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Mr. Dixon's Workshop

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Album Review

As a handy compilation of the prolific producer/songwriter/musician/A&R man's work for his non-Chess label clients, Mr. Dixon's Workshop is a captivating exploration into how productive Willie Dixon was on the '60s Chicago blues scene. While many of these tracks have appeared on other anthologies, specifically The Cobra Records Story box set, and some, like Otis Rush's "I Can't Quit You Baby," are ubiquitous, others are far more rare, making this a terrific collection of some relatively difficult to find music from one of post-war blues' most essential musicians. Charles Clark's pre-Howlin' Wolf version of "Hidden Charms," along with Jessie Fortune's "Too Many Cooks" —-the latter featuring young guitarist Buddy Guy and Big Walter Horton on harp — popularized later by Robert Cray, are just two of the dusty gems found here. Guy also shows up on an early, earthy 1958 solo recording of "Sit and Cry the Blues." The fascinating final track, a previously unreleased studio session, is comprised of three alternate takes and shows the development of Otis Rush's "My Love Will Never Die" from a stark, solo piano-based ballad to the raging slow blues with horns it became, which puts the listener in an intriguing fly-on-the-wall position. Magic Sam, Junior Wells, and even a young Betty Everette are here, but it's the deep catalog items from obscure bluesmen like Harold Burrage, Lee Jackson, and Buster Benton (whose fiery "Spider in My Stew," featuring Carey Bell on eerie harp, is one of the album's highlights) that are the most welcome finds. Interestingly, a very Jerry Lee Lewis-sounding Mickey Gilley romps through a rockabilly version of "My Babe." Dixon's own rubbery standup basslines, along with his distinctive songwriting, are the constants that tie these rather diverse artists together. Liner notes from the knowledgeable Bill Dahl provide pertinent background information; however, clear notation of who plays on each song is sadly missing. You have to search through the five pages of text in the poorly designed booklet. Otherwise this is a wonderful single-disc compilation exhibiting just how multifaceted and talented Willie Dixon was, even beyond his groundbreaking and better-known work for Chess.


Born: July 1, 1915 in Vicksburg, MS

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

Willie Dixon's life and work was virtually an embodiment of the progress of the blues, from an accidental creation of the descendants of freed slaves to a recognized and vital part of America's musical heritage. That Dixon was one of the first professional blues songwriters to benefit in a serious, material way -- and that he had to fight to do it -- from his work also made him an important symbol of the injustice that still informs the music industry, even at the end of the 20th century. A producer,...
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