It's appropriate that Willie Dixon's autobiography should have been published first in Britain, for American blues musicians have long received more respect abroad than at home. And it's embarrassing, too, for Dixon, who now lives in Los Angeles, is responsible for numerous rock classics like "Spoonful," "Back Door Man" and "Little Red Rooster."
Noting Dixon's influence on the rock world is a bit disingenuous, however, for "I Am the Blues" has almost nothing to do with the likes of Presley, Clapton and Jagger. This book is the real thing, told in a great bluesman's own words: about growing up black, poor and musically gifted.
"I Am the Blues" is a somewhat ungainly package, frequent Los Angeles Times contributor Don Snowden having stitched together interviews with Dixon and other blues people with a factual narrative of his own. But it works, mainly because Dixon's presence in the book is so strong and commanding.
Born in 1915 in Mississippi, Dixon "got up to be a pretty good size" (as he puts it) by age 12 and began making as much as a dollar a day hauling anything heavy--ice, timber, coal. He also let people slug him for a nickel--business actually picked up, Dixon reports, after a self-described prizefighter broke an arm hitting him in the stomach--and became a good enough boxer to win a Golden Gloves heavyweight championship in Chicago, where Dixon moved in 1936. He was suspended after four fights following a scuffle over fees in the boxing commissioner's office, but by that time the blues culture on the city's South Side had given Dixon a new career.