Mini-Feature: Dax Butler

13th May 2021

My apology to all for not posting anything over the past few weeks, but sometimes life gets in the way of fun. Fortunately it seems as if things are kind of back to normal and allowed me the time to write about a local talent that I need to share with you.

Dax Butler in action. Photo: Shoreline Songs

Early last year I shared the smouldering, bluesy track ‘My Friend Kevin’ from Dax Butler. Unless you were involved in local music in the 70’s and 80’s, you may not remember his name, and that’s a shame. Today it is my aim to rectify that with a few tracks from his first album since the release ‘Drink in Everything’ in 2012. This is thanks to a heads-up from our friends at Cape Town’s Shoreline Music.

Dax was born in Alberton on Gauteng’s East Rand in the 1950s, and like most of us of a certain age, was brought up on a healthy diet of Rock n Roll and Soul Music. Dax gigged around locally while honing his guitar and song writing skills before heading off to the UK and the USA in the 1970s. On returning to South Africa he played with a few bands like The Other Band, Mud Ensemble, and the one that made me smile, Dax Butler’s Rinderpest.

Dax’s guitar style is often referred to a swamp blues while others call him alternative country. However you would like to categorise it is up to you. I enjoy his guitar style, but it is his lyrics that truly make him special. He has a feel of Tom Waits, Dylan and Leonard Cohen; not a bad bunch fellows to draw inspiration from.

I’m going to ease into the music choice with one of the excellent tracks from the new album, Good to Go. Here’s ‘Nothing to Display’.

I’ve often written about the local music scene during the apartheid years, but this extract from Derek Davey’s excellent Mail & Guardian article gives a glimpse into the atmosphere of the music in late 70s South Africa and one of its iconic venues:

“One night in the late 1970s, Dax Butler remained on The Market Theatre Café’s stage between sets while the rest of his band, called The Other Band, went outside for a joint. He played a song he had been working on that commented on the repressive apartheid state —

“Hygiene’s ancient capers, Wipe my ass with your newspapers

A battery of flattery and lies, Just about the size of the headlines

If you’re looking for Godot, Go on down to Soweto,

he’s waiting there”

— forgetting that club owner David Marks was recording the whole set.

The Market Café was, much like its owner, as visionary as it was eccentric. Malcolm Purkey, a former director of The Market Theatre, says the venue was filled with chairs of every description — including a dentist chair — and “would never have passed the safety standards that venues have to today”. It was a place where sound people could experiment with new systems, budding artists were nurtured, institutions, productions and careers were launched, and audiences could hear performers such as Malombo and Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) before they became famous.

Butler wasn’t a protest artist as such, but staying quiet about what was going on in South Africa at that time was difficult for any artist with a conscience. “The mood was completely different after the ’76 Soweto uprising,” he says.

Western music flooded the South African market, and the big money went into paying local session musicians to cover foreign chart-toppers, perhaps most famously on the Springbok Hit Parade series. Finding somewhere to play original music wasn’t easy, says Butler: “Most venues wanted bands that played covers. Wits University was one of the few places where you could play original music.” It is this atmosphere that tinged to music of many artists of the time.

But back to the music. Dax’s guitar style is often referred to a swamp blues while others call him alternative country. However you would like to categorise it is up to you. I enjoy his guitar style, but it is his lyrics that truly make him special. He has a feel of Tom Waits, Dylan and Leonard Cohen; not a bad bunch fellows to draw inspiration from.

Although I said I would feature tracks from his new album today, I really want to share ‘My Friend Kevin’ once more. It is from the 2012 ‘Drink Everything In’ album, and is smoking cool.

Dax sadly fell victim to substance abuse during the 90s. It was a dark time and many thought that this was the end of the line for his music career. However, his love of song writing and innate ability to translate his feelings into song helped him overcome the demons of addiction and get him back on track. Apart from his two albums produced by Willem Moller and released through Shoreline Songs, he has also composed for TV, film and theatre.

Mention must be made of the contribution that Robin Auld and the team at Cape Town’s Shoreline Songs in promoting local artists like Dax. They offer an interface between independent musicians and the various music platforms, channels, fans, content users and marketers both in South Africa and abroad and handle some of the country’s top artists, local legends and new local acts. I can highly recommend spending some time exploring their YouTube channel and checking out their stable of artists on their website.

Thanks for spending some time with local music today. It’s always a good thing to do! I’m closing today’s mini-feature with a youthful look at one of those deadly sins they keep going on about, here’s ‘Bellyful of Lust’. Catch you soon.

The Loving the Music mini-features are written and compiled by me to support Loving the Music’s Facebook page and group. Join the community for regular themed three-part posts that does more than just share a song.

The Author owns no copyright on the images or videos in this article. All images and links sourced from YouTube and Google and within the public domain.

Words © Andrew Knapp 2021

Published by Loving the Music

I am a music-lover who has been fortunate enough to live through six-decades of ever-changing musical styles and genres. Loving the Music is my eclectic collection of regular music-related mini-features and whatever else tickles my musical fancy. You can also find me on the Loving the Music Facebook group and page. Happy listening - Andrew Knapp

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