News From The Pit

This Old Guitar
By Jimmy Brown

This month, I get to tell you the story about "a man and his guitar." It begins many years ago - 1935 to be exact - in Seoul, Korea, and continues to this day in Louisville, Kentucky. It's about a man I met in the early 1980s when our guitar shop moved next door to his dry cleaning business. I have always referred to him as Mr. Dixon, and he refers to me as Mr. Jim Brown. Our relationship was based on me taking my dry cleaning to him, and him bringing his guitar to us to restring. I guess that would make for a fairly common experience. But there was always something about Mr. Dixon and his guitar that stood out to me. It is hard to express in words, yet there was and is most definitely a feeling; something about the compassion and reverence with him and how he entrusted me with taking care of his guitar. His dry cleaning business always did a great job with my clothes, so I guess I could at least do the same with his guitar. After many years of this, one day I decided to ask him about his guitar, and how he came together with it. Little did I realize there would be quite a story to tell.

Mr. Dixon was born in Seoul, Korea in 1935. During the Korean War, he was employed by the U.S. Armed Forces to assist in providing entertainment for the troops. He was introduced to "country western" music on the juke box at the military base, and it was here that he first heard the music of Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Tex Ritter and such. Songs like "Your Cheatin Heart," and "Movin' On" struck a chord and he fell in love with Country & Western music.

As entertainment manager for the U.S. 8th Air Force, it was his job to book the entertainment for the troops. Since there was no one in Korea that could do country music, he learned to play the guitar from other entertainers and eventually moved up to being able to perform himself. He married in 1957 and now has three sons. In 1960, he formed his own six-piece Country & Western band, Wagon Wheels, and became one of the most in-demand groups in Korea, primarily because they were the only Country & Western group there. He was even given the opportunity to share the stage with the man in black himself, Johnny Cash.

Mr. Dixon had been given a Gibson guitar to play and kept it while going on to entertain the troops in Viet Nam between '67-'70. So, here was a young Korean man, who started out helping to find entertainment on the military base, performing for thousands himself. His love of American Country & Western music had taken him far. On April 8, 1970, he and his family moved to the United States. A buddy in the Army suggested he move to Louisville, Kentucky, his own home town. After all, it was close enough to Nashville, and that way John would have a place to get started and one day realize his dream of hooking up with Hank Snow.

What got to me in the first place with all of this was the part about the guitar. Before moving, he gave the borrowed Gibson guitar to someone else. The day after his arrival in Louisville on April 9, 1970, he went downtown to Durlauf's Music Shop and bought a guitar. A Gibson. Strictly by circumstance, it happened to be a 1969 Gibson Country & Western Model. Man, sometimes things are just meant to be, I suppose. To this day, it his pride and joy. I cannot tell you how many times he has come to me, guitar case in hand, and said "Mr. Jim Brown, I need you to put new strings on my guitar and make sure it is tuned up real well. I have to play tonight." He is a little anxious and excited, as all of us musicians who perform are apt to be. I understand how important it is to him, and I have always felt some sort of higher calling that tells me I am supposed to just do this service.

I recently sat down with Mr. Dixon and got to hear the whole story of one man's journey from Asia to America, and how music and the guitar played such a part. As with so many who get involved in playing music and entertaining, there comes a certain occupational "risk," if you will: the night life calls. John fell prey to that somewhat himself. When you are inspired by the likes of the great Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, it's not surprising that you might follow a similar path.

Upon arriving in Louisville, he worked for KFC and International Harvester. In 1978, he was critically injured at work and had to leave his position at Harvester. He also found the Lord and became a Christian that year. In 1980, he started Miracle Cleaners to support missionary work in China and continued this until 1992. In 1988 he received his degree in Christian Ministry and became ordained in 1992. Today he is the Reverend John Dixon, associate pastor for Kentucky Mission Church, helping out with immigrants arriving in America. He still uses his guitar in his work. The message is of the gospel today. He sings and plays in accordance to what the missionary work would have him deliver: words of strength and hope, love and goodness. Knowing John and his guitar, with his commitment and passion, I am certain he delivers the message well.

That's all for now.

Until next time,

Keep Rockin'