Top 10 Willie Dixon Songs

Willie Dixon Songs

Feature Photo: Len Carlson, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Our Top 10 Willie Dixon Songs presents the best Willie Dixon songs like “I’m Your Hoochie Cooche Man,” “Little Red Rooster,” “My Babe,” and more. Born on July 1, 1915, as one of fourteen siblings in Vicksburg, Mississippi, William James Dixon grew up in a household that thrived on music. While growing up, he adopted the habit of rhyming his words in dialogue and was a big fan of a pianist known as Little Brother Montgomery. While he was a teenager serving time on Mississippi’s prison farms, he heard blues music for the first time. This musical style, combined with his gospel background, earned him a spot on the Union Jubilee Singers quintet. Vocally performing in bass, Dixon was part of a gospel-singing group that became regular performers on a local radio station. In 1936, left Mississippi for Chicago, Illinois

Big Dixon

With a height of six foot six and a weight of 250 pounds, Willie Dixon had the stature and interest to take up boxing. It was a sport he was good enough at to win the 1937 Golden Gloves Heavyweight Championship in Illinois State’s novice division. After this, he briefly turned pro, only to abandon the sport at a professional level after getting into a financial argument with his manager at the time. Despite the brief boxing career, Dixon still had a love for music. While he was still in high school, he learned how to harmonize, a practice he’d team up with Leonard Caston. The two met at a boxing gym where Caston encouraged Dixon to consider pursuing a music career instead of boxing.

While performing with Caston, Dixon learned how to play bass, as well as the guitar. He and Caston later put together a musical group, The Five Breezes, in 1939. The musical style of blues, jazz, and vocal harmonies was performed at various venues until the events of World War II brought that to an end. When Dixon refused to be inducted into the military, he was put in prison for ten months. The reason why he opted not to become a soldier was because of the racism he felt was too prominent in American culture. When the war was over, he founded Four Jumps of Five before reuniting with Caston to form the Big Three Trio.

Chess Records

In 1951, after working with Chess Records as a recording artist, Dixon became a full-time employee where he served in a number of roles that resulted in him performing less. From 1948 until 1965, he remained with the label. It was also during this time he also worked for Cobra Records, writing songs for their collection of recording artists as well. In the late 1960s, he ran his own recording label, Yambo Records, until the mid-1970s, before teaming up with Muddy Waters to start up Hoochie Coochie Music in 1977. That paring resulted after a successful lawsuit against Chess Records and their publishing label, Arc Music, for the lack of royalties both artists received from them.

Willie Dixon Legacy

Willie Dixon became a legend as one of the most influential people that shaped American culture after the conclusion of World War II. As one of the most prolific singers and songwriters at the time, he played an instrumental role in Chicago blues. He also heavily influenced the genre of rock and roll music. Much of Dixon’s music has been performed, recorded, and released by a flurry of artists from various genres that will go as far as crediting him as an American hero. Other musical legends, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and Muddy Waters each performed some of Dixon’s greatest hits during an era when the American audience found themselves captivated by such musical talent.

While at the peak of his career, Willie Dixon was among the most prolific songwriters in the music industry. With over five hundred songs written, he was one of the most influential figures that served an instrumental role in shaping American pop culture. This included triggering the genre known as rock and roll as he was among a collection of notable artists whose combined talent inspired scores of performers and recording artists worldwide. When his diabetic condition began to take its toll on the man during the late 1970s, the decline in his health later resulted in the amputation of one of his legs.

On January 29, 1992, Dixon died due to heart failure and was buried in the state of Illinois. Prior to his death, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and won a 1989 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Recording for his album, Hidden Charms. Posthumously, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, as well as the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame in 2013.

Of the music listed as some of Willie Dixon’s best, even as other artists recorded the music he wrote, he also sang versions of his own. As a singer, he was every bit as talented as he was as a songwriter.

Top 10 Willie Dixon Songs

#10 – Bring it On Home

Penned by Willie Dixon and recorded in 1963 by Sonny Boys Williamson II, “Bring it on Home” wasn’t actually released as a single until 1966. This actually became one of the songs that were involved in a lawsuit that was filed against Led Zeppelin when Chess Records’ Arc Music accused the band of recording this song on their 1969 Led Zeppelin II album without permission. According to Led Zeppelin, they recorded the song as their way of paying homage to Sonny Boy Williamson II.

Later, Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters teamed up to file a lawsuit against Arc Music for allowing groups to use the songs they wrote and recorded without compensating them with royalties that were due to them. This was a singing blues number that featured the smooth vocals of Williamson at his best, even though it never did become an official hit on any of the music charts at the time.

#9 – Diddy Wah Diddy

Bo Diddley and Willie Dixon wrote “Diddy Wah Diddy” together, then had it recorded in 1955, then released in 1956. The song revolved around a make-belief town that served as the home for the character in the musical story, “Diddy Wah Diddy.” The song was incredibly popular at the time of its release and was covered by a number of artists, including Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. What made the original such a standout favorite was the mix of instruments that included the maracas and harmonica, as well as Willie Dixon’s bass performance.

#8 – If the Sea Was Whiskey

While Willie Dixon was part of The Big Three Trio, “If the Sea Was Whiskey” was a recording that was released in 1947. For Dixon, he just got out of a ten-month sentence in jail after refusing to join the military overseas to fight in World War II. The inspiration behind the song came from a series of blues favorites, including Tex Ritter’s “Rye Whiskey,” and Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Match Box Blues.”

#7 – I Can’t Quit You Baby

In 1956, Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” was first recorded by Chicago blues legend, Otis Rush. This slow bluesy number became an all-time favorite and Chicago blues standard. The lyrical tale about the ramifications that come about after engaging in an adulterous relationship was a favorite when it was first released and still remains as a favorite today. Rush’s version of “I Can’t Quit You Baby” was this first recording before updating the song in 1966.

In 1969, Led Zeppelin covered this for their debut album. The original recording, however, was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1994, noting Willie Dixon’s contribution revealed the talent of Otis Rush in a manner that instrumentally played a role in the blues legend becoming a major fan favorite. Several recording artists were not only inspired by Wilie Dixon and Otis Rush, but by “I Can’t Quit You Baby” as they recorded versions of their own over the years.

#6 – You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover

In 1962, Bo Diddley performed the hit single, “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover.” Also titled, “You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover,” it was one of several songs written by Willie Dixon. It actually served as the final song performed by Bo Diddley that would appear on the music charts as a hit. What set this song apart from the rest of Bo Diddley’s hits was it didn’t share the usual beat style that made him so famous, to begin with. It was a rhythmic blues number that highlighted Bo Diddley’s vocal style in its range between melodic and non-melodic singing. When it was released as a single, it became a number twenty-one hit on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and a number forty-eight hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. Since then, it has been covered many times over by a long list of recording artists that were inspired by Dixon’s songwriting talent enough to make versions of their own.

#5 – My Babe

In 1955, “My Babe” was a Chicago blues song that was written by Willie Dixon and performed by Little Walter. Within just days after Ray Charles released his popular and controversial “I’ve Got a Woman,” “My Babe” kicked it out of its number one position on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hop-Hop Songs chart and remained there for five weeks. It was the first and only occasion Dixon wrote a song that would become a number one hit on the R&B music charts.

Foghat recorded a great version of this song in the 1970s. It also served as the biggest hit in his songwriting career, and it was Little Walter’s biggest hit as a recording artist. In 2008, “My Babe” joined the ranks of many Willie Dixon songs as an inductee into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in the Classic of Blues Recording category. Like much of Dixon’s music, it has become a blues standard that has been covered by a series of artists from a variety of musical genres.

#4 – Spoonful

“Spoonful” was a song written by Willie Dixon that revolved around a man’s insatiable cravings to satisfy his sinful habits. First recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1960, it became one of Dixon’s most memorable songs of all time. Etta James and Harvey Fuqua later recorded this as a duet in 1961 and it became a number twelve hit for them on what is now referred to as the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Then, in 1967, Britain’s Cream popularized it even further with their versions.

However, nothing beats Wolf’s eerie-like, raspy vocals as he brought “Spoonful” to such a powerful level that it still remains unmatched to this day. For Dixon, the inspiration behind “Spoonful” came from a collection of 1920s-era songs that gave the songwriter more than enough material to work with as a tune of his own. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognized Wolf’s version of “Spoonful” as one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. It was also ranked as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time with Rolling Stone Magazine. In 2010, it was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame as a Classic of Blues Recording.

#3 – Little Red Rooster

Written by Willie Dixon, then performed by Howlin’ Wolf in 1961, “Little Red Rooster” was first released as “The Red Rooster.” This Chicago blues number featured Wolf at his finest, along with the slide guitar performance that served as the song’s winning combination to turn it into what became a cult favorite at the time. In 1963, Sam Cooke turned “Little Red Rooster” into an uptempo pop and R&B favorite, especially in the UK where it became a number one hit on its official music chart. The popularity of Chicago blues music spiked even further in the UK after Willie Dixon and Howlin Wolf took part in a tour in that nation with the American Folk Blues Festival. In 1964,

The Rolling Stones turned “Little Red Rooster” into an electric blues number that became the one and only blues-style song to reach the top of the UK Singles Chart. No other blues-style song has been able to accomplish this since then.

#2 – I Just Want to Make Love to You

For Muddy Waters, “I Just Want to Make Love to You” became one of his signature hits after it was released as a single in 1954. At the time, it was released as “Just Make Love to Me.” It was one of many songs Willie Dixon wrote that not only became a hit after it was released but a blues standard. On the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, it peaked as high as number four. Dixon performed on bass while Waters lyrically performed this hit into what became an all-time fan favorite. In 1972, an inspired Foghat covered this song as part of their debut as a band specializing in the niche of blues-style rock.

It became a number eighty-three hit for the band in 1972 on the US Billboard Hot 100 before an edited version would be released in 1977 would turn it into a number thirty-three hit. For Dixon and Waters, this song became one of their signature songs that also inspired Etta James to record her own version of it in 1960. It would be her version that would be featured in a Diet Coke advertising campaign that was held in the UK in 1996.

#1 – Hoochie Coochie Man

Originally written as “I’m Your Hoochie Cooche Man,” “Hoochie Coochie Man” was a song written by Willie Dixon and first recorded in 1954 by Muddy Waters. It was a song Dixon felt was perfect for Waters. Since it became one of his signature songs that remains one of the most beloved blues standards of all time, both Waters and the fans of Chicago blues music seem to agree. The stop-time riffs that were used in this song paved the way for future music to be recorded in the same fashion, regardless of genre.

As for the lyrical tale behind “Hoochie Coochie Man,” it revolved around a man’s sexual appetite and a woman practicing voodoo magic. The success of this 1954 release triggered several artists from different genres to either record their own version of it or use it as sample music in other recordings. This song was recognized in 2004 by the US Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry for its cultural impact on American society.

 

Top 10 Willie Dixon Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022

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