Willie Dixon, blues innovator

Willie Dixon

Using conventional musical devices for blues compositions as a basis, Willie Dixon expanded the possibilities for blues songwriting by introducing elements from pop song forms, using a quatrain refrain text form with longer musical structures than a 12-bar form, and amalgamating the 12-bar/a-a-b form with the 16-bar/quatrain refrain form in different sections of a composition.

Dixon also helped artists such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Koko Taylor to intensify their public images; his development of their performing personae is relevant to the tradition of the blues as a secular religion, and Dixon’s casting of them originated in traditional black badman tales circulated in the postbellum South.

This according to Willie Dixon’s work on the blues: From the early recordings through the Chess and Cobra years, 19401971 by Mitsutoshi Inaba, a dissertation accepted by the University of Oregon in 2005.

Today is Dixon’s 100th birthday! Below, he sings his own Back door man, first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1960; the song is a classic example of Dixon’s innovations in blues song forms.

BONUS: The inimitable Howlin’ Wolf recording:

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers

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