300 turn out to celebrate Dixon, the blues

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 14, 2002

Vasti Jackson gets the crowd to participate in Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” during the “I Am The Blues” celebration jam Sunday at the Vicksburg Convention Center. (The Vicksburg Post/Melanie Duncan)

[10/14/02]Willie Dixon spent most of his life in Chicago belting out the blues, but his name and legend have returned to his native Vicksburg.

Dixon, who was born on July 1, 1915, and died on Jan. 29, 1992, will be honored today by the City of Vicksburg at 4 p.m. when the street connecting South and Veto in the downtown area will be named in his memory.

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About 300 people listened to drums, guitar, keyboard and harmonica during “I Am The Blues,” a celebration jam at the Vicksburg Convention Center Sunday. Dixon’s wife, Marie, was given a key to the city, and July 1 was proclaimed Willie Dixon Day.

“Speaking for Mr. Dixon, I think he’d say it’s time and that he knew blues would get recognition,” said Marie Dixon. “I don’t have the words to express how I feel. He always said blues was the root of all American music and that the rest was the fruit of that.”

Dixon was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. Tuesday, Willie Dixon will be recognized during the 2002 Peavine Awards Ceremony in Cleveland. In 1982, he established the Blues Heaven Foundation, which supports musicians through scholarships, song and lyric royalty education.

“Dixon did more to change blues than any other artist,” said Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens. “Vicksburg has done a great job of marketing itself as a Civil War place. Now, we’d like to make it a home for the blues.”

Dixon wrote more than 500 songs during his nearly 70-year musical career. Many of his songs are performed by Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton and the Grateful Dead.

Dixon’s son, Butch, who played keyboard during Sunday’s jam, said he even made sure his children knew the blues.

“If you lived in his house, you had to play,” Butch Dixon said. “I play anything but flute.”

During the celebration jam, Vicksburg blues artists Bud Carson and mother-daughter pair Lillian Almond and Lucille Almond Ridges performed Dixon hits such as “Little Red Rooster,” “Built For Comfort,” “Hoochie-Choochie Man” and “I Just Want to Make Love To You.”

Other blues performers were Casey and the Hounds, Vasti Jackson, Patrice Moncell, J.T. Watkins, the B-Kats, Jesse Robinson and Jackie Bell.

“These songs are great,” Jackson said. Jackson said that if Willie Dixon had never been in blues music, it would be, “like having a body without lungs or a liver or any other major organ. It’d be incomplete.

“He was a gentle giant,” he said. “Physically, he was enormous, but he was so kind and had this huge, cherubic smile. He had a warm, calm strength.”

Dixon was bandleader for Chess Records in Chicago, where he composed, produced, arranged, recorded, scouted new talent and performed blues music during the 1950s and ’60s.

During the 1970s, Dixon recorded albums on the Ovation, Columbia and Yambo labels and toured. In 1981, he published “I Am the Blues,” an autobiography.