Willie Dixon: I Am The Blues

Today music legend Willie Dixon would have been 98 years old. The following is a piece I wrote in the spring of 2009. I’ve decided to re-post it to commemorate the man and this day in music history. And also for those who missed the article the first couple times around.

Being so young, I never knew the significance of the music I listened to back then… I just knew it moved me in a way I could never quite explain. ~ tbb

In The Year 1970

my brother and several of his friends packed their bags and followed their dreams. Their brash youthful spirit drove them to bigger places as they made a serious attempt at a career in the music business. For me at the time, I was glum. I missed those magical moments when the boys would rehearse in the basement of our house… And so did The Big F who was my brother’s oldest friend.

The Big F was the roadie/bodyguard for the bands my brother was in. When my brother left town, he adopted me as a kid brother and often picked me up to hang out. One thing for sure, I never had a problem with bullies whenever I hung around with The Big F. The man loved his music and would invite me over to his place where I marveled at his record collection. He would let me pick any album I wanted to listen to… I recall Willie Dixon’s I Am The Blues being a very intriguing choice back then…

The Big F had a drum kit in the basement of his house, and always played along to the tunes. And would often spring off his stool, grab some spoons and continue to tap along the walls, lamps, light switches and beverage glasses…

I Am the Blues

right

This is an album featuring some of Dixon’s classic material but this time with Willie showcasing his own creations. Willie Dixon was a force to be reckoned with and his presence continues to be felt in even today’s most modern blues and rock performers.

Here are the tracks on this album and some of the popular artists that performed them:

“Back Door Man” – The Doors.
“I Can’t Quit You” – Led Zeppelin.
The Seventh Son” – Sting
“Spoonful” – Cream.
“I Ain’t Superstitious” – The Yardbirds.
“You Shook Me” Led Zeppelin
“I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” – Muddy Waters.
“The Little Red Rooster” – The Rolling Stones.
“The Same Thing” – Muddy Waters

This album only represents a small portion of Willie Dixon’s contribution to the music world. Many people today are unaware that Dixon was the original composer of many of the classic songs we know and love… His singing on I Am The Blues may not be as distinct as those who adopted these tunes, but it’s very humbling to hear the master voice his own work. If you haven’t heard this album before, or just looking to rediscover a gem, you’ll love this terrific piece of music history… Very cool and inspiring indeed.

Willie Dixon

was born July 1, 1915 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Dixon was first introduced to blues as a teenager when he served time on prison farms in Mississippi. He wrote poetry and adapted them into songs.

“The blues will always be, because the blues are the roots of all American music. As long as American music survives, so will the blues.”

In 1936 Dixon left Mississippi for Chicago. He stood tall and weighed in at over 250 pounds. Taking up boxing; he became successful enough that he won the Illinois State Golden Gloves Heavyweight Championship (Novice Division) in 1937. Dixon even turned professional and worked briefly as Joe Louis’ sparring partner. His brief boxing career ended after getting into a money dispute with his manager.

After composing and playing in many local groups, Dixon eventually signed to Chess Records as a recording artist. He began performing less and started getting more involved with the label. Dixon became a full time employee with Chess in 1951, where he acted as producer, A&R talent scout, session musician and staff songwriter. His relationship with the label was nervy at times, but his output and influence was extraordinary. He worked with all the greats such as Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson II, just to name a few.

Later in his life, Willie Dixon became a diligent representative of the blues and a vocal supporter for his peers founding the Blues Heaven Foundation. The organization works to preserve the genre’s legacy and protect copyrights and royalties for blues musicians who were exploited in the past. The foundations’ current vice president is Willie’s grandson Alex Dixon…

Willie Dixon was granted a Grammy Award in 1989 for his album Hidden Charms. He was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the “early influences” (pre-rock) category in 1994.

It’s impossible to cover the incredible legacy of Willie Dixon in just one post. So I won’t even attempt it… Dixon was undeniably the greatest blues songwriter of his era and is credited with writing more than 500 songs by the end of his life.

Now it’s time to turn this post over to the readers… So what are your feelings? How familiar are you with his 1970 release I Am The Blues? Any Dixon tunes covered by other bands or musicians that are your favorites? Your comments and birthday wishes are welcome below…

The Blues Blogger

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21 Responses to “Willie Dixon: I Am The Blues”

  1. joanie April 18, 2009 at 9:12 pm #

    yo! great stuff; as usual! I get ya on my Rss feed. Been busy movin, tryin to catch up…this’ll go on my youtube profile, flickr, facebk, n su pages!

  2. The Blues Blogger April 18, 2009 at 9:15 pm #

    Thanks… Great to hear from you. I’m glad you touched base. Hope all is well.

  3. marcel lemieux April 19, 2009 at 1:09 am #

    You hit a good spot here..i do like this guy music..nice piece of writing here also…very cool…thanks

  4. Howard April 19, 2009 at 2:15 am #

    Wellie Dixon with out a doubt one of the greatest influences on the early urban blues scene.

    His music has influenced may groups and the blues culture through the world, just ask, Eric Clapton for one!

    I believe he has contributed to the success of many artists, not only through his song writing but also through his production work..

    He has been a hard act to follow. I enjoyed this review and it bought back many fond memories to.

    Needless to say I have many of the songs that appear here.

    Keep up the good work Tbb.

  5. Phil April 19, 2009 at 5:06 am #

    A few years ago I stopped in at the Blues Foundation and met Alex Dixon. He was witty, friendly and knowledgeable (and a discount coupon for an evening at Buddy Guy’s Legends was a nice surprise.) Thanks for the post. Beautiful site. And it was good to hear from you.

  6. Danny April 19, 2009 at 6:53 am #

    Wonderful post as usual. Very informative and well written. Always something new and interesting with you.
    Thanks

  7. Hairy Larry April 19, 2009 at 8:13 am #

    Hi,

    One of my favorites. Ok, I’m going out on a limb here. Three top Blues songwriters of all time.

    Robert Johnson
    Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller)
    Willie Dixon

    What do you think? Hard to argue with that.

    Thanks,

    Hairy Larry

  8. Kevin April 19, 2009 at 10:40 am #

    Great Stuff and as always I learn something new from your blog and am becoming more a Blues fan everyday!

    Thanks

  9. Hobson April 21, 2009 at 7:59 am #

    When I first found out about this album I was like “what??? he actually SINGS his song in here???” so I just had to get it. I absolutely loved it, adding more respect to the absolute legend I already knew it was

  10. Fitzgerald April 22, 2009 at 10:39 am #

    Willie Dixon is one of my favorite song writers of all time. The man had a way with words. Not to mention his skills as a musician, producer, and A&R man.

    Thanks for this interesting post on him. Please keep up the good work.

  11. asheville jazz band May 30, 2009 at 6:19 pm #

    I had a strange evening with Willy Dixon’s son at a party in Boulder, CO. in 1998. Just to add to the mystique.

  12. mvr December 7, 2009 at 10:10 pm #

    This album was remaindered in the mid-late 70s and I played it a lot for a while. The songs are mostly classics. What is interesting is that generally other people turned out the definitive versions of these songs — often with WD playing bass for them. The versions here seem a bit tamer than the ones that became hits for others. Which partly shows that some people are just genius song-writers, as opposed to vocal performers. But it is hard to cut Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf on a song, even one you wrote yourself. And it shows how much of being a great blues performer is taking a song and making it your own as well.

    Still, I played this a lot in the 70s. It is a good record with great songs and also an education to pay attention to.

  13. Howard January 29, 2010 at 10:33 pm #

    Hi my friend,

    You have hit a nerve again?

    Willie Dixon one of my favorites and that album I have owned and treasured for many years. I have introduced many people to Willie Dixon through it !!!

    I enjoy it each time I play it…

    Cheers, keep up the great work here..
    Howard.

  14. Hermitbiker January 30, 2010 at 12:34 am #

    …. another fantastic review and post from the Blues Blogger…. “Willie Dixon: I Am The Blues”…. What more need be said !! 🙂

  15. Susan January 31, 2010 at 6:47 am #

    My education continues. I had heard of Willie Dixon, seen his name on cheat books, never got the whole story.

    What a great and rare man he must have been. Instead of just beating his own drum and pushing his own music he spent his life supporting other artists.

    Thanks for posting about this man who is an inspiration to us all.

  16. Lyle Beaugard September 13, 2010 at 7:46 pm #

    Not that I’m trying to stomp on the man’s memory or his contribution to the blues, but please realize that Willie Dixon did not “write” all of the songs he claimed to-many of them were traditional blues songs that had been sung in the Delta for years. He did however, come up with new and unique ARRANGEMENTS of these songs. Being a bass player, he could creat a sweet groove. Like many other bluesman, he was a great self-promoter and he made sure that he got paid by getting his name on the record, a shrewd man indeed.

  17. toby July 1, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    when I was 16 I loaned my fender rhodes to the willie dixon group and went along to the gig…I remember sitting next to the pianist while he played and thinking…”shit, I can do that’ , it was kind of life changing really… I also remember how small the bass looked when he was playing it!

  18. marcel lemieux July 5, 2013 at 11:37 pm #

    Well well how are you doing mate..its been quite a while ..still kicking i see…Blues has no age..its mostly all good…every once in a while i go to YouTube and let blues play …this fellow here is pretty good…take care…

  19. Editors July 26, 2013 at 9:23 pm #

    Thanks for writing this! It’s rich stuff– for real blues lovers, these pieces of history are like diamonds found in the wilderness. I learned lots of juicy details like this researching our new article about Memphis Minnie:

    http://www.blueplanetjournal.com/travel/goin-down-to-memphis-beauty-and-the-blues.html

  20. XPT October 28, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

    Blues right now could use another man like Willie…

  21. Lazy Eye December 27, 2014 at 12:12 am #

    Great article. What an amazing legacy! Thanks for posting this.

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