Friday, July 24, 2009

He Is The Blues.

You may have heard Muddy Waters. You may have heard Howlin Wolf. I hope you've heard of Bo Diddley and there's no reason for you to be on this page if you haven't heard Chuck Berry. But Willie Dixon was the man behind them in their formative years. Be it songwriting, bass playing, producing or just generally coaching these superstars into the hardened professionals that they became. Dixon was a jack of all trades employed mostly by Chess records out of Chicago to do all the things that Co-owners and brothers Leonard and Phil Chess couldn't do. Which basically meant everything that didn't involve paper (aside from songwriting that is). He was A&R man, scouting out local talent at shit-house jukes on the South Side of Chicago. He was a songwriter, so empathetic that often he wrote songs from the point of view of and matching the personality of many blues men and women and often supplying the artist with their signature smash tunes. Muddy's "Hoochie Coochie Man", Wolf's "300 Pounds of Joy", Diddley's "You Can't Judge a Book By It's Cover" and many, many more. He was also a producer an arranger and a bass player. He famously rearanged Chuck Berry's "Maybeline" which bordered on a country and western tune and revved it up with a slapping, driving bass line putting the engine in the song, so to speak and essentially driving Berry to the top of the R&B charts and superstardom.
What "I Am The Blues" co-written with former LA Times critic Don Snowden gives the reader though, is the too often told tale of a man overworked and underpaid. Though literate and often more educated than his black peers around him, Dixon was the unfourtunate victim of being sheltered from publishing knowledge and the general ways of the music business at the top by his boss Leonard Chess. As a result, financial circumstances led him to keep quiet about it all in order to keep his job which he no doubt loved and preferred to other means of survival in 40's and 50's Chicago. Dixon pulls no punches here on the topic of Chess and his business techniques offering up tales of his Boss pulling money out of pocket to show what a good guy he was but then taking so much on the back end that by the time Chess had to close it's doors they were worth millions. A millionaire is something Dixon sadly never became. What this book tells us though is the story of a good natured, nurturing, patient and humble man whose poetry moved millions and whose legacy will no doubt be carried on through his songs that are now in the highest tier of blues standards.

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