Forest of the Wang Dang Doodle (Willie Dixon & Vicksburg)

Drawing of Willie Dixon copyright 2005 by Kenny Boone
Can't see the forest for the trees. That's what they say, but for my generation it's not so much the trees but the TVs. With the steady diet of pop culture we've been fed by television and all mass media, sometimes we don't see the magic forest growing around us.

For us teenagers in the 1960s, our musical tastes included such "new" recording artists as the Doors, the Rolling Stones, Steppenwolf, Eric Clapton, and Led Zeppelin. When Jim Morrison bragged about being a "Backdoor Man;" Mick Jagger crowed about the "Little Red Rooster;" Clapton philosophized about a "Spoonful," and John Kay of Steppenwolf claimed to be the "Hoochie Cootchie Man," this was powerful stuff. They were more than just our musical heroes; they were icons of our time. Something special.

The Doors and Steppenwolf were based in California, and the Stones and Zeppelin did their work across the Atlantic in London, and we assumed the exotic images from these songs must come from those faraway, glamorous places. We were just too young to know all these songs had first been recorded in Chicago by musicians who were, almost without exception, from just up the road in the Mississippi Delta, including Muddy Waters of Clarksdale, and Howlin' Wolf of West Point, Mississippi.

But the real revelation to me was Willie Dixon. Early on I noticed his name credited as the writer of more than one song on several Doors albums. It was years before someone pointed out to me that he was from just up the street - literally. Born in my hometown of Vicksburg in 1915, Willie Dixon wrote all those songs mentioned above and hundreds more. He played string bass on many of the original records, and eventually became a longtime producer for Chess Records in Chicago. Not only did he put the words into the mouths of real bluesmen (and those other guys), but his work helped define the sound of hundreds of classic blues recordings.

Mr. Dixon was a cornerstone of the blues and all those wild lyrics he wrote were indeed exotic, but the inspiration for all that imagery was here all around us. Without being able to see it, this forest we were living in was the natural habitat of the Backdoor Men, Little Red Roosters, Hoochie Cootchie Men, and even the Wang Dang Doodle (whatever that is). To us, Vicksburg and the South seemed an ordinary place, but to our musician-heroes, it was a place of magic and dreams. And maybe they were right.

(On October 13, 2002 Vicksburg, Mississippi Mayor Laurence Leyens declared Dixon's birthday, July 1 to be known as Willie Dixon Day, and on October 14 a Vicksburg street was named after the blues great.)


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