By Nancy Tannler
When the need to paint the living room came up, The Southeast Examiner’s At Your Service page had the solution in Blue Dun Painting.
Owner Denny Bixby gave us an estimate and then showed up and completed the job in one day, transforming the room from dull to vibrant in a matter of hours.
During the workday, there was a chance to speak with Denny and find out why his name sounded familiar. Painting is Bixby’s second career path.
Music is his passion, one that propelled him from Portland to Nashville and back again, playing with some of the great recording artists of our times.
It seems like everyone has a little of the wannabe rock star in them but what is it that turns imagination into reality?
Bixby said he has always had music in his life. At five he badgered his parents into giving him piano lessons and he always sang in the church and school choirs.
“I think being a musician is something you are,” he said. Bixby also has a mental “chip” that gives him the ability to remember and retain songs he’s learned or written over the years.
His big break came during the mid-eighties when a call came from out of the blue, from a Nashville recording producer who wanted him to come and play bass for the country rock band fronted by Gail Davies called Wild Choir. “The guy heard me play 15 months earlier and liked my sound, more edgy, plus I could sing,” he said.
They recorded in Nashville and released their first single in 1986 called “Safe in the Arms of Love”, a duet featuring Davies and Bixby. Davies wanted him to move to Nashville and since Bixby was in a life transition period, he decided to “suck it up” and head to Nashville.
The first gig he got after arriving in Nashville was with Nanci Griffith.
“I worked with her for about 18 months and played on her One Fair Summer’s Eve record.”
He recorded one more album with Davies titled Pretty Words, for MCA Records, produced by legendary producer Jimmy Bowen, who had worked with Frank Sinatra, Glen Campbell, Kenny Rogers, Garth Brooks and many others.
Being both a bass player and singer kept him busy in Nashville. He toured internationally with seven Grammy-winning artists at venues including Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall and Late Night with David Letterman.
He appeared many times on Austin City Limits as well as major award shows such as the Grammys, Americana Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards, and Country Music Association Awards.
He said some of the highlights of this period was playing with Chet Atkins at Carnegie Hall and being on the David Letterman Show.
Bixby contends that the real richness is in friendships he formed with people he played with.
“When I played with Rodney Crowell, we became lifetime friends. He is an amazing human being and an amazing songwriter.”
Bixby had met his wife Sally in 1986 at the White Eagle in NE Portland. At the time she was a senior at Lewis and Clark College and was willing to leave her roots here on the West Coast for the music scene in Tennessee.
He attributes the solid foundation of this relationship to his success in a very competitive, unpredictable and at times, difficult business. “I couldn’t have done it without her.”
While the Bixbys were in Nashville, they built a home about fifteen miles out of the city. When it came time to paint the interior, his friend Craig Riches taught him how.
Riches is a drummer and artist who fashions pieces from copper and travels to shows selling his work. Bixby honed the skill working on his own house and also realized that this might be a good way to subsidize the unpredictable music business.
In 2005, thorns and roses beckoned the couple back to Portland. The birth of their first grandson was the rose and Bixby’s diagnosis of stage four melanoma was the thorn.
Fortunately for his strong constitution, good care and who knows what else, he celebrated ten years cancer free this April, a rarity for a person with this prognosis. Now there are four little grandkids running around with another on the way.
Bixby’s day job is his painting company, Blue Dun, named after one of his favorite fly fishing flies– and a preferred pastime. His steady hand and methodical expertise gets the job done quickly and well.
Still involved in an extensive musical scene he works with fellow Oregon Music Hall of Fame members Quarterflash, Lloyd Jones, Jon Koonce, singer/songwriter Jack McMahon and others. His two bands The Alternators and The Ex-Nashville Cats perform and he still occasionally tours with Rodney Crowell.
Currently Bixby is promoting a fundraiser for Jack McMahon who just had heart surgery. There’s a website at youcaring.com with a page for McMahon so friends and fans can contribute to help defray his medical bills.
There will be a fundraiser for him at O’Connor’s, 7850 SW Capitol Highway, on Sunday May 4 from 3 to 6 pm.
On Friday May 9 Bixby will perform at O’Connor’s in Multnomah with Lloyd Jones at 8 pm; Saturday May 17 at The Lehrer Pub with Lloyd at 9 pm; Sunday May 25 at O’Connor’s with his band The Alternators, 7:30 pm and Friday May 30 at Duff’s Garage with Lloyd, 9 pm. Find out more at dennybixby.com.