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The Blues: Willie Dixon

Updated on January 29, 2015

Willie Dixon: I Am The Blues

Willie Dixon's life and work was a milestone in the progress of the Blues from an accidental creation of the descendants of freed slaves to a recognized and vital part of America's musical heritage. Dixon was one of the first professional blues songwriters to benefit in a serious, material way from his work. (Most Black musicians were fleeced by their agents and recording companies.)

He was a well-rounded, successful talent, and helped Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Koko Taylor and others find their most commercially successful voices.

The Early Years

Willie Dixon was born in Mississippi on July 1, 1915, and lived an extraordinary life pretty much from the start. Just 21, he moved to Chicago, took up professional boxing, and did well, sparring occasionally with none other than the famous Joe Louis.

He learned to play Bass and guitar, eventually forming a band; in 1948, he won a recording contract with the quintessential Blues label Chess Records. His star rose quickly, though not in the way of recording. Instead, Dixon's responsibilities quickly leaned towards composing and producing songs far more than recording his own.

Dixon made Chess - many of their monster hits were touched by Dixon (he wrote many of them), like Little Walter's chart-topping hit My Babe, Muddy Waters' "Hootchie Cootchie Man", Bo Diddley's "I'm A Man", and Howlin' Wolf's hit "Back Door Man", among many others for artists such as John Lee Hooker and Chuck Berry.

" I got everything all the good girls need"

Built for Comfort - Bluesville Records (with Memphis Slim)

I have included a cover of "Built for Comfort" by Howlin' Wolf, one of my favourite Blues men. Let me know which one you like best, ok?

"I can't quit you babe, But I got to put you down for awhile"

I Can't Quit You Babe

As is my wont, I'm providing two starkly different interpretations of this classic Willie Dixon Blues piece. The featured piece, by the master himself, is a classic example of the Chicago Blues sound. The second, by Led Zeppelin (1970), while clearly still true to its roots, comes across as a very different interpretation of the Blues.

I think Willie probably liked it.

I Am The Blues - Released in 1970, and later,in 2003, again as an outstanding DVD.

I Am The Blues is also the title of Dixon's autobiography, edited by Don Snowden.

"There are many ways to get the Blues... you can git the Blues one day because your wife left ya, and you can git the Blues the next day because she comes back..."

I Am The Blues

Germany, 1978

"The men don't know, But the little girls understand."

Back Door Man

Written by Willie Dixon for Howlin' Wolf, whose version you will find below.

In the "And now for something completely different" department, I've also included the Jim Morrison (& the Doors) version, because I think it speaks to the widespread influence wielded by Willie Dixon.

Enjoy!

Little Red Rooster

As was the case with many Willie Dixon tunes, "Rooster" was first performed by Howlin' Wolf, who recorded it in 1961. It was also covered by the Rolling Stones, and I've included one of their performances here.

You Shook Me

Which song turned your crank?

Click for Willie's Blues [Limited Collector's Edition, Original Recording Remastered, Double LP, Special Limited Edition, HiFi Sound]
Click for Willie's Blues [Limited Collector's Edition, Original Recording Remastered, Double LP, Special Limited Edition, HiFi Sound]

Which song on this page did you like the most?

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Blackbox

I Just Want To Make Love To You - Willie Dixon & Johnny Winter

" I Just Want To Make Love To You" was written by Willie Dixon in 1954, and first recorded by Muddy Waters. True to form, it became a monster hit that came to be covered by just about everyone, including Etta James, The Rolling Stones, Buddy Guy and ...well, you get the idea. Like I said - just about everybody.

I've included a live version by Buddy Guy which I hope you'll enjoy.

Gravedigger Blues - 1984

Gravedigger Blues was published in "Mighty Earthquake and Hurricane". It was released as an Audio CD in 1994. The CD is rare - Amazon offers copies at just under $100 (see below).

According to Wikipedia, the song was subsequently recorded by Tina Turner, but I haven't been able to locate it.

Who is your favorite electric Blues artist?

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Willie's Blues - Limited Collector's Edition (Click)
Willie's Blues - Limited Collector's Edition (Click)

Rest in Peace

Willie Dixon died of heart failure in California on January 29, 1992. He was buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.

Mr. Dixon was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the "early influences" (pre-rock) category in 1994, and I hope I have provided you with a tiny glimpse into the width and depth of that influence. It's hard to imagine Rock and Roll or the Blues without Willie, whose gift to the world will never be forgotten.

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    • flicker lm profile image

      flicker lm 5 years ago

      Well done biography of Willie Dixon!