Driving undistracted is always smart practice.
This is especially true when traveling abroad, a lesson Carl Dixon learned the hardest way.
In 2008 while visiting family in Australia, the Sault-born musician was in a horrific collision that left him “completely ruined and helpless” for a very long time.
“I forgot for about one minute, the big difference between Australia and Canada is they drive on the other side of the road there. It was simply that,” Dixon told SooToday during a recent phone interview.
Trapped in his mangled vehicle for nearly two hours, Dixon was eventually freed and transported to a Melbourne hospital where he remained in a coma for 10 days with major head trauma and a broken body.
His left arm and shoulder were the only body parts not impacted by the collision.
“The miracle was that I survived the impact and lived long enough to get to the hospital where they could put me back together,” he said.
“Later, when I had recovered enough to talk to them, doctors told me they felt the only reason I had survived those first two hours was that I had taken such good care of myself through the years.”
‘The years’ to which he’s referring are the decades Dixon spent recording, touring and performing in the rock and roll circuit around the globe.
This path began in Sault Ste. Marie where as a young boy, Dixon became a “mad record collector” and studied piano and guitar at Gartshore Music.
He first started writing his own material at age 16, around the same time he picked up the drum sticks, eventually earning Grade 8 Royal Conservatory certification in percussion.
But to fans of Canadian classic rock, Dixon’s name should ring familiar – throughout the 80s and into the early 90s, he fronted Coney Hatch for whom he was also a primary songwriter.
He answered an ad to join the band in 1981 knowing it already had a library of original material.
“You can get as good as you want at playing the Beatles or Pearl Jam, but unless you have something of your own to put out there, you don’t stand a chance to get anywhere,” he explained.
“They had the same mind set, so I started bringing my songs in and together we made some really punchy rock songs.”
With Kim Mitchell at the helm, Coney Hatch released its debut self-titled album in 1982 and suddenly had an international record deal, opening for the likes of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.
Dixon was just 21 years old.
“It was amazing and thrilling, and suddenly I was there with the big guys playing Maple Leaf Gardens,” he said. “At the same time I had this sort of underlying feeling of something I don’t get. At the time, I’d spent five years already playing in bars with a bunch of different bands, and that seemed like a lifetime. But I recall we had this accelerated development because we were a good looking young band with a good sound, fan base, and good strong songs. And all the time we had the backing of a famous guy who got people to pay attention to us.”
But Dixon quickly learned that fame doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with fortune.
“You wake up one morning, and there you are on MTV when it was first starting. But the funny thing is, there was never any money in it, especially in Canada,” he said. “I really learned at that time you could be considered a star in Canada and not be sure how you’re going to pay your rent.”
“The other part about being so young and that accelerated progress is that I felt incredible pressure as the lead singer and main songwriter. I felt that I could never make a mistake. If I wasn’t great every single moment, I’d ruin it for all of us.”
After the band’s third release, 1985’s Friction, “didn’t perform to the label’s expectation,” Dixon left to pursue a solo career, a period he describes as fun but trying.
Just as he began to question whether he could sustain a career in music, a friend reached out to let him know Burton Cummings had departed The Guess Who and the band was in need of a new lead singer.
“It’s all peaks and valleys when you’re in any of the arts. I had to look for the next opportunity to revive things and get business started again,” he said.
Dixon spent the next several years touring and performing with The Guess Who as well as April Wine, with whom he played percussion, keyboards, guitar and sang backing vocals.
This all came to a screeching halt following his collision and the lengthy recovery that followed.
And it was Coney Hatch bandmate Andy Curran that Dixon partially credits for his eventual rehabilitation.
Confined to a hospital bed and in a coma, the phone was held to Dixon’s ear as Curran made the promise of more shows once he got healthy: “Carl, you gotta get better. We still have more rockin’ to do.”
Mercifully, Dixon has no recollection of the collision, but he somehow retained the memory of Curran’s promise.
He spent five months in the hospital, propping himself up with the mantra: “No weakness, no fear.”
“That enabled me to draw on the strength of character that I think had enabled me to be a musician through all those crazy ups and downs,” he explained. “I definitely think there’s a connection between my perseverance through the music career and my perseverance through that crisis of the accident.”
“I had a couple of years of recovery before I could return to any kind of form I was before the accident. I couldn’t perform, and The Guess Who job was over as a result.”
In 2013, Curran kept his promise and Coney Hatch reunited and released a new record, Four.
“That’s the one we should have made back in the 80s. I don’t think we could have made as good an album back then because we hadn’t grown and matured,” Dixon said. “It was a real pleasure to work together at this point after all our experiences.”
On Saturday, October 1, Dixon will perform at The TECH, an event sponsored by The Brain Injury Association.
He last performed in Sault Ste. Marie with April Wine in 2004.
“I’m looking forward to coming to the old home town,” he said.
The set list will consist of material from all his recording acts as well as selections from his five solo records.
He’ll also perform some new material slated for inclusion on a new upcoming release, Dixon told us.
An Evening With Carl Dixon will begin at 8 p.m. and tickets are $28.50 each.
For ticket information, please click here.