Willie Dixon was a prolific blues songwriter with more than 500 compositions to his credit. Born and raised in Mississippi, he rode the rails to Chicago during the Great Depression and became the primary blues songwriter and producer for Chess Records. Dixon's songs literally created the so-called "Chicago blues sound" and were recorded by such blues artists as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, Koko Taylor, and many others.
Willie Dixon was born on July 1, 1915, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Vicksburg was a lively town located on the Mississippi River midway between New Orleans and Memphis. As a youth, Dixon heard a variety of blues, dixieland, and ragtime musicians performing on the streets, at picnics and other community functions, and in the clubs near his home where he would listen to them from the sidewalk.
Dixon grew up in an integrated neighborhood on the northern edge of Vicksburg, where his mother ran a small restaurant. The family of seven children lived behind the restaurant, and next to the restaurant was Curley's Barrelhouse. Listening from the street, Dixon, then about eight years old, heard bluesmen Little Brother Montgomery and Charley Patton perform there along with a variety of ragtime and dixieland piano players.
Dixon was only twelve when he first landed in jail and was sent to a county farm for stealing some fixtures from an old torn-down house. He recalled, "That's when I really learned about the blues. I had heard 'em with the music and took 'em to be an enjoyable thing but after I heard these guys down there moaning and groaning these really down-to-earth blues, I began to inquire about 'em.... I really began to find out what the blues meant to black people, how it gave them consolation to be able to think these things over and sing them to themselves or let other people know what they had in mind and how they resented various things in life."
About a year later Dixon was caught by the local authorities near Clarksdale, Mississippi, and arrested for hoboing. He was given thirty days at the Harvey Allen County Farm, located near the infamous Parchman Farm prison. At the Allen Farm, Dixon saw many prisoners being mistreated and beatenDixon himself was mistreated at the county farm, receiving a blow to his head that he said made him deaf for about four years. He managed to escape, though, and walked to Memphis, where he hopped a freight into Chicago. He stayed there briefly at his sister's house, then went to New York for a short time before returning to Vicksburg.