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Widely acknowledged as “the poet laureate of the blues,” bassist-composer Willie Dixon joined the staff at Chess Records in the midst of a successful performing career with several pioneering blues acts. Up in Chicago, he became Chess’s top writer, churning out hits for Muddy Waters (“Hoochie Coochie Man,” “I’m Ready,” “I Just Wanna Make Love to You”), Howlin’ Wolf (“Little Red Rooster,” “I Ain’t Superstitious,” “Evil,” “Spoonful”), Little Walter (“My Babe”), Otis Rush (“I Can’t Quit You Baby”) and Koko Taylor (“Wang Dang Doodle”). In all, Dixon had more than 500 compositions to his credit.
He left Chess Records in 1970 and toured with the Chicago Blues All-Stars in the mid ‘70s. For this concert at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, recorded on Dec. 13, 1973, Dixon led a cast of All-Stars from the Windy City, including pianist Lafayette Leake, young harmonica ace Billy Branch (21 at the time), guitarist Buster Benton, drummer Clifton James, and his son Freddie Dixon on electric bass.
Following band introductions by Dixon and an energized instrumental romp, pianist Leake stepped forward to testify on his slow blues, “Fine Little Girl” (which sounds suspiciously similar to Buddy Guy’s “Suits Me to a Tee”), while also delivering some sparkling piano work.
Benton took over the vocals and delivered stinging licks on an earthy Chicago shuffle variation on Big Joe Turner’s “Wee Baby Blues.”
Benton next brought a soulful feeling to his vocals on T-Bone Walker’s “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong,” while also summoning up some B.B. and Albert King-inspired six-string work. Branch’s blues harp work here is the highlight.
The band tore through the upbeat Chicago shuffle “I’m Crazy for My Baby,” with Dixon on roughhewn vocals. At the conclusion of this infectious Dixon original, he tells the audience, “Yeah, I’m crazy for my baby. You’d be crazy for your baby if you your baby was putting down what my baby is putting down.”
Dixon and the All-Stars concluded their set with faithful renditions of “Rock Me Baby,” a tune covered by everyone from B.B. King and John Lee Hooker to Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and The Doors, and “Wang Dang Doodle,” a Dixon tune originally written in 1961 for Howlin’ Wolf and which became a big party-time hit for Koko Taylor in 1964 and subsequently served as her theme song for the next four decades.