On January 9, 2015 Willie ‘Popsy’ Dixon of the Holmes Brothers passed away of bladder cancer at the age of 72. He had been playing with brothers Wendall and Sherman Holmes for the last 48 years.
In terms of major music news, there was barely a ripple. And that’s a shame. So I figured the only way to memorialize an overlooked artist was to discuss him on a blog that no one reads. It seemed fitting.
In terms of a biography or a review, there are better ones online. And while it seems unfair to marginalize his fine drumming, that’s not the reason I was grieved to hear Popsy had passed away.
It was that voice. That voice that no one has, free of pretension or affectation or anything false. Just this honest voice with that sobbing tremolo that cuts right down to the soul of the listener. That was the Popsy we lost.
With a great artist I can remember when I first heard them. The Holmes Brothers covered Gillian Welch’s song ‘Everything is Free,’ a fine song I suppose, but not really memorable for me. I include it here for contrast.
I was listening to public radio and their version of the song came on. When Popsy started to sing, I stopped everything I was doing.
I couldn’t move until it was over. I couldn’t remember anything like it. At certain points in the verses tears came to my eyes and I couldn’t figure out why. And every day since, I’ve listening to Popsy Dixon sing something.
He is a link to something that doesn’t seem to exist much anymore. He wasn’t trying to sing like anybody or cultivate an image, unlike the ‘reality shows’ we see today. He sang from the heart, and he did it pretty much better than anyone else has, and now we don’t get to have that anymore and it seems pretty cruel.
But, I think he can explain what you’re missing a lot better than I can. Rest in peace, Popsy. Your like will not come again.