He was reared by an aunt and uncle. When he was 3, they moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. He grew up in a Pentecostal church, which did much to influence his music, and he attended a Pentecostal boarding school in Tennessee.
“He started playing the drums in church when he was 4 years old,” said his daughter, Desiree Berry of Brooklyn. “My grandfather and a deacon in the church showed him how, and he picked up fast.”
He got his first drumkit when he was seven. He once said: “My mom and dad took me to the store and told me to get anything I liked. There was this tiny red drum set, with a tiny little kick drum and snare…little cymbals. Now, that’s what I wanted! By the next morning, the thing was in the trash can. I beat it all to death. But, I tell you what…I knew how to play after that. I just knew. I had the rhythm down pat and had timing too. Just that fast. I been playing ever since.”
In his young years he worked as a porter at Bergdorf Goodman’s women lingerie department, while gigging at night. His father had a moving business and he got him some trucks of his own and everything. Popsy however told his dad “Dad, this is just not my callin’.” By then, I was playing around pretty good, so dad said, “Son, I understand.“
He met brothers Sherman and Wendell Holmes at a New York gig in 1967. Dixon sat in with the brothers and sang two songs. “After that second song,” recalls Wendell, “Popsy was a brother.” They played the bar circuit until 1979 when they officially formed The Holmes Brothers. With The Holmes Brothers, he recorded with the likes of Van Morrison, Peter Gabriel, Odetta, Phoebe Snow, Willie Nelson, Freddie Roulette, Rosanne Cash, Levon Helm and Joan Osborne, toured the world including performing for President Bill Clinton and released 12 albums.
He was the so-called “spirit brother” of The Holmes Brothers trio, and he could croon in a soaring multi-octave falsetto that The Chicago Tribune once hailed as “otherworldly.” His upper reach was the sparkplug of doo-wop numbers and the exclamation point of gospel songs.
Dixon was celebrated for his soaring, soulful multi-octave vocals and his driving, in-the-pocket drumming. They played in a variety of Top 40 bar bands until 1979, when the three officially joined forces and formed The Holmes Brothers, which The New York Times described as “deeply soulful, uplifting and timeless.” They toured the world, releasing 12 albums starting with 1990’s In The Spirit on Rounder. Their most recent release was 2014’s Brotherhood on Alligator.
The Chicago Tribune described Dixon’s voice as “otherworldly…a gift to the world of music.” Living Blues said, “Popsy’s voice is a wonder…spontaneous and raw.”
They performed in every state in the union and in 35 countries all over the world. When he was 60 he was asked: Is touring starting to wear you out?
His answer: “I’m 60 years old and I’m having a good time. When people tell me they can’t do such and such because of their age, I say…yea…you just keep on feelin’ that way, cause I’m moving right past you. You limit yourself by how you think. If you think you can’t do it, then you can’t. I don’t limit myself that way. I just keep on keepin’ on and feelin good. Even when I ain’t playing, I’m out fishin’. But let me tell you, once we played in West Africa and they kept asking us if we were politicians. We said “Hell, no…we’re musicians. We just came here to play.” Playing is what makes me feel good and I’m not gonna stop until life stops.”
Life stopped for this remarkable performer on January 9, 2015, 4 days after he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Bladder Cancer. In December 2014 he was hospitalized with pneumonia shortly after a performance. Doctors discovered that he had stage-four bladder cancer on Jan. 5, he went into hospice care in Richmond, where he transitioned at age 72 just four days later.
Their most recent release was 2014’s “Brotherhood”. They won the Blues Music Award from the Memphis-based Blues Foundation for Band of the Year in 2005 and for the Soul Blues Album of the Year in 2008.
In September 2014, The Holmes Brothers were honored with a National Endowment For The Arts National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor the United States bestows upon its folk and traditional artists.