Mississippi Writers and Musicians
MISSISSIPPI MUSICIANS: Willie Dixon


Willie Dixon Willie Dixon

Major Works

  • The Big Three Trio
  • Willie’s Blues
  • Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon Au Trois Mailletz
  • The Original Wang Dang Doodle-The Chess Recordings and More
  • I Am the Blues
  • Hidden Charms
  • Crying the Blues
  • Good Advice

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Willie Dixon: A Biography
By Slay McComb (SHS)

As one of the greatest American songwriters of all times, Willie James Dixon was a bright, self-confident, determined, intelligent, and gifted man who helped the blues evolve from the 1940’s through the 1980’s (Songwriters 11). Born the seventh of Willie Dixonfourteen children on July 1, 1915, in Vicksburg, Mississippi,  Dixon was greatly  influenced by his mother, Daisy, who turned  everything she said into rhymes, and Willie learned to do the same.  However, his first real musical influence came at the age of seven when he often left school to follow a truck pulling a band behind it starring  pianist Little Brother Montgomery. (Snowden 1). As a youth,  Dixon sang with the Union Jubilee singers, a gospel quartet with its  own radio program.

At the age of seventeen, Dixon left his hometown of Vicksburg for the busy streets of Chicago to become a boxer.  One year later he was named the Illinois State Golden Gloves Heavyweight Champion. Although he had early success as a boxer, he only fought four fights during his pro career because of a money dispute with his manager, which ended whatever dreams Dixon may have had as a boxer.

After boxing, he began his musical career by forming the Five Breezes in 1940 with Leonard "Baby Doo" Caston. They recorded songs until 1941 when Willie was arrested for refusing to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. After finishing his sentence,  Dixon formed a new group, the Four Jumps of Jive, which mainly performed in Chicago clubs and later recorded for Mercury (Perry 1-2).

In 1945 ‘Baby Doo’ and Willie teamed up to form the Big Three Trio along with guitarist Benardo Dennis. The Big Three played for mainly white audiences, but they would also join Muddy Waters in late night jam sessions (Snowden). "With a repertoire of soft blues, boogie woogie, pop, and novelty numbers, the Big Three landed a recording contract first with Bullet Records and then in 1947 with Columbia Records" (Perry 2). While playing with the Big Three Trio,  Dixon met Phil and Leonard Chess, two guys who had recently started Chess Records. They hired Dixon part-time, but after the Big Three Trio broke-up, he went to work for them full time. 

Slay McComb, SHS biographer

A major difference between Dixon and other blues men was his ability to read, write, compose, and arrange music, which made him the mainstay of Chess Records ("Willie Dixon"). Dixon was also considered the backbone of the Chess operation. He stayed with them until 1957 when he decided to switch to Cobra Records. However, Cobra only lasted two years due to financial difficulties,  so Dixon returned to Chess and stayed there throughout most of the 60’s (Snowden 2).

Throughout the 70’s Dixon toured regularly and released albums on the Ovation, Columbia, and Yamboo labels. In 1980 Dixon was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame and in 1982 Dixon set up the Blues Heaven Foundation to help musicians and their estates claim their due (Perry 2-3, "Dixon Dodges Glare of New Recordings Spotlight"). In 1987 Dixon had bypass surgery, putting a halt on his career (Dixon 1). However, in 1988 he released Hidden Charms with Bug/Capitol, and in 1989 Dixon published his autobiography, I Am the Blues, co-authored by Don Snowden (Perry 2-3). He appeared in the films, Raw Justice (1994) .... News Crews .. aka Good Cop, Bad Cop (1994), Night of the Warrior (1991)  Willie Dixon,  and Rich Girl (1990) himself .  He also wrote original music for the movie Ginger Ale Afternoon (1989).

Dixon’s songs are considered to be the greatest body of work of any blues songwriter. They were recorded by such musicians as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, and the Doors ("Jazzy Procession is Funeral for Blues Giant Willie Dixon"). Dixon died at the age of seventy-six at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Burbank, California on January 29, 1992. Willie Dixon, blues writer and founder of the Blues Heaven Foundation, had hepatitis when he passed away. His bypass surgery in 1987 required blood transfusions. The Blues Heaven Foundation was Willie's vision and is dedicated to assisting Blues artists as well as preserving the Blues and its history.

Throughout his career he was known as a "powerhouse who set music into motion" ("A Week Just for Willie"). Not only did he write blues classics ("Hoochie Coochie Man" and "I Just Want to Make Love to You" for Muddy Waters; "Wang  Dang Doodle" for Koko Taylor; and "Back Door Man" for Howlin' Wolf)  he  also worked as a talent scout for the Chess Brothers. Rock musicians including  Led Zeppelin ("Whole Lotta Love"), the Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix recorded Dixon tunes and now a  blues museum in his honor has been started.

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Timeline

1915- Willie Dixon was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on July 1

1932- Moved to Chicago at the age of 17

1937- He won the Illinois Golden Gloves Heavyweight Boxing Competition

1940- The Five Breezes was formed and recorded eight tracks for the Bluebird label

1941- He was arrested for ignoring his military call up papers

1942- He was classified as unfit for military service and forms the Four Jumps of Jive

1943- He formed the Big Three Trio with Baby Doo Caston

1952- Muddy Waters recorded Willie’s "Hoochie Coochie Man" 

Willie Dixon

1952- Willie goes to work for Chess Records

1955- Little Walter released Willie’s "My Babe"

1956- He left Chess for the Cobra and Artistic labels

1959- He recorded "Willie’s Blues" for the Bluesville label

1960- Howlin’ Wolf released Willie’s "Wang Dang Doodle," "Back Door Man," and "Spoonful"

1960- Willie returns to Chess Records

1962- He set up the Blues Heaven Foundation for young musicians

1964-The Rolling Stones reach number one with Willie's "Little Red Rooster".

1980- Dixon was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame

1982- He sets up the Blues Heaven foundation for young musicians.

1987- He had bypass surgery

1988- Signed a recording contract with Bug/Capitol and released the album Hidden Charms

1989- Released Willie Dixon’s Chess Box Set

1989- Dixon published his autobiography I Am the Blues: The Willie Dixon Story  with Don Snowden and wrote music for film called Ginger Ale Afternoon

1992- Willie Dixon died on January 29

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Related Websites

More information on Willie Dixon can be found online. Article written by Don Snowden.

Preview audio samples from The Original Wang Dang Doodle.

Dixon appeared in the following films:  Sweet Home Chicago-Musical & Performance Art , Pop Music,  Maintenance Shop Blues--Willie Dixon [1981] Musical & Performance Art , Pop Music, Rich Girl [1991] Drama

Actor filmography appears here.

Info for film Dixon wrote music for called Ginger Ale Afternoon

Lyrics to "I Ain't Superstitious"


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Bibliography

"Big Willie Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll the Blues." The Clarion-Ledger, 30 Jan. 1992.

"Chicago Roles the Blues for Dixon." The Clarion-Ledger, 6 Feb. 1992.

"Dixon Dodges Glare of New Recordings Spotlight." The Clarion-Ledger, 26 Dec. 1988.

Dixon, Shirli. "Letter from Willie Dixon." pag. 1. Online. 20 Apr. 1998. Available http://www.hep-help.com/generic/blues/aboutrbb.htm.

Eley, Keith, ed. "Willie Dixon: Double Bass Vocals Writer." pag. 1. Online. Nov. 1996. Available
http://www.uel.ac.uk/pers/K.Eley/Williedi.htm.

"Jazzy Procession is Funeral for Blues Giant Willie Dixon." The Evening Post, 6 Feb. 1992.

 Perry, Al. "Willie Dixon." pag. 1-3. Online. 20 Apr. 1998. Available
http://www.surfin.com/Users/alperry/Willie_Dixon.html.

Snowden, Don. "Willie Dixon." pag. 1-2. Online. 20 Apr. 1998. Available http://www.island.net/~ blues/willie.html.

"A Week Just for Willie." The Clarion-Ledger, 23 Oct. 1990.

"Willie Dixon." pag. 1. Online.  20 Apr. 1998.Available http://www.zoo.co.uk/~primer/pddixon.htm.

"Willie Dixon." pag. 1-5. Online.  Available http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/Author=DixonWillie/jazznetA.html. 

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