"Music is a higher revelation than philosophy."

-- composer Ludwig van Beethoven

Music reviews

kaleidosound by Ken Gaillot

Willie Dixon: The Chess Box

One Blues Album

Artist Willie Dixon et al.
Title The Chess Box
Dates 1951 - 1968
Label Chess

If you could only buy one blues album, what a sorry state that would be. But you have to start somewhere, and the Dixon box is a great place to start.

Dixon was the main songwriter behind Chess Records in the '50s and '60s, and Chess was the main record label behind the Chicago sound. All the greats recorded Dixon's lyrics, and are represented on this 2-CD set: Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Otis Rush, Little Milton and of course Dixon himself.

Little Walter's deep vocals shine on "My Babe" and "Mellow Down Easy," and a party atmosphere prevails on his "Dead Presidents" ("I ain't broke, but I'm badly bent, everybody loves them dead presidents").

Dixon's blues tend to be upbeat, party blues, kick-your-butt kind of music. Blues bravado is apparent in blues classics like "Hoochie Coochie Man," "Seventh Son" and "I'm Ready" ("I'm drinkin' TNT, I'm smokin' dynamite, I hope some screwball starts a fight, 'cuz I'm ready").

The material here often pushes the border between blues and rock'n'roll. Bo Diddley's enthusiastic "You Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover" nearly dances its way through the air.

Down-home earthy blues are here as well, from the bad-luck lyrics of "Third Degree," to the rolling melody of "Walkin' the Blues" to the punctuated rhythm of the Howlin' Wolf classic "I Ain't Superstitious."

Dixon impressed many musicians, including rockers such as The Doors (who covered the "Back Door Man" represented here), The Rolling Stones ("Little Red Rooster") and Cream ("Spoonful"). Led Zeppelin borrowed heavily from Dixon's material: "You Need Love" became "Whole Lotta Love," while "You Shook Me," "Bring It On Home" and "I Can't Quit You Baby" were covers. Dixon eventually sued for royalties -- right after his friends Page and Plant sold their interest in the Zep songs.

If you can't afford to buy the entire Chess catalog, the Dixon box is the next best thing. Highly recommended.