Although most musicians try to sell themselves as one-of-a-kind, Nick Ippoliti, aka Mule Dixon, takes pride in the evidence of influential performers in his music.
"Being open to others' ideas, perceptions and performance of music has shaped the direction of my work, creating through me an extension of their musical personalities," he said.
With that said, Ippoliti did say what might make him sound unique is that early on, he "rejected the idea of writing songs for the purpose of product or sales or fame."
Mule Dixon will perform at 8 p.m. Monday at the Bullfrog Brewery, 229 W. Fourth St.
"When one frees themselves of 'commercialized' music, one is free to explore sounds or ideas that would otherwise be placed in the wastebasket by most 'commercial' engineers and record labels," he said.
He's privy to the philosophy of songwriter Greg Brown, who founded Red House Records in 1981.
Redhouserecords .com was designed to "provide a home and environment in which creative artists can make albums in total freedom - without interference from mogul types just looking for the next hit single."
Listeners can get a taste of Mule Dixon at 8 p.m. Monday at the Bullfrog Brewery, 229 W. Fourth St.
Before moving to Dallas, Texas, in 2002, Ippoliti resided in Mansfield. He performed regularly at the Bullfrog and also provided sound reinforcement for bands like Hickory Project and Burnt Toast.
"The Bullfrog is not just a venue to play, it is a place that I enjoy the atmosphere and stellar music offered by the venue," he said. "It is an early show, in which I am sure customers will still be enjoying the delicious dinners offered at the Bullfrog. If you are looking for a drop-down rocking evening, then I would suggest that you will be disappointed with the show. However, if you are interested in an intimate setting, in which you are exposed to a gallery of original songs based in expression and experience combined with cover songs by Greg Brown, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and much more, then you will find yourself enjoying the show as if the evening was designed just for you (and your lover)."
Ippoliti said he has a tendency to share anecdotes to songs and also share his experiences with the audience.
"I want my audience to enjoy the music, but I also want the audience who might already have an idea of something old and borrowed to see the same idea in a new perspective."
After several years of living on the streets in Bucks County, he said he decided to reach out for help and was introduced to songwriting through a therapist as a form of therapeutic self-expression at 17.
"I lived in a home for 'troubled youth' until I turned 18," he said. "Upon entering into the home, called Today Inc., I had a difficult time vocalizing my thoughts and emotions. This was apparent to my therapist Deb Rogers. But also evident to her was my desire to write; I kept a notebook that journaled, in song, my experiences as a runaway."
After sharing the "song-scribbling" with his therapist, Ippoliti was introduced to a book by Victor Frankl, "Man's Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy."
"It was during this period that I began to practice the art of expression and songwriting," he said. "Songwriting to express an emotional state or an experience with the intent to incite change became primary in my work. Rogers consistently encouraged me to continue with my craft. Without ever having met her, I doubt I would be as fortunate in song as I feel today."
His musical evolution has been a "gradual rising toward an understanding of how it is possible that song may potentially possess such an awesome power within its form to incite or generate outward change, whether in an individual or society."
"This is probably most obvious in the early 1900 labor songs and the civil-liberty songs of the 1960s," Ippoliti said. "I understand that it is not necessary for all songwriters to state what I am stating, but to understand the history of American song, the evolution of popular musical genres and in music theory in general is important for my own evolution as a songwriter. No songwriter creates within a vacuum and we - knowingly or not - continue the tradition in 'songwriting as expression' that has been celebrated for over a century."
Although Ippoliti has shared the stage with Another Pretty Face, Philadelphia; Nick Ippoliti and the Travelin' Machine and The Nick Ippoliti Trio, Mansfield; and Two Yanks and a Tex and the Mule Dixon Gang, Dallas, Texas, he now plays solo shows as Mule Dixon. He said the name is a play on words as a result of being a Pennsylvania Yankee, then living in southern Dallas.
"The Mason Dixon Line was an image that kept occurring, standing there, stubborn as a mule," Ippoliti said. "From a practical standpoint, I have allowed my environment to string me along for the ride," he said. "By this statement, I mean that the evolution from the alternative grunge sound of Another Pretty Face to the current acoustic-based Americana roots of Mule Dixon has resulted from the practicality of what is available to me. I am surrounded currently by acoustic musicians that are rooted in bluegrass and I have to allow that to enter into my own musical arena. I am not as concerned with creating a pigeon-hole for my work, rather, I am open to allowing those that are available for recordings and performances to help shape the sound of each song individually."
Musically, Ippoliti said he is comfortable with his own limitations, finding himself in awe when he's given the chance to listen to musicians who are virtuosos on their instrument, although, he admits, he was envious of them for a long time.
"Although a competent songwriter, rhythm guitar player and singer, I am not able to play licks or solos as fast, powerful or as creative as my colleagues," he said. "I am OK with this today. I am also OK with the limitations of my singing voice. To compare it to life in general, it is almost like when a boy becomes a man. The boy is no longer concerned about 'becoming' and as a man, he can relax and enjoy the pure sense of 'being.' "
Ippoliti said his pursuit in understanding the unnamed power of song has led to a doctorate in interdisciplinary humanities from the University of Texas, Dallas.
The influence of the multidisciplinary degree, he said, allows for the uniqueness of the individual scholar to research his or her own creative interest.
"For me, it was again trying to grasp how it was that songwriters in contemporary society had arrived in a place where total expression in song was acceptable," he added. "In connection with my dissertation titled 'Echo of McCallum: The U.S. Protest-Narrative, Logotherapy, and the Songwriting Process,' I produced an album titled "Echo of McCallum" (2009) that includes songs written in the context of the tradition outlined in the essay: the protest-narrative. What I learned was that the price of free speech for the American songwriter was paid on blood."
Among other CD releases are "Who I Am" (1996), "Tramp Art-americana" (2000) and "Politicus" (2000).
"Fallen" from "Tramp Art-americana" generates the most response and requests.
"A fan had told me that she could not stop whistling the tune from 'Fallen.' It wasn't so much the lyrical content as much as it was that she stated that the song sounded timeless. At one point, I would have become defensive with such a statement. But as I stated previously about coming into one's own, and with the ability to relax within one's limitations, I now accept her statement as one of the highest compliments that can be paid to a songwriter."
More information about Mule Dixon can be found on Facebook or at nickippoliti.tripod.com.
The title of "Politicus," meaning shrewd politician, is the etymology of his last name, Ippoliti, he said. He used this as the title of the album in an attempt to juxtapose "politician" to one man's experiences and the voice to bring these experiences to life through song. It also makes fun of his own lack of fulfilling a desire to be as outspoken as a politician and serves as an homage to his 97-year-old grandfather who still performs violin for the Olney Symphony Orchestra.
"Music has taken me well beyond the reaches of what I had thought of when I was in therapy with Deb Rogers and writing songs to better my life," Ippoliti said. "Music continues to be a sojourn that includes discovering new sounds, new songs, new musicians and new venues. One this is for sure, music has never done me wrong. It continues to serve as more than just music. It is a form of communication that allows others to learn who I am and allows me to meet new fans and learn of their shared human experience."