Archive for November, 2018

Willie Dixon’s “29 Ways”

“The blues are the roots of all American music.”
Willie Dixon

Willie Dixon

Willie Dixon (1915-1992) was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi and his mother often rhymed things she said, a habit young Willie soon imitated. He sang in the Baptist Church from the age of four and, as a teenager, sang in a gospel quintet called The Union Jubilee Singers. Always the businessman, he started adapting his poems into songs that he sold to local musicians.

Dixon moved to Chicago in 1936 and, thanks to his 6’6”, 250 lb frame, became the Illinois State Heavyweight Boxing Champion (Novice Division) and was even Joe Louis’ sparring partner for a while!

Dixon played and sang in various groups, perfecting his technique on the upright bass, until the advent of World War II. He refused conscription into military service as a conscientious objector, saying he would not fight for a nation in which institutionalized racism and racist laws were prevalent. Dixon was jailed 10 months for his beliefs.

Willie Dixon signed with Chess Records as a recording artist but he began performing less, being more involved with administrative tasks for the label. From 1948 to the early 60s, his output and influence were prodigious. By 1951, he was a full-time employee at Chess, where he acted as producer, talent scout, session musician, and staff songwriter. He was also a producer for Checker Records, a subsidiary of Chess. From late 1956 to 1959, he worked in a similar capacity for Cobra Records, producing early singles by Otis Rush, Magic Sam and Buddy Guy. He later recorded for Bluesville Records and ran his own record label, Yambo Records, and its two subsidiaries, Supreme and Spoonful.

Dixon is considered one of the key figures in the creation of Chicago blues. He helped far too many artists with way too many great compositions to list here, songs that have lifted these artists to the highest echelons of the blues. Some of the biggest stars of the blues owe their careers to Willie Dixon – Muddy Waters’ signature song “Hoochie Coochie Man” was written by Willie Dixon, as was Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful”, “Evil”, “Back Door Man”, and “Little Red Rooster.” Willie Dixon is so omnipresent that “29 Ways” is the fourth of his compositions that we record on this site even though it’s the first time I speak about him! See the Archives at the right of this page for April 2018 (Little Walter’s “My Babe”), October and July 2017 (Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me” and “Bring It On Home.”)

With the simple eloquence that was a hallmark of his songs, Dixon said “The blues are the roots and the other musics are the fruits. It’s better keeping the roots alive, because it means better fruits from now on. The blues are the roots of all American music.” In 1977, unhappy with the small royalties paid by Arc Music, Chess’ publishing company, Dixon and Muddy Waters sued Arc and, with the proceeds from the generous out-of-court settlement, founded their own publishing company, Hoochie Coochie Music. In 1987, Dixon reached an out-of-court settlement with the rock band Led Zeppelin after suing for plagiarism in the band’s use of his music in “Bring It On Home” and lyrics from his composition “You Need Love”, used in the band’s recording of “Whole Lotta Love.”

In his later years, Dixon became a tireless ambassador for the blues and a vocal advocate for its practitioners, founding the Blues Heaven Foundation, which works to preserve the legacy of the blues and to secure copyrights and royalties for blues musicians who were exploited in the past.

Willie Dixon won a Grammy Award and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall Of Fame. “29 Ways”, like a lot of his compositions, combines humourous witty lyrics with irresistably spirited music. The song became the signature piece of the sorely missed Canadian bluesman King Biscuit Boy (Richard Newell, 1944 – 2003).

 

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitars, MIDI guitar (piano)
Alrick Huebener – upright bass
Roch Tassé – drums

 

29 Ways

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