Today is the birthday of the greatest of electric blues songwriter/ lyricists Willie Dixon (1915-1992). Introduced to the blues on a Mississippi prison farm, he later learned to sing, and play guitar and upright bass. For a time the 6 foot five and a half, 250 lb. Dixon worked as a boxer, but by the late 30s he had become a professional musician. By the late 1940s he began to work at Chess Records and other labels, as session musician, staff songwriter, producer and talent scout, supporting the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, etc. He had a knack for adapting the themes and subject matter from older blues source material, shaping and modernizing it for contemporary audiences.
His classic songs include “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “Little Red Rooster”, “Spoonful”, “Back Door Man” and “I Just Want to make Love to You”, but dozens more. A master of economy, double entendre, and suggestion, he could pack more meaning into two or three lines than some writers manage to put in entire novels. Some of my favorite lines come from “Back Door Man”…the lines say so many things at once:
I was ‘cused of murder in the first degree;
Judge’s wife said, “Let the man go free”.
And then of course the famous chorus, which may (or may not) descend to actual pornography:
I am a Back Door Man.
The men don’t know, but the little girls understand.
They just don’t write ’em like that anymore!
To learn more about show business, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc