Wrote seminal blues hits "Hoochie Coochie Man" and "Little Red Rooster"
He’s been called “the poet laureate of the blues” and “the father of modern Chicago blues” for good reason, what with classic songs like “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” “Little Red Rooster,” “I’m Ready,” "My Babe,” "Spoonful”, and "You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover,” recorded by the likes of fellow Chicago bluesmen Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter, not to mention rockers ranging from Bo Diddley to Bob Dylan, Cream, Jeff Beck, The Doors, Etta James, Adele, Van Morrison, The Kinks, the Grateful Dead, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones.
Indeed, Willie Dixon (born William James “Willie” Dixon on July 1, 1915 in Vicksburg, Miss.) is credited with writing over 500 songs—and serving as a vital link between blues and rock ‘n’ roll. He was exposed to gospel, blues and country & western music in his youth, when he began singing and writing songs. He moved to Chicago in 1936, where he was a boxer for a short time. An upright bass player, he also performed with Chicago recording bands including the Five Breezes, the Four Jumps of Jive and the Big Three Trio. At Chicago’s legendary Chess Records beginning in 1951, he served as a recording artist, session musician, in-house songwriter and staff musician, producing, arranging and playing bass on sessions for roster artists including Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson.
As an artist in his own right, his 1988 album Hidden Charms won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Recording. Meanwhile, “Hoochie Coochie Man,” which was first recorded by Muddy Waters and later by Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry and Jimmy Smith, went on to be recognized by The Blues Foundation and the Grammy Hall of Fame for its influence in pop music and in 2004, was selected for preservation by the U.S. Library of Congress National Recording Registry. “Little Red Rooster,” which was recorded by the Rolling Stones, Sam Cooke, the Grateful Dead, The Doors and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock & Roll.”
Dixon was inducted into The Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the “early influences” (pre-rock) category in 1994 (he died on January 29, 1992, at 76). He published his autobiography, I Am the Blues, in 1989, and in his later years he acted as a tireless ambassador of the blues and advocate for its practitioners: He founded the Blues Heaven Foundation to preserve the blues’ legacy and encourage future blues artists while supporting the welfare of senior blues musicians.
He also fought to secure copyrights and royalties for blues musicians who were exploited in the past, including himself: In 1987 he settled a plagiarism suit with Led Zeppelin involving their use of his music and lyrics.