Archive for Lafayette Leake

Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Willie Dixon

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags , , , , on August 5, 2010 by 30daysout

My sister’s been sleeping in these days – she didn’t get a job this summer and she’s been hanging around the house all day.  So I haven’t been able to sneak in and see what she has in her record collection.  So today I have a dusty, forgotten album from my own closet, one that I had to reach way in the back to locate.

It’s Peace? by Chicago bluesman Willie Dixon, and it came out in 1971.  Now Dixon is one of the all-time great American songwriters – he penned such blues classics as “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Evil,” “Spoonful,” “Back Door Man,” “Little Red Rooster,” “My Babe,” “Wang Dang Doodle” and many more.  As performed by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson, these songs put Chicago and Chess Records on the map in the 1950s and influenced thousands of young rockers in the 1960s.

Willie Dixon’s fingerprint on rock and roll is indisputable.  Not only did he work with seminal rockers like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, but songs by Dixon were covered by bands like the Rolling Stones, the Doors and Jimi Hendrix (and stolen by Led Zeppelin).   But while he is considered one of the all-time great songwriters, as a performer he’s not that great.  He can carry a tune and he has a passable sing-shout style appropriate for blues, but when guys like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf are in the same room a singer like Dixon doesn’t have a chance.

So we get to Peace? which was recorded by Dixon for his own label, Yambo, in the early 1970s.  By this time Chess had gone into decline as a label and in fact it was sold in 1969 to General Recorded Tape (GRT).  The classic blues artists were having a hell of a time getting attention with their albums but people like Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry were doing OK on the revival tour circuit.  Dixon thought it would be cool to get all timely and write songs that had some social significance for the time.

Good idea, but that means the music would have a relatively short shelf life.  “Peace” is an agreeable shuffle and it’s still fairly listenable today because its lyrics are broadly written:  “Peace is what I’m tryin’ to get/Peace I haven’t found it yet/Peace all the world needs/A peace for you, a peace for me.”  And with its sweet female chorus and fat horn section, this is a long way from the Wolf’s electric Chicago blues.

“It’s In The News” gets more topical, name-dropping Richard Nixon and Chiang Kai-shek to tell the story of Nixon’s reaching out to China with his so-called “ping pong diplomacy.”  The song is a mess; Dixon attempts to interpret world events in a down-home language, punctuating his verses with the chorus “It’s in the news/Everybody in the world got some kinda blues.”   And that’s the song message – it comes off about as profound and deep as the local loudmouth down at the corner bar.

Continue reading