Blues History: Willie Dixon

Willie Dixon - Discover The Blues Blog - The Blues Room

Can you imagine what blues music would be like without such hits as Hoochie Coochie Man, Little Red Rooster and Spoonful? Neither can many people. Thankfully, we don’t have to. Little did the world know that in 1915, the person who made all of this possible would be born.

Often called “the poet laureate of the blues” and “the father of modern Chicago Blues” William James “Willie” Dixon represents the embodiment of the progress of the blues, from its creation to a recognised and vital part of America’s musical heritage.

Dixon played a massive role in helping shape the Chicago blues style of the fifties. While working for Chess records he wrote or co-wrote over 500 songs and his work has been recorded by some of the best-known blues musicians of his era, including Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Koko Taylor and many more. Later, some of his songs were popularised by rock groups, such as the Rolling Stones, Cream, and Led Zeppelin.

To give an idea of the importance of his work here is a playlist of some of the songs he wrote. I have simply chosen songs that are often played at dance events. The full list can be found on his autobiography “ I Am The Blues: The Willie Dixon Story” or here.

Unless you are an expert of blues music you may well be quite surprised by this list, just like I was when I first discovered it! Before researching for this blog I knew that he wrote for Muddy Waters and other artists but I was not expecting such a huge number of incredible songs. Without Willie Dixon, some artists might have never found success in the 50s!

“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.”

Willie Dixon

During his time at Chess Record, Willie was famous as a songwriter and producer, but in 1956 he left the label over disputes regarding royalties and contracts. He then joined Cobra Records where he played with such bluesmen as Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, and Magic Sam.

In 1957 Dixon formed his own publishing company Ghana and registered it with Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) to protect his copyright interest in his own songs.

Dixon went to play in England with Memphis Slim in 1960. He also performed as part of the First American Folk Blues Festival that toured Europe in 1962. The Festival ran for many years in Europe and helped spread the blues to a European audience. During the late 1960s Dixon began making a major name for himself as singer and bass player. One of his most successful albums was released during this period and was called ‘I Am the Blues”.

So I want to share with you another list of Willie Dixon songs, this time performed by the man himself…

During this time as a successful singer he was making good money and began to understand just how much money he had been deprived of as producer and songwriter while at Chess Records.

That is why in his later years, Dixon became a tireless ambassador for the blues and a vocal advocate for its practitioners and founded the Blues Heaven Foundation (www.bluesheaven.com). The organisation works to preserve the blues’ legacy and to secure copyrights and royalties for blues musicians who were exploited in the past and to educate both adults and children on the history of the Blues and the business of music. Currently, the foundation features several programs that support this mission, including the Muddy Water’s Scholarship, Music in the Garden Festival, and music clinics.

Willie Dixon - Discover The Blues Blog - The Blues Room

Willie Dixon was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

Goodbye my friends and thanks for reading (and listening). As Willie simply puts it:

“If you accept the wisdom of the blues, we can definitely have peace.”

Willie Dixon

Adamo Ciarallo

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