Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Willie Dixon (1915-1992)
William James "Willie" Dixon's (July 1, 1915, Vicksburg, MI - January 29, 1992, Burbank, CA) mother Daisy often rhymed the things she said, a habit Dixon imitated. At the age of 7, he became an admirer of a band that featured pianist Little Brother Montgomery. Dixon was first introduced to blues when he served time on prison farms in Mississippi as an early-teenager. He learned how to sing harmony as a teen as well, from local carpenter Leo Phelps. Dixon sang bass in Phelps' group, The Jubilee Singers, a local gospel quartet that regularly appeared on the Vicksburg radio station WQBC. Dixon began adapting poems he was writing into songs, and even sold some of them to local music groups.
Dixon left Mississippi for Chicago in 1936. A man of considerable stature, at 6 and a half feet and weighing over 250 pounds, he took up boxing; he was so successful that he won the Illinois State Golden Gloves Heavyweight Championship (Novice Division) in 1937.
Dixon turned professional as a boxer and worked briefly as Joe Louis' sparring partner. After four fights, Dixon left boxing after getting into a fight out of ring with his manager over being cheated out of money.
Dixon met Leonard "Baby Doo" Caston at the boxing gym where they would harmonize at times. Caston built him his first bass fiddle, made of a tin can and one string. Dixon quickly learned the guitar.
Dixon began performing around Chicago and with Baby Doo, helped to form the Five Breezes, a group that blended blues, jazz, and vocal harmonies. Dixon's progress in learning to play the bass was halted when he resisted the draft during World War II as a conscientious objector and was imprisoned for ten months.
After the war, he formed the group Four Jumps of Jive and then reunited with Caston, forming the Big Three Trio, who went on to record for Columbia Records.
In 1948, Dixon signed to Chess Records as a recording artist, but began performing less and became more involved with the label. By 1951, he was a full time employee at Chess where acted as producer, A&R talent scout, session musician, and staff songwriter.
He wrote three songs made famous by Muddy Waters: I Just Want to Make Love to You (which later also became a hit for the 1970's rock band Foghat), Hoochie Coochie Man (recorded many times, including a version by The Allman Brothers Band), and I'm Ready.
Hoochie Coochie Man (1954) was first performed by Muddy Waters. The song was a major hit upon its release, reaching number eight on Billboard magazine's Black Singles chart.
Muddy Waters - vocals, guitar
Little Walter - harmonica
Otis Spann - piano
Jimmy Rogers - guitar
Willie Dixon - bass
Fred Below - drums
His relationship with the label was sometimes strained, although his spell there continued to the early 1960s. During this time his output, and influence was prodigious.
Indeed, he once claimed "I am the blues." An arrogant statement, 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.
He was also a producer for 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, 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. 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 and roll.
Dixon's genius as a songwriter, his most enduring gift to the blues, lay in refurbishing archaic Southern motifs, often of magic and country folkways and sometimes derived from earlier artists like Charlie Patton, in contemporary arrangements, to produce songs with both the sinew of the blues, and the agility of pop.
British R&B bands of the 1960's constantly drew on the Dixon songbook for inspiration.
In December 1964, The Rolling Stones reached #1 in the UK Singles Chart with their cover version of Dixon's, "Little Red Rooster".
In addition, as his songwriting and production work started to take a backseat, his organizational ability was utilized, putting together all-star, Chicago based blues ensembles for work in Europe.
His health deteriorated in the 1970's and 1980's, due to long-term diabetes, and eventually his leg had to be amputated.
Dixon was inducted at the inaugral session of the Blues Foundation's ceremony, into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980.
Dixon died of heart failure in Burbank, California on January 29, 1992, and was buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.
One of Led Zeppelin's biggest hits, Whole Lotta Love, is based upon Dixon's You Need Love.
[Willie Dixon - Hoochie-Coochie Man / 12-Bar Blues]
Lester William Polsfuss (June 9, 1915 - August 12, 2009) -- known as Les Paul - was an American jazz and country guitarist, songwriter and inventor. He was a pioneer in the development of the solid-body electric guitar which "made the sound of rock and roll possible."
He is credited with many recording innovations. Although he was certainly not the first to use the technique (having been preceeded by the French musique concrete composers and Edgar Varese), his early experiments with overdubbing (also known as sound on sound), delay effects such as tape delay, phasing effects, and multitrack recording were among the first to attract widespread attention.
His innovative talents extended into his playing style, including licks, trills, chording sequences, fretting techniques and timing, which set him apart from his contemporaries and inspired many guitarists of the present day.
He recorded with his wife Mary Ford in the 1950's and they sold millions of records.
Among his many honors, Paul is one of a handful of artists with a permanent, stand-alone exhibit in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
He is prominently named by the music museum on its website as an "architect" and a "key inductee" along with Sam Phillips and Alan Freed.
[8917 T. Monk / 8915 Dixon / 8913 Britten]