He is the Blues . . .

Willie Dixon . . . and was certainly the single most important presence on the postwar Chicago scene. What distinguished Willie Dixon from most other Delta bluesmen of his day was his ability to read, write, compose, and arrange music -- talents that were to destine him for legendary status among the bluesmakers. Dixon was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1915 and was influenced as a child by his mother -- a writer of religious poetry -- and the local gospel scene. But it was boxing, not music, that brought Dixon to Chicago in 1936. He was an upstart professional fighter who for a time sparred with the great Joe Louis. Dixon played upright bass with several Chicago bands through 1948, when he signed with Chess Records, working primarily as a songwriter, but also as a studio musician, producer, and talent scout.

Except for a brief time with Cobra Records in the late 1950's, Dixon remained with Chess through the 1960's, where he contributed such blues standards as Hoochie Coochie Man, I Just Want To Make Love To You, Evil, Spoonful, I Ain't Superstitious, Little Red Rooster, Back Door Man, I Can't Quit You Baby, You Shook Me, The Seventh Son, and Wang Dang Doodle. Dixon died in Burbank, California, in 1992.

See the Map or scroll on down the highway.

Howlin' Wolf Curiously named after a 19th-century American president, young Chester Arthur Burnett earned the nickname that was to become synonymous with the power of the blues. Howlin' Wolf was born near West Point, Mississippi, in 1910 and was influenced at an early age by Charley Patton, Willie Brown, and Sonny Boy Williamson 2. He settled in West Memphis, Arkansas, after World War II and played locally with a series of bands. An accomplished harmonica player, Wolf had focused his efforts on the electric guitar by 1950 and soon recorded for Sam Phillips' Recording Service in Memphis. He signed with Chess Records in 1953, where he recorded Spoonful, Little Red Rooster, Back Door Man, I Ain't Superstitious, Smokestack Lightnin' and Killing Floor. Wolf remained a towering blues figure through the 1960's. He died near Chicago in 1976.

Sonny Boy Williamson 2 The name "Sonny Boy Williamson" is doubly associated with the blues harmonica. The original "Sonny Boy" was John Lee Williamson. Sonny Boy Williamson 2 was his self-proclaimed successor. Sonny Boy 2 was born Aleck "Rice" Miller in Glendora, Mississippi, in 1910. He spent his early years wandering the Delta, playing with the likes of Robert Johnson, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Elmore James, and Howlin' Wolf. He'd settled in Helena, Arkansas, by 1941, where he and Lockwood made their mark regionally with the daily, 15-minute radio show "King Biscuit Time." Still, Williamson did not record until 1951, when he went to the Jackson-based Trumpet label. Then he was off to Chicago and Checker Records (a Chess subsidiary), where he recorded Don't Start Me Talkin', All My Love In Vain, and Your Funeral My Trial. Williamson died in Helena in 1965.

Lightnin' Hopkins The next most influential Texas bluesman, after Blind Lemon Jefferson and T-Bone Walker, was Lightnin' Hopkins. Born Sam Hopkins in Centerville, Texas, in 1912, Lightnin' seemed destined to become a blues great. He learned the art from Joel Hopkins, his older brother, and played with Blind Lemon Jefferson when he was just eight years old. And as a teenager, Hopkins honed his skills playing with his cousin, Texas Alexander. Aladdin Records teamed Hopkins with pianist Wilson "Thunder" Smith in 1946, billing them as "Thunder and Lightnin'," and Hopkins' long and fruitful recording career began. In all, he wrote and recorded hundreds of sides, including Walking Blues, Somebody's Got To Go, Penitentiary Blues, and I've Been Buked And Scorned, for more than 20 labels. Like others, Hopkins' career began anew in the early 1960's. He died in Houston, Texas, in 1982.

Albert King B.B. King wasn't the only blues legend out of Indianola, Mississippi; he wasn't even the only blues legend named "King." Born there two years earlier, in 1923, was Albert King, though his birth name was actually Albert Nelson. Albert King grew up on the gospel sound and played the Delta blues circuit until the late 1950's, when he found a musical home in St. Louis. He hit there with Don't Throw Your Love On Me So Strong, then went to Memphis and Stax Records, where he recorded Laundromat Blues, Crosscut Saw, Down Don't Bother Me, and the classic Born Under A Bad Sign. King's career took him to the rock and classical stages as well. He played San Francisco's Fillmore West, with John Mayall and Jimi Hendrix, and in 1969 he performed with the St. Louis Symphony. King died in Memphis in 1992.

Elmore James If there can be a single link between the Delta stylings of Robert Johnson and the modern works of Duane Allman, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter, and Eric Clapton, it would be in the person of Elmore James. James was a Johnson disciple, but with the advent of the electric guitar, he utterly re-created the sound. Born Elmore Brooks in Richland, Mississippi, in 1918, James also claimed Sonny Boy Williamson 2 as a mentor. After World War II, he returned home, playing with several electric-based bands, and like Sonny Boy 2, recorded for Trumpet Records -- Dust My Broom -- before heading off to Chicago in 1952. He recorded for Chess, but found his greatest success at New York's Fire Records, with The Sky Is Crying, Shake Your Moneymaker, It Hurts Me Too, and Done Somebody Wrong. James died at the height of his career in Chicago in 1963.

John Lee Hooker If Elmore James was the link in the chain, then John Lee Hooker was the anchor. With the release of his most recent albums, Hooker continued to broaden the depths of the blues while also welcoming such crossover artists as Canned Heat, Carlos Santana, Van Morrison, Bonnie Raitt, and George Thorogood. John Lee Hooker was born in Vance, Mississippi, in 1917 and sang gospel music as a child before moving to Memphis, earning money as a theater usher and street musician. He went to Detroit in 1943, where he practically stumbled into the blues world with his 1948 hit Boogie Chillen. He soon followed with Crawlin' Kingsnake and I'm In The Mood, and in 1962, Boom, Boom. Two recent albums, The Healer and Chill Out, earned him Grammy Awards in 1992 and 1996, respectively. John Lee Hooker passed away on June 21, 2001.

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