Musical match

Duo branching out into diverse genres

Jeff McRae and Shelly Dixon. Photography by Ellie Bogue

Jeff McRae and Shelly Dixon. Photography by Ellie Bogue

When a singer from Angola, Indiana, can find musical kinship with a guitarist from Birmingham, Alabama, it may seem that there’s a little destiny at play. Shelly Dixon, who moved to Fort Wayne in 1989, had been singing for years in fits and starts, finding a band only to see it fizzle when players moved on. Jeff McRae, who has lived in places as far apart as California and New Hampshire before moving here to teach at Canterbury School, said he had had trouble working with singers over the years – until he met Dixon. The musical chemistry was almost immediate.

“Shelly’s ear and her sense of rhythm are just superior,” McRae said. “That’s important to me. I’ve told her many times that if it weren’t for those two things, I wouldn’t be doing this.”

They met when Dixon decided to resurrect her dormant music career, putting together a new band about four years ago. When her guitarist left for another band, she began auditioning replacements. McRae won the job, but the other members of the band soon left. Instead of putting music on the back burner again, she asked McRae if he’d like to try an acoustic partnership.

“I loved the feeling that I got working with Jeff,” said Dixon, who McRae said tends to doubt herself. “I loved feeling safe, feeling secure. And Jeff was always very complimentary about my singing, which helped me to feel solid about my abilities.”

The duo has a wide-ranging repertoire, playing classic music from the Beatles and Bob Dylan to Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks along with newer artists like Sheryl Crow, Adele and Lady Antebellum.

In 2014 they released their first CD, “Cavalier,” named for the mascot at Canterbury School. The title is more than just a nod to McRae’s employer. It reflects a significant aspect of the recording.

“Most of the musicians on that CD are students of mine at Canterbury,” said McRae. “It was great being able to showcase them because they are professional-quality musicians. And we covered all of the genres Shelly and I do – folk, blues, jazz, singer-songwriter, rock. It may have actually been a drawback in a way because if you liked the first song, you might not have expected what the next song would be. But I think it’s a nice showcase for our repertoire and the variety of music we do.”

While they admit to being busier in the summer, when they play two or three times a week thanks to outdoor patios and other warm-weather venues, they play four to five times a month in the colder months. Their plan last summer to play with a full band at Rock the Plaza was rained out, but it remains something they both want to do. McRae, who also plays with the Grateful Dead cover band Grateful Groove, looks forward to taking another shot at that plan.

First appeared in the March 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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