Widely regarded as the premier blues composer of the post-World War II era, Willie Dixon (born July 1, 1915, in Vicksburg, Mississippi) was also probably the single most influential figure in shaping the Chicago blues sound of the Chess Records heyday in his roles as writer, arranger, producer, and bassist. The recordings of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Koko Taylor, Otis Rush and innumerable others bore the Dixon stamp. He frankly admitted that such artists could perform his songs better than he himself could; hence he did little recording on his own (apart from some early work with blues harmony groups like the Big Three Trio) until fairly late in the game. His growing renown for songs like Little Red Rooster, Seventh Son and Hoochie Coochie Man enabled him to start touring and recording with his Chicago Blues All Stars from the late ’60s through the ’80s. Much of his important later writing was in a socially conscious vein, dedicated to world peace and to improving the human condition. Dixon founded the Blues Heaven Foundation to secure the blues its rightful respect, protection and recognition and to educate present and future generations about what he liked to call ‘the facts of life’ — the blues. Dixon, who decided to leave the cold Chicago climate behind, spent his final years in sunny southern California, where he passed away on Jan. 29, 1992, in Burbank. Blues singers and admirers paraded in a New Orleans-style procession at Dixon’s funeral in Chicago, where Louis Farrakhan spoke of “the wound that is the blues” in an oratory Dixon no doubt would have loved.

— Jim O’Neal