Sunday, February 03, 2013

Lee Dixon Remembers Detroit

Lee Dixon is a frequent and valued contributor to the Detroit Memories Discussion Group. Here is an excerpt from one of his recent posts:

I first performed at age 9 in various places around the Detroit area, including Bob-Lo Moonlight Cruises, and later with various bands and recording artists. And they weren't all black. Most came in to my family's music shop/store over the years. But yes, black musicians in those days didn't feel like they had really been to the real "scene" in Detroit until they had visited our shop at least once. It was the buzz back then.
My uncle and dad ran Detroit Music Shop Inc. and later Wayne U. Music Shop, Inc. This was on Detroit's east side originally in a large converted garage in a residential area and then in a commercial storefront on East Jefferson. My uncle, Cecil Dixon, invented, patented and built the specially-bent flute (it got higher octaves) that was played by Thomas Beans Bowles on Motown recordings, including Stevie Wonder's "Fingertips." (By the way, Beans ran the band for a while at the Flame Show Bar and we supplied instruments and repairs to musicians working there.) We sold and repaired all musical instruments. My uncle was known as "The Wizard" and could repair virtually any musical instrument and often made them play even better. It was nothing to have what are now-famous musicians and music people in our store. 

My uncle also repaired many of the big organs around Detroit back then in
theaters and big churches. AND we serviced the instruments for the Detroit Board of Education and school system during the 1950s and 1960s, as well as many others.

We sold to everyone from John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles to Yusef Lateef, Roland Kirk, Sonny Stitt, Candy Johnson, Beans Bowles, James Jamerson AND the Funk Brothers, Dorothy Ashby and countless others. I met most of these people lots of times.

Wild cars would be parked in front of the shop. Cadillacs, Lincolns
, Jaguars. I vividly remember one musician who drove a British MG sports car in
the early 1950s (and THAT was WAY ahead). He had the 1950s beatnik look down pat with the sunglasses, beret and the goatee. I remember him taking the time to explain to me that "M.G." stood for "Morris Garages" and I never forgot that. I started reading up on European sports cars after that. I knew them all by the time I was five or six. One guy would come over and sit in our backyard with an easel and a canvas "painting jazz art" he called it.

You'd never know it today since that store and my folks are forgotten in history circles, but people came from as far away as Europe just to meet my uncle and have their instruments serviced at out shop. But we were always kind of like an underground operation I guess. The business was largely word-of-mouth among musicians and we were not like most commercial shops. BUT... we sold guitars by the bushelful. (I still have one I got through the store in 1956.) Same for saxophones. I believe we were the first Fender-Rhodes electric piano dealer back when those were like science fiction! We also sold lots of wild electronic gadgets for musicians. My dad sold the first tape recorder in Michigan. We even did our own chrome and brass plating. This was THE place for musicians for many years. We even had a special and rare electronic machine that singers and musicians would come in to test out their voices and horns and pitches. Those were some times. We were one of Detroit's best-kept musical secrets during the 1950s and 1960s.

Leon "Lee" Dixon
Davis CA
St. Catherine HS 1965



  1. Mandy Singh8:46 AM

    A very interesting piece, keep them coming Lee!!!
    Motown was the explosion of true music art and although all these have past people of all ages still listen to the magic of Motown!

  2. Anonymous10:23 PM

    Cecil Dixon was a legend in Detroit. He charged reasonable prices for repairs, but did exceptional work. Many of us would rather leave our instruments with him and wait for them, than have anyone else do the work. He was an incredible artist. He wouldn't let an instrument go until it met his high standards.