WILLIE DIXON & MEMPHIS
SLIM ON THE ROAD TO
NEWPORT
Willie Dixon was a big, easygoing 300-lb. Chicago bluesman
out of Mississippi who played a big upright bass and was
generally considered one of the best songwriters in the
business. He wrote over 500 songs, many of which were
made into huge hits by people like Muddy Waters (“I Just
Wanna Make Love to You,” “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man”),
The Rolling Stones (“Little Red Rooster”), Led Zeppelin
(“You Shook Me”), The Doors (“Back Door Man”). I was
lucky enough to see him play at Joe’s Place in Cambridge in
the early Seventies with Walter “Shaky” Horton on harp
and, I believe, Lafayette Leake on piano. Didn’t have that
hard edge like Muddy Waters, but that big rolling sound of
his just kind of got inside of you and stayed there. In the
following interview excerpt, Willie and piano player
Memphis Slim head for an appearance at the Newport Folk
Festival, circa 1959 (Willie refers to the event as the
Newport Jazz Festival). It is taken from my telephone
interview with him from his home in Glendale, California on
June 1, 1989. He passed three years later at the age of 76.
—D. B.


“When me and Memphis Slim was on our way to Newport,
we had this old broke down automobile and was coming
from Chicago and we got almost to Cleveland. And when
we got almost to Cleveland we looked down and saw this
generator hand wasn’t working and we said, man, well,
since this generator hand ain’t working we’d better be
heading somewhere where we can try to get this thing
fixed, but not on the highway, because on the highway it
costs too much anyway. We cut off, going in on to
Cleveland and just as we started off into Cleveland a little
bit the lights started dimming and we raced the motor and
nothing would happen. And so we were driving over to
where most of the guys played at. So I was driving over
there and the thing just conked out, just put-put-put. So
we pushed it a block or two. Then all of a sudden we could
hear some music. We listened to this music. Slim said,
‘Man, that sounds like Robert Jr. [Lockwood].’ And then all
of a sudden, hey, there’s a band playing somewhere down
there. On our way down there we was trying to pick out
who it was. Come to find out it was Elmore James, Sonny
Boy Williamson and Robert Jr. I don’t know who the
drummer was, but they was playing at some little ole club
one night. The guys was on the stage, and after a while
when they came off we told the guys, ‘Hey man, we was on
our way to New York and ain’t got no money but a little bit,
and the car done conked out down there.’ When we said
that, Robert Jr. says, ‘Hey man, I got a friend of mine, if it’
s not real serious he can fix it.’ And so we got to talking
and all the guys came outside and we got to gabbin and
talking and goin on. And Elmore said, ‘You guys ain’t got
but sixteen dollars. You ain’t got enough to get into New
York.’ Elmore said, ‘Oh, hell, I’ll give em some money.’
Elmore had been bragging about how much money he was
making there anyway.

They got this mechanic over there and the mechanic said,
‘Oh, man, it’s the distributor.’ And he said, ‘I can fix
that…before you guys get off a here. If you got the time.’ I
said, ‘Yeah, we ain’t got nothing but time.’ We all went to
a restaurant and we starting eating, and Elmore bragging
about he had just bought him a place on the West Side of
Chicago.

The guy said he wanted twenty-two dollars to fix it. And
they said, oh, man, forget it. And this guy said, ‘I got to
have my money.’ And so Slim put his and I put mine.
Elmore reached into his pocket and said, ‘Look here. I’m
going to give you guys twenty dollars.’ [The other guys put
in too] and I think altogether we left there in better shape
than we were when we left Chicago cause I think we must
have had about twenty dollars apiece and we had the car
fixed. And gas in the tank. Everything. They made us real
welcome. Elmore was that type of guy. He always was
trying to do something for somebody.

We went all the way into Newport, Rhode Island. It was
one of the first Newport Jazz Festivals. We went on into
New York and we recorded on a couple of different labels
there. Slim recorded a boogie thing for John Hammond Sr.,
the old man. Oh yeah, we got Hal Ashby [tenor sax] and a
harmonica player, I forget who he was, and me and
Memphis Slim and we recorded.…we just made up a bunch
of songs and we recorded em. It turned out pretty good.”
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