Willie Dixon (July 1, 1915 – January 29,
1992) was a well-known American blues bassist,
singer, songwriter, and record producer.
He was born as William James Dixon, in Vicksburg,
Mississippi. He was a producer for Chess and
Checker Records in Chicago and is considered
one of the key figures in the creation of Chicago
blues. He worked with Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters,
Howlin' Wolf, Led Zeppelin, 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.
He had a colorful life. In his teens he had
many scrapes with the law, and decided to hitchhike
his way to Chicago. A giant of a man, he took
up boxing, and was so successful as to win the
Golden Gloves heavywight title in 1936. His
progress in learning to play the bass was halted
when he resisted the World War II draft, and
was imprisoned for ten months. After the war,
he re-united with his bass playing tutor, Baby
Doo Caston, forming the Big Three Trio, who
went on to record for Columbia Records. Dixon
subsequently signed for Chess Records as a recording
artist, but by 1951 he was a full time employee
of the label. His relationship with them was
sometimes strained, although his spell there
covered the years from 1948 to the early 1960s.
During this time his output, and influence was
prodigious. Indeed, he once claimed "I
am the blues." This may seem a little arrogant,
but there is no doubt that he was one of the
major influences on the genre, through his original
and varied songwriting, live performances, recording,
and copious production work. He later recorded
on Bluesville Records.
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 'n' roll.
Dixon's genius as a songwriter lay in refurbishing
archaic Southern motifs, in contemporary arrangements.
This produced songs with the backbone of the
blues, and the agility of pop music. British
R&B bands of the 1960s constantly drew on
the Dixon songbook for inspiration.
In addition, as his songwriting and production
work started to take a backseat, his organisational
ability was utilised, putting together all-star,
Chicago based blues ensembles for work in Europe.
His health deteriorated in the 1970s and 1980s,
due to long-term diabetes, and eventually his
leg had to be amputated. Willie Dixon died in
1992 and was posthumously inducted into the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. As the songlist
below demonstrates, his work was covered by
a varied range of artists, from the blues, to
modern day rock music practitioners.
Willie Dixon died of heart failure in Burbank,
California in 1992 and was buried in the Burr
Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.