MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The recording industry is a multi-billion dollar business that's taken us from 8 tracks to compact discs, but getting your music heard or played hasn't always been easy.
During the 1950s and 1960s many black recording artists couldn't play in white-only clubs, but it didn't stop them from making history.
Now, a look back down the bumpy road that, for some, included playing small clubs in Montgomery, stops where artists paid their dues playing rhythm and blues.
"Temptations, I could just name them on and on and on..." explained Al Dixon, "but not right here any more," he added pointing to his head. His memory may not be what it was, but give him a minute and Dixon can give you an earful about some of R&B's greatest legends.
"All of these were my personal friends, and [when] they'd get ready to release a record they'd call me and let me hear it," he went on.
Dixon knew them before they were stars. In his younger days he was known as "Dizzy Dixon" or "Ugly Al", the radio DJ. "The Soul Mouth of the South..." he recalled, "behind the mic with the stuff you like."
Dixon often booked talent along the Chitlin Circuit, a string of clubs where black recording artists, comedians and other entertainers performed during the days of segregation. It was a way for them to pay their dues and make some money. "I remember when B.B. King was on the Chitlin Circuit," Dixon said.
Bobby Jackson was well known around the local clubs. Starting out, Clarence Carter played in his band on the circuit. "We had a lot of fun. One thing about the Chitlin Circuit...you were comfortable, you were in your place," Jackson admitted.
But the road to success did have its down side. "They didn't have business managers to go in and look at the books to know how many records were sold," Dixon said adding, "they didn't really concern themselves with it." Why? "All they wanted to do was perform. It was their life."
It was a journey that's seen many twists and turns. "Now, most everything is more sophisticated..." Long gone are the segregated clubs, and the road so many artists traveled to fame is now history.
Ugly Al is now the Reverend Al Dixon, and he admits a lot has changed in the last half century though one thing is constant: Rhyme and Blues, the heart of the artist and the tracks they made that "played" the capitol city.
No one could say for certainty how "The Chitlin Circuit" got its name, but some say it was humble beginnings for these artists. And since they didn't have a lot of money chiltings, a cheap delicacy, was often served.
To quote Revered Dixon it was, "the soul way of doing things."