Magazine article Guitar Player

Willie Dixon: Poet Laureate of Modern Blues

Magazine article Guitar Player

Willie Dixon: Poet Laureate of Modern Blues

Article excerpt

He was the poet laureate of modern blues, the man who wrote "Hoochie Coochie Man," "I'm Ready," "You Shook Me," "I Just Want To Make Love To You," "Evil," "Spoonful," "I Ain't Superstitious," "Back Door Man," and many other classic songs. Johnny Shines was probably echoing the sentiments of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, and other Dixon clients when he proclaimed, "Willie Dixon is the man who changed the style of the blues in Chicago. As a songwriter and producer, that man is a genius. Yes, sir! You want a hit song, go to Willie Dixon. Play it like he say play it, and sing it like he say sing it, and you damn near got a hit." Our interview took place in Chicago on April 21, 1980.

How do you write songs?

Most of the time I get a thing in my mind, the words that I would like to say and the expression that I would like to have them said in to get the best results. I would like the song to be part of life, because I've always felt like blues was the facts of life being expressed to people that didn't understand the other fellow's condition. This gives me the chance to say the things that I felt people would want other people to know. This is the way I mostly wrote my songs.

Would you usually hear the lick

first or the words?

It all depends. Most of the time if I was writing for an individual, why, I would kind of quiz him and get his feelings and his expressions, the way that he talked and sang, and how he felt about the things that I was gonna write about. Because the first thing you have to do is try to get something that he liked and that you feel the public would like at the same time. You try to get all these things together, and then match 'em with the feeling that he felt was best.

Say, for instance, here's a guy that's in a very good condition, and he's happy. He's in love, and he feels a certain way about a girl or something. You know he would want to say "I love you" or "I would do anything for you," like this. So you get these words together in some kind of poetic form where they can be properly understood. And then you find the music to go with it. Then the other way around, you might have a good tune in your mind that you wanna put to proper words, and you have to find the words to go with it. So it works both ways. So you want one that make the other stick out, just like a picture on the wall: If you have a good background, you want a good picture. You got a good picture, you want a good background. You want the contrast, where one will stick out from the other and attract the attention.

What are your favorites of the songs you've

written?

It looks like most of the time, it's the latest song that I'm involved in that I seem to be more proud of than the other ones, because it builds on the facts of life that exist today. …

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