Dixon in Cary, Illinois at Harry Hopes, 1979
|Birth name||William James Dixon|
July 1, 1915|
Vicksburg, Mississippi, United States
|Died||January 29, 1992
Burbank, California, United States
|Genres||Blues, rock and roll, Chicago blues, jump blues, rhythm and blues, gospel|
|Occupations||Musician, songwriter, arranger, record producer, boxer|
|Instruments||Vocals, double bass, guitar|
|Labels||Chess, Cobra, Columbia, Bluesville, Checker, Verve, MCA, Legacy, Columbia, Yambo|
|Associated acts||Big Three Trio, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Lowell Fulson, Sonny Boy Williamson, Chuck Berry, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, Junior Wells, Otis Spann|
William James "Willie" Dixon (July 1, 1915 – January 29, 1992) was an American blues musician, vocalist, songwriter, arranger and record producer. A Grammy Award winner who was proficient on both the upright bass and the guitar and as a vocalist, Dixon is perhaps best known as one of the most prolific songwriters of his time. Next to Muddy Waters, Dixon is recognized as the most influential person in shaping the post-World War II sound of the Chicago blues.
Dixon's songs have been recorded by countless musicians in many genres as well as by various ensembles in which he participated. A short list of the his most famous compositions includes "Hoochie Coochie Man", "I Just Want to Make Love to You", "Little Red Rooster", "My Babe", "Spoonful", and "You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover". These tunes were written during the peak of Chess Records, 1950–1965, and performed by Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, and Bo Diddley; they influenced a worldwide generation of musicians.
Dixon also was an important link between the blues and rock and roll, working with Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley in the late 1950s. His songs were covered by some of the biggest artists of more recent times, such as Bob Dylan, Cream, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones. For a more comprehensive list of Willie Dixon's songs and artists who have recorded them, see List of songs written by Willie Dixon.
Dixon was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 1, 1915. His mother Daisy often rhymed the things she said, a habit her son imitated. At the age of seven, young Dixon became an admirer of a band that featured pianist Little Brother Montgomery. Dixon was first introduced to blues when he served time on prison farms in Mississippi as an early teenager. He later learned how to sing harmony from local carpenter Leo Phelps. Dixon sang bass in Phelps' group The Jubilee Singers, a local gospel quartet that regularly appeared on the Vicksburg radio station WQBC. Dixon began adapting poems he was writing as songs, and even sold some tunes to local music groups.
Dixon left Mississippi for Chicago in 1936. A man of considerable stature, at 6 and a half feet and weighing over 250 pounds, he took up boxing; he was so successful that he won the Illinois State Golden Gloves Heavyweight Championship (Novice Division) in 1937. Dixon turned professional as a boxer and worked briefly as Joe Louis' sparring partner. After four fights, Dixon left boxing after getting into a fight with his manager over being cheated out of money.
Dixon met Leonard Caston at the boxing gym where they would harmonize at times. Dixon performed in several vocal groups in Chicago but it was Caston that got him to pursue music seriously. Caston built him his first bass, made of a tin can and one string. Dixon's experience singing bass made the instrument familiar. He also learned the guitar.
In 1939, Dixon was a founding member of the Five Breezes, with Caston, Joe Bell, Gene Gilmore and Willie Hawthorne. The group blended blues, jazz, and vocal harmonies, in the mode of the Ink Spots. Dixon's progress on the Upright bass came to an abrupt halt during the advent of World War II when he resisted the draft as a conscientious objector and was imprisoned for ten months. After the war, he formed a group named the Four Jumps of Jive and then reunited with Caston, forming the Big Three Trio, who went on to record for Columbia Records.
Pinnacle of career
Dixon signed with Chess Records as a recording artist, but began performing less, being more involved with administrative tasks for the label. By 1951, he was a full-time employee at Chess, where he acted as producer, talent scout, session musician and staff songwriter. He was also a producer for Chess subsidiary Checker Records. His relationship with Chess was sometimes strained, although he stayed with the label from 1948 to the early 1960s. During this time Dixon's output and influence were prodigious. From late 1956 to early 1959, he worked in a similar capacity for Cobra Records, where he produced early singles for Otis Rush, Magic Sam, and Buddy Guy. He later recorded on Bluesville Records. From the late 1960s until the middle 1970s, Dixon ran his own record label, Yambo Records, along with two subsidiary labels, Supreme and Spoonful. He released his 1971 album Peace? on Yambo, as well as singles by McKinley Mitchell, Lucky Peterson and others.
Dixon is considered one of the key figures in the creation of Chicago blues. He worked with Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Otis Rush, Bo Diddley, Joe Louis Walker, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Koko Taylor, Little Milton, Eddie Boyd, Jimmy Witherspoon, Lowell Fulson, Willie Mabon, Memphis Slim, Washboard Sam, Jimmy Rogers, Sam Lay and others. His double bass playing was of a high standard. He appears on many of Chuck Berry's early recordings, further proving his linkage between the blues and the birth of rock and roll.
Dixon is remembered mainly as a songwriter; his most enduring gift to the blues lay in refurbishing archaic Southern motifs, often of magic and country folkways and often derived from earlier records such as those by Charlie Patton, in contemporary arrangements, to produce songs with both the sinew of the blues, and the agility of pop. British R&B bands of the 1960s constantly drew on the Dixon songbook for inspiration. In December 1964, The Rolling Stones reached No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart with their cover version of Dixon's "Little Red Rooster". By the late sixties, Dixon's songwriting and production work began to take a back seat to his organizational abilities, which were utilised to assemble all-star, Chicago-based blues ensembles for work in Europe.
In his later years, Willie Dixon became a tireless ambassador for the blues and a vocal advocate for its practitioners, founding the Blues Heaven Foundation. The organization works to preserve the blues’ legacy and to secure copyrights and royalties for blues musicians who were exploited in the past. Speaking with the simple eloquence that was a hallmark of his songs, Dixon claimed, "The blues are the roots and the other musics are the fruits. It’s better keeping the roots alive, because it means better fruits from now on. The blues are the roots of all American music. As long as American music survives, so will the blues." In 1977, unhappy with the royalties rate from ARC Music, he and Muddy Waters sued the Chess-owned publishing company, and with the proceeds from the lawsuit set up Hoochie Coochie Music.
In 1987, Dixon received an out-of-court settlement from Led Zeppelin after suing them for plagiarism, in relation to their use of his music for "Bring It On Home" and his lyrics from his composition "You Need Love" (1962) for their track "Whole Lotta Love".
Dixon's health deteriorated increasingly during the seventies and the eighties, primarily due to long-term diabetes. Eventually one of his legs had to be amputated. Dixon was inducted at the inaugural session of the Blues Foundation's ceremony, and into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980. In 1989 he was also the recipient of a Grammy Award for his album, Hidden Charms.
Death and legacy
Dixon died of heart failure in Burbank, California on January 29, 1992, and was buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois. Dixon was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the "early influences" (pre-rock) category in 1994.
- French singer-songwriter Francis Cabrel refers to Dixon in the song "Cent Ans de Plus" on his 1999 album Hors-Saison. Cabrel cites the artist as one of a number of blues influences, including Charley Patton, Son House, Blind Lemon, Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, Blind Blake and Ma Rainey.
- Canadian rock musician Tom Cochrane wrote a song entitled "Willie Dixon Said" that appeared on his 1999 album X-Ray Sierra.
- Bob Dylan credited Willie Dixon for the music of the song "My Wife's Hometown" on his album Together Through Life and gave special thanks to Dixon's estate.
|1959||Willie's Blues||Bluesville||BVLP-1003||with Memphis Slim|
|1960||Blues Every Which Way||Verve||MGV-3007||with Memphis Slim|
|1960||Songs of Memphis Slim and "Wee Willie" Dixon||Folkways||FW-2385|||
|1962||Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon at the Village Gate||Folkways||FA-2386||live, with guest Pete Seeger|
|1963||In Paris: Baby Please Come Home!||Battle||BM-6122||with Memphis Slim, 1962|
|1970||I Am The Blues||Columbia||PC-9987||with the Chicago All Stars; also released in 2003 on a DVD|
|1971||Willie Dixon's Peace?||Yambo||777-15||with the Chicago All Stars|
|1976||What Happened to my Blues||Ovation||OV-1705|
|1983||Mighty Earthquake and Hurricane||Pausa||PR-7157|
|1985||Willie Dixon: Live (Backstage Access)||Pausa||PR-7183||with Sugar Blue and Clifton James, Montreux 1985|
|1988||Hidden Charms||Bug||C1-90593||Grammy-winning album|
|1989||Ginger Ale Afternoon||Varèse Sarabande||VSD-5234||soundtrack for movie of the same name|
|1990||The Big Three Trio||Legacy||C-46216||from 1947–1952|
|1993||Willie Dixon's Blues Dixonary||Roots||RTS 33046||EAN: 8712177013760|
|1995||The Original Wang Dang Doodle: The Chess Recordings||MCA||9353||compilation (some unreleased) from 1954–1990|
|1996||Crying the Blues: Live in Concert||Thunderbolt||CDTB-166||live with Johnny Winter & the Chicago All Stars, Houston 1971|
|1998||Good Advice||Wolf||120.700||live with the Chicago All Stars, Long Beach 1991|
|1998||I Think I Got the Blues||Prevue||17|
|2001||Big Boss Men – Blues Legends of the Sixties||Indigo (UK)||IGOXCD543||live, Houston 1971–72 (six tracks)|
|2008||Giant Of The Blues||Blues Boulevard Records||250196||EAN: 5413992501960|
|This section requires expansion. (September 2012)|
With Sam Lazar
- Space Flight (Argo, 1960)
- List of blues musicians
- Chicago Blues Festival
- List of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees
- Eder, Bruce. "Willie Dixon - Music Biography, Credits and Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-03-13.
- Trager, Oliver (2004). Keys to the Rain: The Definitive Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. Billboard Books. pp. 298–299. ISBN 0-8230-7974-0
- Dicaire, David (1999). Blues Singers: Biographies of 50 Legendary Artists of the Early 20th Century. McFarland. p. 87. ISBN 0-7864-0606-2
- Snowden, Don (1997).
- Eder, Bruce (2010). "Leonard Caston". Biography of Leonard Caston. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
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- "Prestige Bluesville discography". Wirz.de. Retrieved 2006-11-17.
- Dixon, Willie; Snowden, Don (1989). I Am the Blues. Da Capo Press. p. 244. ISBN 0-306-80415-8.
- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 107. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 458. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
- Inaba, Mitsutoshi (2010). Willie Dixon: Preacher of the Blues. Scarecrow Press. p. 67. ISBN 0-8108-6993-4
- Inaba, Mitsutoshi (2010). Willie Dixon: Preacher of the Blues. Scarecrow Press. p. 197. ISBN 0-8108-6993-4
- "1980 Hall of Fame Inductees". Blues Foundation. Retrieved February 17, 2008.
- "Willie Dixon Timeline". Chicago: Blues Heaven Foundation. 2007. Retrieved 2009-07-18.
- Doc Rock. "Dead Rock Stars Club entry – accessed February 2008". Thedeadrockstarsclub.com. Retrieved 2012-01-25.
- Rule, Sheila (January 20, 1994). "Rock Greats Hail, Hail Their Own At Spirited Hall of Fame Ceremony". The New York Times. Retrieved February 17, 2008.
- Simmons, Leslie (January 22, 2008). "Brody, Wright join musical Chess club". Reuters. Retrieved 2012-01-25.
- Mayberry, Carly (February 12, 2008). "Alessandro Nivola to play blues mogul in "Chess"". Reuters. Retrieved 2012-01-25.
- "Verve Records Discography: 1960". Jazzdisco.org. Retrieved January 1, 2010.
- "Songs of Memphis Slim and "Wee Willie" Dixon". Smithsonian Folkways. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved January 1, 2010.
- Dixon, Willie; & Snowden, Don (1990). I Am the Blues: The Willie Dixon Story. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-7043-0253-5
- Dixon, Willie (1992). Willie Dixon – Master Blues Composer: With Notes and Tablature. Hal Leonard. ISBN 0-7935-0305-1
- 1997 The Chess Box Snowden, Don "Willie Dixon" [CD booklet]. MCA Records, Inc.
- Inaba, Mitsutoshi (2011). Willie Dixon: Preacher of the Blues. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-6993-6
- Willie Dixon at AllMusic
- Willie Dixon at the Internet Movie Database
- Willie Dixon at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- Willie Dixon, Mississippi blues musician. The Mississippi Writers and Musicians Project of Starkville High School.
- Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation