......"The blues are the true facts of life expressed in words and song, inspiration, feeling and understanding."
July 1, 1915 -- January 19, 1992
Birthplace: Vicksburg, Mississippi
Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters
, with whom he played, have done more to shape postwar Chicago blues
than any other artists. Waters' successful classics such as "Hoochie Coochie Man
" and "I Just Want to Make Love to You
" were written by Dixon. He wrote classics like "Weak Brain, Narrow Mind
," Howlin' Wolf
," "I Ain't Superstitious
," "Little Red Rooster
," and "Back Door Man
," as well as the Little Walter
gem "My Babe
" and Sonny Boy Williamson
's hit, "Bring It on Home
Dixon helped forge the blues-rock and roll bond when he played on numerous Chuck Berry
sides in the 1950s
. In the l960s
a number of his best songs were reinterpreted by English
and American blues-rock
("Spoonful"), Led Zeppelin
("I Can't Quit You Baby
" and "You Shook Me
"), and the Doors
("Back Door Man") and the Grateful Dead
("Little Red Rooster") for example.
Dixon left Mississippi
; a year later he was the Illinois Golden Gloves heavyweight champion
in the novice category. Once Dixon even sparred with Joe Louis
. Despite such early success, however, his pro career lasted only four fights. A brawl with his manager over money in the boxing commissioner's office ended whatever professional boxing dreams Dixon had.
In 1939 he began playing the bass and, along with guitarist Leonard "Baby Doo" Caston
, formed the Five Breezes
. The group played Chicago clubs and did a little recording until 1941 when Dixon, who had declared himself a conscientious objector, was arrested for refusing to serve in the U.S. armed forces.
After serving his sentence Dixon formed a new group, the Four Jumps of Jive
, which regularly performed in Chicago clubs and recorded for Mercury
. That same year Caston returned to Chicago and resumed his musical partnership with Dixon. The two formed the Big Three Trio
with guitarist Bernardo Dennis
. The Big Three remained active until 1952.
While playing with the Big Three Trio, Dixon was also jamming with Muddy Waters
and other bluesmen in the clubs of Chicago's South Side
. During one late-night jam at the Macomba Lounge
, Dixon met Phil and Leonard Chess
, the club's owners. The Chess
brothers had recently started Chess Records
, and they offered Dixon a part-time job with the label in 1948. He accepted, and after the breakup of the Big Three Trio, Dixon went to work for Chess full-time.
It wasn't until 1954, when Waters recorded Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man
," Howlin' Wolf
recorded "Evil," and Little Walter & His Jukes cut "Mellow Down Easy
," that Dixon's reputation in the Chicago blues community blossomed. Dixon also began to work as a session musician; he played bass
in the Chess house band, recording with Waters, Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Walter, and Jimmy Witherspoon
, among others. Dixon also began arranging and producing sessions for Chess, but it was his composing talent that was most in demand. In addition to the above-mentioned originals, Dixon also wrote such blues standards as "The Seventh Son
," "Wang Dang Doodle
," and "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover
," all of which were covered by a number of blues artists.
Dixon's tenure with Chess was interrupted in 1957 when he went to work for Cobra Records. During the two years that the label was in existence, Dixon worked with Magic Sam
, Otis Rush
, and Buddy Guy
, the three guitarists who would create the West Side Sound
of the Chicago blues in the late '50s and '60s. When Cobra folded, Dixon returned to Chess and stayed with the company throughout most of the 1960s. During this time he performed with the American Folk Blues Festival
package in Europe and formed the Chicago Blues All-Stars
, his touring and recording band.
During the 1970s Dixon also got involved with movie soundtrack work, scoring music for The Color of Money
and producing Bo Diddley
's version of "Who Do You Love
" in La Bamba
In 1980 Dixon was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame
. He continued playing club dates and festivals, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Dixon created the Blues Heaven Foundation
in 1982 with royalty money from his song catalog. The aim of the nonprofit organization, which is still active, is to keep the blues alive through such programs as blues-in-the-schools and scholarship funds. A year later he published his autobiography, I Am the Blues
(written with Don Snowden
). By 1990, Dixon's ill health forced him to perform only part-time with the Chicago Blues All-Stars
, though he remained active with his Blues Heaven Foundation. He died of a heart ailment in 1992.
His last known session was with Rob Wasserman
for his Trios
album, for which Dixon penned "Dustin' Off The Bass
Biographical info for this node was taken from www.blueflamecafe.com and their encyclopedia of the blues.
This discography is by no means complete (the dates indicate re-release dates):
What Happened To My Blues
Poet Of The Blues
I Think I Got The Blues
Original Wang Dang Doodle-Ches
I Am The Blues
Ginger Ale Afternoon
I Am The Blues
Big Three Trio