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The Chess Box by Willie Dixon

Label: MCA / Chess Records.
Release Date: Jan 1, 1988; Nov 14, 1988.
Releases: 1988, 1990, 1997.
Recording Time: 110 minutes.
Recording Date: 1951 - April 24, 1965.
Release Info: Compilation Studio Recording.

Styles: Chicago Blues, Electric Chicago Blues, Regional Blues, Early R&B, Electric Blues, Slide Guitar Blues.

This was the most unusual, and probably the most difficult to assemble of MCA's Chess Box series, mostly because of the unusual nature of Willie Dixon's contribution to Chess Records. To be sure, Dixon rates a place in the history of the label right alongside that of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Little Walter, but his role was more subtle than that of a performer (indeed, two of the half-dozen recordings here that feature Dixon as a singer were previously unreleased). So he is all over this two-CD set, as a songwriter, producer, and bassist, and occasionally as a singer as well, but the unifying element are the Dixon songs, and he is the only blues songwriter to be honored by a major label with a retrospective of this type. Since he was not the performer on most of this material, but, rather, was working to mesh his material with the styles and sensibilities of a vast range of players, the sounds contained on these two CDs are a lot more varied than on any of the other Chess Box releases -- amplified Delta blues, big band, Mills Brothers-style harmony blues, jazz-influenced jump blues, and near-pop style R&B are all here; guitar pyrotechnics by Muddy Waters or Hubert Sumlin (on the Wolf's records), vocal acrobatics by Little Walter, and rippling performances by Koko Taylor illuminate this set throughout. While some of it, such as Muddy Waters' single of "Hoochie Coochie Man"; Little Walter's "My Babe"; Howlin' Wolf's performances of "Evil," "Spoonful," "Little Red Rooster," and "Back Door Man"; and Lowell Fulson's version of "Do Me Right" are easily available elsewhere, a lot else of what's here is genuinely rare and most enticing -- Dixon's own renditions of "Violent Love," "Crazy For My Baby," and "Pain In My Heart," in particular, are great records, lacking perhaps only a slight measure of the energy that a Muddy Waters brought to recording. Most of the set is concentrated on his blues work -- a pair of hot Bo Diddley sides ("Pretty Thing," "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover") that Dixon wrote are represented, but since he didn't write anything for Chuck Berry, that side of Dixon's history is left out, despite his having played bass on most of Berry's early recordings. Still, it's difficult to imagine anyone complaining over an "excuse" to bring some of the best sides of Muddy, Walter, the Wolf, Diddley, Taylor, Lowell Fulson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Sonny Boy Williamson, Otis Rush, and even Dixon's own '40s outfit, the Big Three together in one release. The sound is impeccable, holding up to standards even a dozen years later, and the set includes a well-illustrated and annotated booklet.
Review by Bruce Eder.

"The Chess Box" is a comprehensive box set with a 12-page booklet that includes extensive liner notes (including insights from Willie Dixon himself), and photos from 1941 to 1988.

In 1970, Willie Dixon released an album entitled "I Am The Blues". It was a brash claim, but if anyone in blues history could stand up to this bit of bravura, Dixon was the man. Over the course of his career, Willie Dixon penned a suitcase full of tunes that defined Chicago blues-easily the most influential strand of the blues in the post-war era. "Hoochie Coochie Man," "Spoonful," "I'm Ready," "Wang Dang Doodle," "Little Red Rooster," "I Ain't Superstitious," and "I Just Want to Make Love to You" are but a few of the dozens of instantly recognizable Dixon classics. With the "Chess Box", fans now have a nifty introduction to one of the blues' indisputable giants.

Dixon was a great bassist and songwriter but only an average singer. Fortunately, Chess has chosen to represent Dixon's career through others' classic recordings of his songs. With recordings by Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, Bo Diddley, and others, the Willie Dixon "Chess Box" is not only a great tribute to Dixon but also a great overview of Chicago blues history.

Credits: Billy Boy Arnold - harmonica; Harold Ashby - sax (tenor); Gene Barge - arranger, conductor, sax (tenor); Fred Below - drums; The Big Three Trio - performer, primary artist; Michael Bloomfield - guitar; Eddie Boyd - performer, piano, primary artist, vocals; Earl Brown - sax (alto); J.T. Brown - sax (tenor); Chester Burnett - composer; Paul Butterfield - harmonica; Calvin Carter - producer; Leonard Caston - guitar, piano, vocals; Eddie Chamblee - sax (tenor); Francis Clay - drums; Lee Cooper - guitar; Ernest Cotton - sax (tenor); Ollie Crawford - guitar, vocals (background); Little Sax Crowder - sax (tenor); Bo Diddley - guitar, performer, primary artist, vocals; Willie Dixon - bass, composer, guitar (acoustic), performer, primary artist, producer, vocals, vocals (background); Al Duncan - drums; Donald "Duck" Dunn - bass; Bill Emerson - composer; Lendon Flanagan - photography; Greg Fulginiti - mastering; Lowell Fulson - guitar, performer, primary artist, vocals; Jarrett Gibson - sax (baritone), sax (tenor); Lloyd Glenn - piano; Henry Gray - piano; Jerome Green - maracas, vocals (background); Buddy Guy - guitar, guitar (bass); William K. "Billy" Hadnott - bass; Donald Hankins - sax (baritone); Gary Hollis - digital transfers; Earl Hooker - guitar; Howlin' Wolf - harmonica, performer, primary artist, vocals; Clifton James - drums; Casey Jones - drums; Frank Kirkland - drums; Dick Lapalm - photography; Sam Lay - drums; Lafayette Leake - organ, piano; J.B. Lenoir - composer; Little Milton - guitar, performer, primary artist, vocals; Little Walter - harmonica, performer, primary artist, vocals; Robert Lockwood, Jr. - guitar; Willie Mabon - performer, piano, primary artist, vocals; Andy McKaie - compilation producer, reissue producer; Jack Meyers - bass (electric), guitar (bass); Matt "Guitar" Murphy - guitar, guitar (bass); Dave Myers - guitar; Bob Neely - sax (tenor); Odie Payne, Jr. - drums; Earl Phillips - drums; Milton Rector - bass (electric); Jimmy Rogers - guitar; Otis Rush - guitar, performer, primary artist, vocals; Don Snowden - compilation producer, liner notes; Otis Spann - piano; Hubert Sumlin - guitar; Koko Taylor - performer, primary artist, vocals; Johnny "Big Moose" Walker - organ, piano; Percy Walker - drums; Muddy Waters - guitar, performer, primary artist, vocals; Jody Williams - guitar; Johnny Williams - guitar; Sonny Boy Williamson II - performer, primary artist; Sonny Boy Williamson I - performer; Jimmy Witherspoon - performer, primary artist, vocals.

Tracks, Disc 1: 1) My Babe - (with Little Walter); 2) Violent Love - (previously unreleased, with The Big Three); 3) Third Degree - (with Eddie Boyd); 4) Seventh Son - (with Willie Mabon); 5) Crazy For My Baby - (previously unreleased); 6) Pain In My Heart - (previously unreleased); 7) I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man - (with Muddy Waters); 8) Evil - (with Howlin' Wolf); 9) Mellow Down Easy - (with Little Walter); 10) When The Lights Go Out - (with Jimmy Weatherspoon); 11) Young Fashioned Ways - (previously unreleased, with Muddy Waters); 12) Pretty Thing - (with Bo Diddley); 13) I'm Ready - (with Muddy Waters); 14) Do Me Right - (with Lowell Fulson); 15) I Just Want To Make Love To You - (with Muddy Waters); 16) Tollin' Bells - (with Lowell Fulson); 17) 29 Ways - (previously unreleased); 18) Walkin' The Blues.

Tracks, Disc 2: 1) Spoonful - (with Howlin' Wolf); 2) You Know My Love - (with Otis Rush); 3) You Can't Judge A Book By It's Cover - (with Bo Diddley); 4) I Ain't Superstitious - (with Howlin' Wolf); 5) You Need Love - (previously unreleased, with Muddy Waters); 6) Little Red Rooster - (with Howlin' Wolf); 7) Back Door Man - (with Howlin' Wolf); 8) Dead Presidents - (previously unreleased, with Little Walter); 9) Hidden Charms - (with Howlin' Wolf); 10) You Shook Me - (with Muddy Waters); 11) Bring It On Home - (with Sonny Boy Williamson); 12) 300 Pounds Of Joy - (with Howlin' Wolf); 13) Weak Brain, Narrow Mind - (previously unreleased); 14) Wang Dang Doodle - (with Koko Taylor); 15) Same Thing, The - (with Muddy Waters); 16) Built For Comfort - (with Howlin' Wolf); 17) I Can't Quit You Baby - (with Little Milton); 18) Insane Asylum - (with Koko Taylor).