Willie Dixon


The American Folk Blues Festival ran from 1962 through 1971 and helped the blues reach an audience of young Europeans. American blues musicians soon found they could make more money playing in Europe than in Chicago. They played in concert halls and were reportedly treated like royalty. Dixon played on the tour for three years, then became the Chicago contact for Lippmann and Rau in booking blues musicians for the tour.

Perhaps the tour’s greatest impact was in England, where it was booked by Giorgio Gomelsky in London at his Crawdaddy Club. At that time, Gomelsky managed the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, groups that went on to record at the Chess Studios in Chicago later in the 1960s. Dixon often provided young British musicians with original compositions, and as a result, his reputation as a songwriter grew among the new generation of rock musicians.

Jack Bruce of the British group Cream told Goldmine how thrilled he was when Dixon offered him encouragement about Cream’s version of “Spoonful.” “It was as a writer that Willie Dixon most influenced music–and me,” Bruce noted. “His incredible ability to tap in to the whole world’s consciousness made it possible for him to write songs that will never die.”

Willie Dixon & Koko Taylor
Toward the end of the 1960s soul music eclipsed the blues in black record sales. Chess Records’ last major hit was Koko Taylor’s 1966 recording of Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle.” Many prominent bluesmen had died, including Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, and J.B. Lenoir. Chess Records was sold in 1969, and Dixon recorded his last session for the label in 1970.

The many cover versions of his songs by the rock bands of the 1960s enhanced Dixon’s reputation as a certified blues legend. He revived his career as a performer by forming the Chicago Blues All-Stars in 1969. The group’s original lineup included Johnny Shines on guitar and vocals, Sunnyland Slim on piano, Walter “Shakey” Horton on harmonica, Clifton James on drums, and Dixon on bass and vocals.

Throughout the 1970s Dixon continued to write new songs, record other artists, and release his own performances on his own Yambo label. Two albums– Catalyst in 1973 and What’s Happened to My Blues? in 1977–received Grammy nominations. His busy performing schedule kept him on the road in the United States and abroad for six months out of the year until 1977, when his diabetes worsened and caused him to be hospitalized. He lost a foot from the disease but, after a period of recuperation, continued performing into the next decade.

Dixon resumed touring and regrouped the Chicago Blues All-Stars in the early 1980s. A 1983 live recording from the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland resulted in another Grammy nomination. That same year, Dixon and his family moved to southern California, where Dixon began working on scores for movies. He produced a new version of “Who Do You Love” for Bo Diddley that was featured on the soundtrack for La Bamba, a film about Mexican American rock and roll sensation Ritchie Valens, and he performed his own “Don’t You Tell Me Nothin’” in Martin Scorsese’s 1986 pool hustler flick, The Color of Money.

Alex & Willie Dixon
In the 1980s, Dixon relocated to Los Angeles, CA to escape the cold Chicago winters in an effort to better his health. He had also established the Blues Heaven Foundation, a nonprofit organization providing scholarship awards and musical instruments to poorly funded schools. It was during this time that Dixon started grooming his 11-year old grandson, Alex Dixon, in the family business. The two of them would visit schools in the Los Angeles area to talk about the history of the blues, while his grandson would demonstrate various styles of blues on the piano. Soon after, the young Dixon would tour with his grandfather and play shows and festivals in various cities.

Ever active in protecting his own copyrights, Dixon himself reached an out-of-court settlement in 1987 over the similarity of Led Zeppelin’s 1969 hit “Whole Lotta Love” to his own “You Need Love.” He was given his appropriate credit for the song.

Grammy award winning album "Hidden Charms"

Willie Dixon's Grammy
Dixon’s final two albums were well received, with the 1988 album Hidden Charms winning a Grammy Award for best traditional blues recording. One of the songs on this album, titled “Study War No More”, was co-written with his grandson, Alex. In 1989 he recorded the soundtrack for the film Ginger Ale Afternoon, which also was nominated for a Grammy.

When Dixon died in 1992 at the age of 76, the music world lost one of its foremost blues composers and performers. From his musical roots in the Mississippi Delta and Chicago, Dixon created a body of work that reflected the changing times in which he lived. His later songs kept pace with dynamic world issues, as exemplified by the composition “It Don’t Make Sense (You Can’t Make Peace).” As Dixon concluded in I Am the Blues, “If you accept the wisdom of the blues, we can definitely have peace.”

Willie & Marie Dixon
Honoring a promise to her late husband, Marie Dixon, Willie’s widow, purchased the landmark Chess Records Studio at 2120 S. Michigan Ave. in Chicago, which is now home to Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation. She continues to serve as President & CEO of Blues Heaven Foundation in order to fulfill his dream. Marie also serves as President & CEO of Hoochie Coochie Music, Willie’s music publishing company, which he created after regaining the rights to all of his songs. In 2008, Sony Pictures released the moving “Cadillac Records” in which actor Cedric The Entertainer portrayed the role of Willie Dixon. The movie also featured two songs, Hoochie Coochie Man and My Babe.


Grammy Award for best traditional blues recording, 1989, for Hidden Charms.

Inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, 1994 (posthumously), in the early influence pre-rock category.


Selective Discography

◦Willie’s Blues, Prestige/Bluesville, 1959.
◦(With Memphis Slim) Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon, Folkways, 1959.
◦(With Memphis Slim) The Blues Every Which Way, Verve, 1960.
◦(With Memphis Slim) At the Village Gate, Folkways, 1960.
◦(With Memphis Slim) Live at the Trois Mailletz, Polydor, 1962.
◦I Am the Blues, Columbia, 1969.
◦Peace, Yambo, 1971.
◦Catalyst, Ovation, 1973.
◦Maestro Willie Dixon and His Chicago Blues Band, Spivey, 1973.
◦What’s Happened to My Blues?, Ovation, 1976.
◦Mighty Earthquake and Hurricane, Pausa, 1984.
◦15 July, 1983 Live! Backstage Access, Pausa, 1985.
◦Hidden Charms, Bug/Capitol, 1988.
◦The Chess Box (3-album set), MCA/Chess, 1989.
◦Ginger Ale Afternoon, Varese Sarabende, 1989.
◦Cadillac Records, Sony, 2008.

◦(With Don Snowden) I Am the Blues: The Willie Dixon Story, Da Capo, 1989.
Further Reading


◦Dixon, Willie, and Don Snowden, I Am the Blues: The Willie Dixon Story, Da Capo, 1989.
◦Rowe, Mike, Chicago Blues: The City and the Music, Da Capo, 1981.

◦Blues Unlimited, October 1964.
◦Down Beat, August 6, 1970; April 1992.
◦Entertainment Weekly, February 14, 1992.
◦Goldmine, March 20, 1992.
◦Guitar Player, April 1992.
◦Musician, April 1992.
◦Rolling Stone, March 5, 1992.
(Biography adapted in part from http://www.answers.com/topic/willie-dixon#ixzz19GjAgYai)

Source: http://www.willie-dixon.com/bio/  accessed 15th March 2013