corners of the room. And in a more organized fashion, to see these kids, some of whom were deeply troubled, come out of their shells and perform music in front of their peers at the annual Christmas concert or Spring Concert with the constant love and encouragement that Bobby gave them was so inspiring. The last time I was at the school there was even a chorus of three girls singing a song they had made up about a man whose name was Bobby D.
Bobby loved mentoring others. Finding talent, nurturing it. Teaching drums and vocals as he did for so many years at Johnny Thompson’s Music Shop. Producing singers and encouraging them in their careers. He was endlessly creative and loved the native American art and music that were so much a part of his life at home and at school, as were his own special creations of the miniature drum sets for which he will always be remembered.
Something that you can never forget about Bobby was his generosity. Whenever anyone close to him was down on their luck or facing an illness he was first up organizing benefits to help out. He’d bring musicians together, usually at Domenicos', to play in tribute, he’d buy pizza for us and then personally pass the donation box. He was always willing to put himself out for others. What did he get out of it? I don’t know, but whenever I helped Bobby by playing on one of his benefits I always felt God’s love shining down on him.
Last week, I went to the hospital as soon as I heard the news about his heart attack. I was glad that Susanne was there to help Bobby and I knew he took great comfort in her love and constant attention – as he had for the last months of his life. I was grateful to Susanne for that and I know he was too. But I could see that in the hospital bed Bobby was now just barely hanging on to life. I chose not to stay too long because I could see that having me there was exhausting him. But as sick as he was I felt like I would one day play music with him again. He told me “Ronnie, you’re gonna have to sing a few more songs now.” I said I would. And up until this past Sunday morning I was thinking about songs that I wanted to record with him. New things that I wanted to do with him musically if we were given a second chance. But of course, that was not to be, and right now, I find it really hard to imagine ever playing music again without him. As I left his bedside that day at the hospital, I kissed his forehead and told him that I loved him and as he drifted to sleep he told me he loved me too. Like all of you, I prayed that he would be able to hold on until they found a new heart for him. But I guess they couldn’t find a heart that was big enough to replace the one God had given Bobby.
I’m a few years older than Bobby. But I knew he would be in my life for however long that life turned out to be. I thought we would grow old together, playing music into our eighties like BB King. Honestly, I always expected to go first. And one of the great comforts of my life was my belief that when my time came, Bobby would be there to speak for me at my memorial. I always knew he’d say nice things about me – whether they were true or not. I always knew he would have a calming presence for those that I loved. And I can’t tell you how it grieves me to have it be the other way around. But it is an honor to be here with you speaking words about a truly remarkable man, a man I loved and a man I will never forget. A musician, teacher, friend, husband and father, Bobby Dixon. Thank you for all your life has given us.
Addendum: Please listen to the music Bobby made at the web site we created for the band. Click on this link... Bobby D and the Mixx
Robert Lorenzo Dixon October 23, 1959 - November 16, 2008 "Bobby D" was born to Robert and Mary Sherman Dixon on October 23, 1959 in Greenville, SC. He attended Greenville High School. He lived in Utah for several years, where he married his wife of 26 years in Logan, Utah in 1981. Bob is survived by his wife and soulmate, Sandy; his daughter, Monica Bobbie Rose, and son LaTrail; mother, Mary; brothers James Curtis and Ronnie; sisters, Marion and Olivia and many family members and friends. He was a beloved teacher for 13 years at Sherman Indian High School in Riverside, CA, a music teacher at Johnny Thompson Music, and a well-recognized drummer and vocalist through the Los Angeles area. Viewing will be at 8:00 am and services will be at 9:00 am on Saturday, November 22nd at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 3332 Eucalyptus St. Chino Hills, CA. Private Burial. Todd Mortuary of Pomona entrusted with arrangements.