This is the short version of the story of the saga of Dorsey Dixon's, I Didn't Hear Nobody Pray, widely known as the bluegrass standard Wreck On The Highway.
Few people know that Roy Acuff had nothing to do with writing Wreck On The Highway.
Dorsey Dixon wrote the song after seeing the 'wrecked cars' that had been towed in after a fatal car crash and located at the Triangle Filling Station in Rockingham, North Carolina in 1936. The song I Didn't Hear Nobody Pray was recorded in 1938 as the duo, The Dixon Brothers, with Dorsey's brother, Howard Dixon. The record label, honing in on the grammar in the title changed the name of the song to, I Didn't Hear Anyone Pray. Dixon continued to refer to his song title until it was recorded and popularized by Acuff as Wreck On The Highway.
The Dixon Brothers made their recording debut on February 12, 1936, in Charlotte for Victor's A & R man, Eli Oberstein. Over the next two years they recorded more than 60 songs.
Between 1936 and 1938 Oberstein assigned the copyrights to Dorsey's material to various publishers and in some cases to other artists. These artists were then able to claim writing credit for Dorsey's work without any role in writing the songs.
Dorsey and Howard were paid nominally for their radio and recording work. These fees were not enough to free them from having to work in the cotton mills in the 1930s.
History tells us that Roy Acuff heard The Dixon Brother's recording, 'I Didn't Hear Anybody Pray' and that he made the assumption that it was a traditional song. Acuff then went on to assign himself the songwriting credit and recorded the song.
However, my father told me that the truth with regard to Wreck On The Highway and Acuff's claim of being the writer, came after Acuff was present at a live radio broadcast when The Dixon Brothers played the song. My father told me that Dorsey told him that Acuff knew that Dixon wrote the song and actually knowingly ripped it off from Dorsey because Dixon had no power in the country music industry.
Dorsey finally regained the writer's credit for Wreck On The Highway, but only after litigation with Roy Acuff. By that time most of the money generated by Acuff's initial recording was tapped out.
Prior to Dixon's death in 1968, he was aware that Wreck On The Highway had become a country / bluegrass classic, but unfortunatly Dixon realized little money from the song.
Like many fellow songwriters whose culture was poverty, Dorsey knew that his songs had monitary value, but he could never quite make the connections in the music industry to protect his prolific talent.
In 1963 Dorsey Dixon played The Newport Folk Festival, (with Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Maybelle Carter and Doc Watson among others). Three of his concert performances are available on 'Old Time Music At Newport' (Vanguard VRS 9147).
Dorsey Dixon's death was just four years prior to the release of Wreck On The Highway by Roy Acuff on the widely aclaimed 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken', Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's LP in 1972. In the liner notes, Dorothy Dixon is credited with writing the song, rather than Dorsey Dixon because of a typo.
It is an insult to those of us who knew Dorsey, that he did not get the songwriting credit on the liner notes of that LP. Having been defrauded by the music industry for all of the years he was alive, again Dixon was given no credit for writing Wreck On The Highway, even after his death.
Thus, the myth that the great songwriter, Dorsey Dixon, did not write the bluegrass standard, Wreck On The Highway, was perpetuated.
I knew Dorsey when I was a child. My father, a piano player and fellow mill worker was a friend of Dorsey's. Dixon came over to our house and played with my father when I was a young girl. I had no idea at the time that I was wittnessing a musical legend in my living room.
Dorsey also played at my grandfather's church. He often performed one of his compositions that was never formally recorded to my knowledge, except on a beat up old tape recorder operated by my grandmother. The song was, Please Don't Doubt Me Thomas (or Doubting Thomas). I believe this song remains undiscovered and the cassette is in rough shape.
My mother would not allow me to hear my grandfather preach because she wanted to protect me from being exposed to his "primitive religion". So I never heard Dorsey play at my grandfather's church (except by listening to my grandmother's cassettes).
This version of Wreck On The Highway is a rough solo recording, with Dorsey accompanying himself on the guitar. It was recorded in the field at Dorsey's home in the Aleo mill village, in East Rockingham, NC between August 6-8, 1962 by Gene Earle and Archie Green. The cut is one of 19 of Dorsey's original songs released on the CD, Babies In The Mill, 1997, HMG / Hightone Records.
I have several Dixon Bros. & Dorsey Dixon videos uploaded. Please check-out my channel for the others.