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Willie Dixon

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Willie Dixon


Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Willie DixonRock and Roll Hall of Fame: Willie Dixon
Willie Dixon�s Blues Heaven FoundationWillie Dixon�s Blues Heaven Foundation

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Willie Dixon was born July 1. 1915, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. His life and work was virtually an embodiment of 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. That Dixon was one of the first professional blues songwriters to benefit in a serious, material way � and that he had to fight to do it � from his work also made him an important symbol of the injustice that still informs the music industry, even at the end of the 20th century. A producer, songwriter, bassist, and singer, he helped Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, and others find their most commercially successful voices.

By the time he was a teenager, Dixon was writing songs and selling copies to the local bands. He also studied music with a local carpenter, Theo Phelps, who taught him about harmony singing. With his bass voice, Dixon later joined a group organized by Phelps, the Union Jubilee Singers, who appeared on local radio. Dixon eventually made his way to Chicago, where he won the Illinois State Golden Gloves Heavyweight Championship. He might have been a successful boxer, but he turned to music instead, thanks to Leonard "Baby Doo" Caston, a guitarist who had seen Dixon at the gym where he worked out and occasionally sang with him. The two formed a duo playing on street corners, and later Dixon took up the bass as an instrument. They later formed a group, the Five Breezes, who recorded for the Bluebird label. The group's success was halted, however, when Dixon refused induction into the armed forces as a conscientious objector. Dixon was eventually freed after a year, and formed another group, the Four Jumps of Jive. In 1945, however, Dixon was back working with Caston in a group called the Big Three Trio, with guitarist Bernardo Dennis (later replaced by Ollie Crawford).

During this period, Dixon would occasionally appear as a bassist at late-night jam sessions featuring members of the growing blues community, including Muddy Waters. Later on when the Chess brothers � who owned a club where Dixon occasionally played � began a new record label, Aristocrat (later Chess), they hired him, initially as a bassist on a 1948 session for Robert Nighthawk. The Chess brothers liked Dixon's playing, and his skills as a songwriter and arranger, and during the next two years he was working regularly for the Chess brothers. He got to record some of his own material, but generally Dixon was seldom featured as an artist at any of these sessions.

Dixon's real recognition as a songwriter began with Muddy Waters' recording of "Hoochie Coochie Man." The success of that single, "Evil" by Howlin' Wolf, and "My Babe" by Little Walter saw Dixon established as Chess' most reliable tunesmith, and the Chess brothers continually pushed Dixon's songs on their artists. In addition to writing songs, Dixon continued as bassist and recording manager of many of the Chess label's recording sessions, including those by Lowell Fulson, Bo Diddley, and Otis Rush. Dixon's remuneration for all of this work, including the songwriting, was minimal � he was barely able to support his rapidly growing family on the 100 dollars a week that the Chess brothers were giving him, and a short stint with the rival Cobra label at the end of the '50s didn't help him much.

During the mid-'60s, Chess gradually phased out Dixon's bass work, in favor of electric bass, thus reducing his presence at many of the sessions. At the same time, a European concert promoter named Horst Lippmann had begun a series of shows called the American Folk-Blues Festival, for which he would bring some of the top blues players in America over to tour the continent. Dixon ended up organizing the musical side of these shows for the first decade or more, recording on his own as well and earning a good deal more money than he was seeing from his work for Chess. At the same time, he began to see a growing interest in his songwriting from the British rock bands that he saw while in London � his music was getting covered regularly by artists like the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, and when he visited England, he even found himself cajoled into presenting his newest songs to their managements. Back at Chess, Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters continued to perform Dixon's songs, as did newer artists such as Koko Taylor, who had her own hit with "Wang Dang Doodle." Gradually, however, after the mid-'60s, Dixon saw his relationship with Chess Records come to a halt. Partly this was a result of time � the passing of artists such as Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson reduced the label's roster of older performers, with whom he had worked for years, and the company's experiments with more rock-oriented sounds (especially on the "Cadet Concept" imprint) took it's output in a direction to which Dixon couldn't contribute. And the death of Leonard Chess in the fall of 1969 and the subsequent sale of the company brought about the end of Dixon's relationship to the company.

By the end of the 1960s, Dixon was eager to try his hand as a performer again, a career that had been interrupted when he'd gone to work for Chess as a producer. He recorded an album of his best-known songs, I Am the Blues, for Columbia Records, and organized a touring band, the Chicago Blues All Stars, to play concerts in Europe. Suddenly, in his fifties, he began making a major name for himself on-stage for the first time in his career. Around this time, Dixon began to have grave doubts about the nature of the songwriting contract that he had with Chess' publishing arm, Arc Music. He was seeing precious little money from songwriting, despite the recording of hit versions of such Dixon songs as "Spoonful" by Cream. He had never seen as much money as he was entitled to as a songwriter, but during the 1970s he began to understand just how much money he'd been deprived of, by design or just plain negligence on the part of the publisher doing its job on his behalf.

Arc Music had sued Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement over "Bring It on Home" on Led Zeppelin II, saying that it was Dixon's song, and won a settlement that Dixon never saw any part of until his manager did an audit of Arc's accounts. Dixon and Muddy Waters would later file suit against Arc Music to recover royalties and the ownership of their copyrights. Additionally, many years later Dixon brought suit against Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement over "Whole Lotta Love" and its resemblance to Dixon's "You Need Love." Both cases resulted in out-of-court settlements that were generous to the songwriter.

The 1980s saw Dixon as the last survivor of the Chess blues stable and he began working with various organizations to help secure song copyrights on behalf of blues songwriters who, like himself, had been deprived of revenue during previous decades. In 1988, Dixon became the first producer/songwriter to be honored with a boxed set collection, when MCA Records released Willie Dixon: The Chess Box, which included several rare Dixon sides as well as the most famous recordings of his songs by Chess' stars. The following year, Dixon published I Am the Blues (Da Capo Press), his autobiography, written in association with Don Snowden. Dixon continued performing, and was also called in as a producer on movie soundtracks such as Gingerale Afternoon and La Bamba, producing the work of his old stablemate Bo Diddley. By that time, Dixon was regarded as something of an elder statesman, composer, and spokesperson of American blues. Dixon eventually began suffering from increasingly poor health, and lost a leg to diabetes. He died peacefully in his sleep on January 29, 1992, in Burbank, CA.

-- by Bruce Eder of All Music Guide.

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1959Willie�s Blues
1960At The Village Gate: Live!
1970I Am The Blues
1977Willie Dixon�s Peace?
1981Blues Every Which Way
1983Mighty Earthquake & Hurricane
1985Willie Dixon: Live (Backstage Access)
1988Hidden Charms
1989Ginger Ale Afternoon
1996Crying The Blues: Live 60�s Concert, Houston, TX
1998Good Advice
1998I Think I Got The Blues
1998What Happened To My Blues
2001Big Boss Men: Live with Jimmy Reed (1971 & 1972)


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1959 Willie's Blues

01. Nervous
02. Good Understanding
03. That's My Baby
04. Slim's Thing
05. That's All I Want Baby
06. Don't You Tell Nobody
07. Youth To You
08. Sittin' And Cryin' The Blues
09. Built For Comfort
10. I Got A Razor
11. Go Easy
12. Move Me, Baby

1960 At The Village Gate: Live!

1970 I Am The Blues

01. Back Door Man
02. I Can't Quit You, Baby
03. The Seventh Son
04. Spoonful
05. I Ain't Superstitious
06. You Shook Me
07. I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man
08. The Little Red Rooster
09. The Same Thing

1973 Catalyst

1977 Willie Dixon's Peace?

01. I'm Wanted All Over The World
02. Peace?
03. It's In The News
04. I'd Give My Life For You
05. You Got To Move
06. Suffering Son Of A Gun
07. Jelly Jam
08. You Don't Make Sense Or Peace
09. Blues You Can't Lose
10. If I Could See

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1981 Blues Every Which Way

1983 Mighty Earthquake & Hurricane

01. Mighty Earthquake And Hurricane
02. It Don't Make Sense
03. After Five Long Years
04. Everything's Got A Time
05. Wigglin' Worm
06. Flamin' Mamie
07. Grave Digger Blues
08. Pie In The Sky

1985 Willie Dixon: Live (Backstage Access)

1988 Hidden Charms

01. Blues You Can't Lose
02. I Don't Trust Myself
03. Jungle Swing
04. Don't Mess With The Messer
05. Study War No More
06. I Love The Life I Live
07. I Cry For You
08. Good Advice
09. I Do The Job

1989 Ginger Ale Afternoon

01. Miseries Of Memories
02. Wigglin' Worm
03. I Don't Trust Nobody
04. Earthquake And Hurricane
05. The Real Thing
06. Move Me, Baby
07. Save My Child(pt. 1)
08. I Just Want To Make Love To You
09. Sittin' And Cryin' The Blues
10. Save My Child(pt. 2)
11. Shakin' The Shack
12. That's My Baby
13. Ginger Ale Blues
14. Save My Child(pt. 3)
15. Good Understanding

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1996 Crying The Blues: Live 60's Concert, Houston, TX

01. Sittin' And Cryin' The Blues
02. Spoonful
03. I Just Want To Make Love To You
04. Chicago, Here I Come
05. Tore Down
06. You Know It Ain't Right
07. Medley: Mean Mistreater/Leaving Blues
08. Roach Stew
09. I Can't Quit You Baby
10. Exit Music

1998 Good Advice

01. Chicago Allstars Boogie(inst.)
02. Tellin' About The Blues
03. Good Advice
04. Introduction
05. Built For Comfort
06. Rock Me
07. I Don't Trust Nobody
08. So Hard To Leave You Alone
09. You Don't Have To Go
10. Rock The House(inst.)

1998 I Think I Got The Blues

01. Bring It On Home
02. I Don't Trust Nobody
03. God's Gift To Man
04. Hoodoo Doctor
05. My Babe
06. Wang Dang Doodle
07. When I Make Love
08. I Think I Got The Blues
09. But It Sure Is Fun
10. I Just Want To Make Love To You

1998 What Happened To My Blues

01. Moon Cattin'
02. What Happened To My Blues
03. Pretty Baby
04. Got To Love You Baby
05. Shakin' The Shack
06. Hold Me Babe
07. It's Easy To Love
08. Uh Huh Baby
09. Put It All In There
10. Hey Hey Pretty Mama

2001 Big Boss Men: Live with Jimmy Reed (1971 & 1972)

01. Sittin' And Cryin' The Blues
02. Spoonful
03. I Just Want To Make Love To You
04. Chicago Here I Come
05. Tore Down
06. Roach Stew
07. Big Boss Man
08. Stop Light
09. You Don't Have To Go
10. Bright Lights, Big City

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Graphics by YSM

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