When he sings of "Babies in the Mill," he sounds utterly convincing. After all, he had to leave school in fourth grade to join his sister at work in a South Carolina mill. Dorsey Murdock Dixon was born in a mill town at the close of the 19th century, the first son in a family of seven. His long career as a textile worker began at the age of 12, but that seemed pretty good compared to his sister Nancy, who had begun work as a spinner at eight, making less than 50 cents a week. His younger brother Howard Dixon went into the mills at ten and worked there until his death in 1961. During the first World War the brothers worked as signalmen on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. But they lost this job in 1919 and had no alternative but the mills. At about 14, Dorsey Dixon began to learn both the guitar and violin. The brothers formed a fiddle and guitar duet a bit more than a year later when Howard Dixon taught himself guitar, pulling the copycat routine that little brothers are known for. The duo began gigging at local functions around Rockingham, NC, where the family had relocated.
But this early musical background is not setting the stage for a tale of a youthful musical overachiever. Actually, both of the Dixon Brothers continued the daily grind of the mills. Dorsey did not write his first song until he was 32, "The School House Fire," Howard set the words to the tune of the standard hymn "Life's Railway to Heaven" and an original vocal duet was completed. Dorsey began to think he had a real talent for composition, especially if it meant creating songs embodied with the deep feelings of an exhausted, frustrated millworker. Indeed, he had a real gift for bringing the world of the mill to life in a song and created classic labor songs, such as "Hard Times in Here," "Weave Room Blues," and "Factory Girl." Of course his most famous song was "Wreck on the Highway," a hit for the pint-sized Roy Acuff and a bona fide country classic. The Dixons first attracted attention with their music through 1934 broadcasts as the Dixon Brothers on Charlotte's WBT radio . The brothers recorded material in Charlotte and Rock Hill in the '30s, and also made more recent recordings under the supervision of folk song collector Gene Earle in the early '60s. Some of the Dixon Brothers titles were originally released as the Rambling Duet. Dorsey Dixon also recorded as a duet with his wife Beatrice Dixon. The Southern Culture Center for Study of the South prepared an autobiographical text on Dorsey's life, appropriately entitled I Don't Want Nothin' 'Bout My Life Wrote Out, Because I Had It Too Rough in Life: Dorsey Dixon's Autobiographical Writings. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi