What would have happened to music in the 20th century without figures of the caliber of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley. What would the blues have been without Muddy Waters, BB King, Howlin Wolf, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker and Buddy Guy. But among them one person stands out, a corpulent man with extraordinary gifts for the liver hook and the bluesy double bass, an essential character in American music who contributed to the creative greatness of the so-called Chicago Blues.
Willie Dixon: musician, singer-songwriter and producer, born on July 1, 1915 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, United States; who was one of the most virtuous artists in musical history, not only for having composed transcendental songs for rock and blues, but also stood out for his peculiar way of playing bass in great compositions performed on Chess Records, and it is right there when a small but formidable piece of American blues history begins to form.
Let’s talk a little about his personal life. Willie had a normal childhood, like any child, his mother tended a restaurant and to one side a bar was installed in which Dixon saw the so-called King of the Delta Blues Charlie Patton play. But his adolescence was full of problems with the police and, consequently, he was arrested and imprisoned on different occasions. This is how in 1936 he arrived in Chicago and began his stage in the sports world, he was a boxer and won the Golden Gloves title of the heavyweights of the state of Illinois.
Then he decided to remove his gloves and leave the ring to immerse himself in the melancholy sounds of the blues. He met Leonard Caston, who gave him the instrument with which he went on tour around the world: the bass. Together with Caston they formed the jazz-blues group The Five Brezzes and recorded their first album. History was just beginning to be written when Willie was called to join the combat ranks to defend his homeland in World War II, to which Dixon did not respond and refused this responsibility, for which he was put behind bars for 10 months. But this would not stop the author of “I Ain’t Superstitious” at all.
In his freedom, he met Leonard Caston again and they resumed their musical commitment, creating the group The Big Three. In 195 he came to the record company Chess Records, where he produced records, played as a session musician, and composed songs and melodies for other artists. Willie was already beginning to stand out in his multiple qualities that would take him beyond what he thought, and his career would be influenced by great friends and colleagues.
In 1954 he composed “Hoochie Coochie Man” for the enigmatic Muddy Waters, which years later would be recorded by artists such as: Blue Cheer, The Allman Brothers Band, Steppenwolf, The Nasville Teens, Alexis Korner, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, among others. Being its first commercial success, the song became a fundamental piece in the history of blues in the world. His already early recognition by many artists and bands took him even further, he composed and produced music for figures such as: Buddy Guy, Willie Mabon, Sonny Boy Williamson, Koko Taylor, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Memphis Slim and Chuck Berry, to mention Some.
In 1957 he founded his record label Ghana Record and joined a European tour at the American Folk Blues Festival, while continuing his personal work. It took more than 10 years for him to form his next group: Chicago Blues All-Stars, along with great musicians such as Sunnyland Slim, Walter Horton, Johnny Shines and Clifton James. The musical waste of the sad blues sound cemented Dixon’s career, as a unique and essential character of his genre. In 1970 Willie suffered from diabetes and had his leg amputated, but in January 1992 he died of a heart attack; and the light in some corner of Mississippi went out and the melancholy chords of Chicago no longer sounded as before.
Two years after his departure, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and his work was taken as a reference for many artists of the time and today. His songs were born out of nostalgia, experience and, above all, were created in the blues atmosphere of a community that refused to be socially divided. A characteristic stamp that his compositions have is that they were coupled to rhythms that, later, many artists covered in their own way; This is how songs like “Back Door Man” were born, popularized by Jim Morrison with The Doors in 1967, and Howlin Wolf and Grateful Dead also performed; the song “Evil” was performed by Muddy Waters, Canned Heat, Gary Moore, Derek and the Dominos and Steve Miller.
As well as the song “Little Red Rooster”, popularized by Howlin Wolf in 1962, or can be heard with Sam Cookke, The Yardbirds, Bob Weir, The Doors, The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Rolling Stones; another that deserves to appear is “Just Want To Make Love To You”, an important song in his career and was covered by Mungo Jerry, The Kinks, Etta James, The RS, Grateful Dead, Van Morrison and MW.
The song “You Can’t Judge A Book By Looking At Its Cover”, authored by Willie, can also be found with Bo Diddley, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, The Monkees, Beat Farmers, Elliott Murphy and Eric Clapton. The list is extensive and the performances by more artists were taken more seriously, in such a way that they were increasingly interested in Dixon’s songs, and this was reflected with the theme “Spoonful”, in which, again, the songs voices from Waters and Wolf were present; but not only them, also The Who, Paul Butterfield, Cream, Ten Year After, The Shadows of Knight, among others.
It is important to mention the relationship that Willie and Led Zeppelin had, the lyrical mess in the song ‘Whole Lotta Love’, a song written by Robert Plant in which it contained lines from the song ‘You Need Love’ written by Dixon, at the end of a intervention for the rights, the credits were given to the leader of Zeppelin and to WD himself. But not only that, the Zeppelins also performed their songs ‘You Shook Me’, ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ and ‘Bring It On Home’.
It is true that Willie did not write four thousand songs, but he did write the most important of the nascent genre, with which he transmitted radiant feelings; In addition to the artists already mentioned, it is also a priority to highlight the names of Jimmy Reed, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Rivers, Bill Haley, Carey Bell, Savoy Brown, The Pointer Sisters, The Small Face, Elvis Presley, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Sly & The Family Stone, Megadeth, Jeff Beck, Dr. Feelgood, Sting, PJ Harvey, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, The Black Crowes, etc.
Willie Dixon said: “I am the blues”, a phrase that over the years confirmed its authenticity in the enigmatic figure of the man that his only sparring it was the music, because in it he always found a perfect dose that led him to prepare more and more for each musical combat. His talent and passion were enormous, the fond memory of Willie Dixon remains, his music, his sounds, his legacy, his art.
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