William James "Willie" Dixon (July 1, 1915 - January 29, 1992) was a well-known American blues bassist, vocalist, songwriter, arranger and record producer. His songs, including "Little Red Rooster", "Hoochie Coochie Man", "Evil", "Spoonful", "Back Door Man", "I Just Want to Make Love to You", "I Ain't Superstitious", "My Babe", "Wang Dang Doodle", and "Bring It On Home", written during the peak of Chess Records, 1950-1965, and performed by Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Little Walter, influenced a worldwide generation of musicians. Next to Muddy Waters, he was the most influential person in shaping the post-World War II sound of the Chicago blues. He also was an important link between the blues and rock and roll, working with Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley in the late-1950s, and his songs were covered by some of the biggest bands of the 1960s and 1970s, including Bob Dylan, Cream, Led Zeppelin, The Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones, Queen, The Doors, The Allman Brothers Band, and the Grateful Dead.
Dixon was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 1, 1915. His mother Daisy often rhymed the things she said, a habit Dixon imitated. At the age of 7, he 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 learned how to sing harmony as a teen as well, 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 into songs, and even sold some of them 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 "Baby Doo" 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.
Dixon began performing around Chicago and with Baby Doo, helped to form the Five Breezes, a group that blended blues, jazz, and vocal harmonies. Dixon's progress in learning to play the bass was interrupted when he resisted the draft during World War II as a conscientious objector and was imprisoned for ten months. After the war, he formed the group Four Jumps of Jive and then reunited with Caston, forming the Big Three Trio, who went on to record for Columbia Records.
Dixon signed with Chess Records as a recording artist, but began performing less and became more involved with the record 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 the Chess label was sometimes strained, although his tenure there covered the years from 1948 to the early 1960s. During this time his output and influence were prodigious. He later recorded on Bluesville Records.
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, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Koko Taylor, Little Milton, Eddie Boyd, Jimmy Witherspoon, Lowell Fulson, Willie Mabon, Memphis Slim, Washboard Sam, Jimmy Rogers, 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 #1 in the UK Singles Chart with their cover version of Dixon's "Little Red Rooster".
In addition, as his songwriting and production work started to take a backseat, his organisational ability was utilised to put together 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 put it like this: "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."
His health deteriorated in the 1970s and 1980s, due to long-term diabetes and eventually his leg 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. He was also awarded a Grammy Award in 1989 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.
Actor and comedian Cedric the Entertainer portrayed Dixon in Cadillac Records, a 2008 film based on the early history of Chess Records.
Willie Dixon's grandson, Alex Dixon, recently recorded two Willie Dixon songs, ("Spoonful" and "Down in the Bottom"), on his newest release titled Rising from the Bushes.
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He wrote many famous blues songs, usually producing and playing double bass when they were first recorded. His work was covered by a varied range of artists, from the blues, to modern day rock music practitioners. Notable Dixon songs and covers include:
"29 Ways" - Marc Cohn, Willie Dixon, The Blues Band
"300 Pounds Of Joy" - Howlin' Wolf, Tom Jones & Jools Holland
"After Five Long Years" - Willie Dixon
"As Long as I Have You" - Little Walter, The Ford Blues Band, John P. Hammond, George Thorogood
"Back Door Man" - Howlin' Wolf, The Doors, Grateful Dead, Shadows of Knight, Bob Weir
"Bring It On Home" - Sonny Boy Williamson II, Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, Dread Zeppelin, Johnny Thunders, Hawkwind
"Built for Comfort" - Howlin' Wolf, Canned Heat, UFO, Juicy Lucy
"Crazy For My Baby" - Little Walter, Charlie Musselwhite, Willie Dixon
"Crazy Love" - Buddy Guy
"Crazy Mixed Up World" - Little Walter
"Close to You" - Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Doors
"Dead Presidents" - Little Walter, The J. Geils Band
"Diddy Wah Diddy" - Bo Diddley, Captain Beefheart, The Blues Band, The Remains, Bruce Springsteen (live), Ry Cooder, Leon Redbone
"Do Me Right" - Lowell Fulson
"Do the Do" - Howlin' Wolf
"Don't Go No Farther" - Muddy Waters, The Doors, B. B. King
"Don't Tell Me Nothin?" - Willie Dixon - used in the film The Color of Money
"Down in the Bottom" - Howlin' Wolf, Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings
"Earthquake and Hurricane" - Willie Dixon
"Eternity" - Grateful Dead
"Everybody Needs Something" - Little Walter
"Everything But You" - Jimmy Witherspoon
"Everything's Got a Time" - Willie Dixon
"Evil" - Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Canned Heat, Captain Beefheart, Monster Magnet, Derek and the Dominos, Gary Moore, Cactus, The Faces, Steve Miller, Koko Taylor
"Flamin' Mamie" - Willie Dixon
"Help Me" - Sonny Boy Williamson II
"Gone Daddy Gone" - the Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano incorporated elements of "I Just Want To Make Love To You" into his track; the former was later covered by Gnarls Barkley
"Grave Digger Blues" - Willie Dixon
"Groanin' the Blues" - Willie Dixon, Eric Clapton
"Hidden Charms" - Howlin' Wolf, Link Wray, Elvis Costello
"Hoochie Coochie Man" - Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Shadows of Knight, Eric Burdon, The Nashville Teens, Dion, The Allman Brothers Band, Alexis Korner, Steppenwolf, Chuck Berry, Mot?rhead, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Healey, Manfred Mann, New York Dolls
"Howlin' For My Baby" - Howlin' Wolf, George Thorogood
"I Ain't Superstitious" - Howlin' Wolf, The Yardbirds, Grateful Dead, Megadeth, The Jeff Beck Group, Chris Spedding
"I Can't Quit You Baby" - Little Milton, Otis Rush, Willie Dixon, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Led Zeppelin, Gary Moore, Dread Zeppelin, Nine Below Zero
"I Can't Understand" - Los Lobos (co-written with Cesar Rojas)
"I Don't Make Sense (You Can't Make Peace)" - Willie Dixon
"If the Sea Was Whiskey" - Chris Thile
"I Got What It Takes" - Koko Taylor
"I Just Want To Make Love To You" - Muddy Waters, The Animals, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, Shadows of Knight, Mungo Jerry, Grateful Dead, Foghat, The Rolling Stones, Etta James, Van Morrison, Paul Rodgers, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, April Wine, Robben Ford, Meat Puppets, Cold Blood, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, The Righteous Brothers
"I Love the Life I Live, I Live the Life I Love" - Muddy Waters, Willie Nelson
"I'm Nervous" - Willie Dixon
"I'm Ready" - Muddy Waters, Humble Pie, Buddy Guy, Aerosmith, Long John Baldry, Eric Burdon, George Thorogood, Albert King, Paul Rogers
"Insane Asylum" - Koko Taylor, Kathy McDonald and Sly Stone, Diamanda Gal?s, Asylum Street Spankers, The Detroit Cobras, Oxbow feat. Marianne Faithful
"I Don't Play" - Robben Ford
"I Got My Brand on You" - Muddy Waters
"It Don't Make Sense (You Can't Make Peace)" - Styx
"I Want To Be Loved" - Muddy Waters, The Rolling Stones
"Let Me Love You Baby" - Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, Muddy Waters, B. B. King
"Little Baby" - Howlin' Wolf, The Rolling Stones
"Little Red Rooster" - Howlin' Wolf, Sam Cooke, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Grateful Dead, The Doors, Luther Allison, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Big Mama Thornton, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
"Love, Life & Money" - Johnny Winter
"Mellow Down Easy" - Little Walter & His Jukes, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Black Crowes, Carey Bell, ZZ Top, Jimmy Reed, Holly Golightly
"Million Dollar Baby" - Dizzy Gillespie
"Move Me" - Willie Dixon
"My Babe" - Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, Spencer Davis Group, John P. Hammond, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, The Remains, Othar Turner & The Rising Star Fire and Drum Band
"My Baby's Sweeter" - Little Walter, Fleetwood Mac
"My Captain" - Muddy Waters
"My John the Conqueror Root" - Muddy Waters
"Nervous" - Willie Dixon
"Oh Baby" - Little Walter
"One More Chance With You" - Little Walter
"Pain In My Heart" - Willie Dixon, The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, Grateful Dead
"Pie in the Sky" - Willie Dixon
"Pretty Thing" - Bo Diddley, Pretty Things, Canned Heat
"Seventh Son" - Willie Mabon, Mose Allison, Bill Haley, Johnny Rivers, Sting, Climax Blues Band, Long John Baldry
"Same Thing" - The Band, Grateful Dead
"Sin And City" - Buddy Guy
"Shake For Me" - Howling Wolf, Stevie Ray Vaughan
"Sit and Cry (The Blues)" - Buddy Guy (co-written with Buddy Guy)
"Spider in My Stew" - Buster Benton, Magic Slim
"Spoonful" - Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Shadows of Knight, Dion, Paul Butterfield, Cream, Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, Ten Years After, The Who, Etta James Salty Dog
"Study War No More" - Willie Dixon
"The Same Thing" - Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, George Thorogood, The Allman Brothers Band, Sue Foley, Marc Ford, Grateful Dead
"Study No More" - Willie Dixon
"Third Degree" - Eddie Boyd, Willie Dixon, Eric Clapton, Leslie West
"Tollin' Bells" - Lowell Fulson, Savoy Brown Blues Band, Robert Cray
"Too Late" - Little Milton, Little Walter
"Too Many Cooks" - Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Mick Jagger
"Violent Love" - Otis Rush, The Big Three, Oingo Boingo, Dr. Feelgood, Skankin' Pickle
"Walkin' The Blues" - Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, John Kay
"Wang Dang Doodle" - Koko Taylor, Howlin' Wolf, Grateful Dead, Savoy Brown, Box Tops, PJ Harvey, Rufus Thomas, The Pointer Sisters, The Blues Band, Widespread Panic
"Weak Brain, Narrow Mind" - Willie Dixon, Widespread Panic
"When My Left Eye Jumps" - Buddy Guy
"When The Lights Go Out" - Jimmy Witherspoon, Kim Wilson
"Wigglin' Worm" - Willie Dixon
"You Can't Judge A Book By Looking At Its Cover" - Bo Diddley, Shadows of Knight, Cactus, The Yardbirds, Beat Farmers, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Tim Hardin, The Merseybeats, Elliott Murphy, Long John Baldry, The Monkees, Eric Clapton, Roy Buchanan, Tom Rush, The Rolling Stones.
"You Don't Love Me No More" - Big Three Trio
"You Know My Love" - Otis Rush, Gary Moore, Anson Funderburgh
"You'll Be Mine" - Howlin' Wolf, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dr. Feelgood
"You Need Love" - Muddy Waters, Candye Kane
"Whole Lotta Love" - Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" was appropriated, without credit, from Dixon's "You Need Love". Although the main guitar riff was composed by Jimmy Page himself, Robert Plant based the lyrics on Dixon's song. Dixon and his music publisher received credit and royalties after a 1985 lawsuit was settled out of court.
"You Need Loving" recorded by The Small Faces in 1965, is another uncredited loose version of the song
"You Shook Me" - Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Jeff Beck Group, Led Zeppelin, Dread Zeppelin
"Young Fashioned Ways" - Muddy Waters
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 on his album Together Through Life and gave special thanks Dixon's estate.
All Willie Dixon lyrics
- Back Door Man
- Built For Comfort
- Don't You Tell Nobody
- Good Understanding
- Hoochie Coochie Man
- I Ain't Superstitious
- I Can't Quit You Baby
- I Got A Razor
- Move Me
- Sittin' And Cryin' The Blues
- Study War No More
- That's All I Want Baby
- That's My Baby
- The Little Red Rooster
- The Same Thing
- The Seventh Son
- You Shook Me
- Youth To You
All lyrics are property of their respective owners and are strictly for non-commercial use only.