Willie Dixon has been called “the poet laureate of the blues” and “the father of modern Chicago Blues.” He was indisputably the pre-eminent blues songwriter of his era, credited with writing more than 500 songs by the end of his life. Moreover, Dixon is a towering figure in the history and creation of Chicago Blues on other fronts. While on staff at Chess Records, Dixon produced, arranged, and played bass on sessions for Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Litter Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and others. In no small way, he served as a crucial link between the blues and rock ‘n roll.
Some of the now classic songs he wrote for other during his lengthy tenure at Chess include “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “I’m Ready” and “I Just Want to Make Love to You” (Muddy Waters); “Back Door Man”, “Spoonful” and “I Ain’t Superstitious” (Howlin’ Wolf); “My Babe” (Little Walter); and “Wang Dang Doodle” (Koko Taylor). Though he didn’t write for Chuck Berry, Dixon played bass on most of his early records. For a few years in the late 50’s, he also wrote for and worked with artists on the crosstown Cobra label, including such fledgling bluesmen as Otis Rush, Buddy Guy and Magic Sam.
Dixon returned to Chess in 1959, and the 60’s saw the full flowering of his talents there. In addition to writing and producing some of his greatest works during that decade, he recorded a series of albums in a duet format with Memphis Slim on the Folkways, Verve and Battles labels. His first album as a solo artist, Willie’s Blues, appeared on the Bluesville label in 1960. In his capacity as a staff producer at Chess, he wouldn’t get around to releasing a follow-up album under his own name until I Am the Blues appeared on Columbia Records in 1970. Albums followed from him at more regular intervals in subsequent years, culminating in the 1988 release of Hidden Charms, which won Dixon a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Recording.