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Willie Dixon Profile

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Willie Dixon's The Chess Box

Willie Dixon's The Chess Box

Photo courtesy Geffen Records

Willie Dixon Profile:

Born: July 1, 1915 in Vicksburg MS

Died: January 29, 1992 in Burbank CA

Willie Dixon's impact on the blues world may not have been as immediate as that of friends and contemporaries like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, but his role in shaping the future of the blues is no less vital. Arguably the first professional blues songwriter, artists like Waters, Wolf, Little Walter and Koko Taylor had hits with Dixon's songs. Dixon also made his mark as a session bassist and a producer, working with talents like Bo Diddley and Otis Rush.

The Boxer

Dixon began writing songs as a teen, selling them to local bands in Mississippi. Dixon made his way to Chicago in 1936, not as a bluesman but rather as a boxer, winning the Illinois State Golden Gloves Heavyweight Championship. He hung up his gloves and turned to music instead, playing with his first group, The Five Breezes. When Dixon refused to honor his draft notice, declaring himself a conscientious objector, he spent a year in prison.

After prison, Dixon returned to playing in the clubs, striking a friendship with Muddy Waters that led to an introduction to the Chess brothers, and a job as a talent scout for their new record label. During the 1950s, he wrote material for virtually every Chess artist, played bass as part of the label's house band, and began producing sessions for the label. In between, he would record his own songs, but Dixon experienced little success on the charts.

I Am The Blues

Dixon left Chess in the mid-60s when his upright bass playing fell out of style. He began working with a European concert promoter, organizing music festivals while continuing to perform and record his own material. His songs found favor with a rock audience, bands like Cream and Led Zeppelin covering his material. However, Dixon received little in the way of royalties on his songs, many of which had become blues standards.

After settling a court cases against his former publisher, Dixon regained the rights to his songs, and finally received some royalties. He formed the Blues Heaven Foundation, helping other artists recover royalties that were due them. In 1989, Dixon published his biography I Am The Blues.

Recommended Albums: Sadly, Dixon's own recordings are ill represented on CD, but the two-disc The Chess Box includes original material as well as other artists singing Dixon's songs.

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