Thursday, March 30, 2006


THE WIDOW OF ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT FIGURES IN THE WORLD OF BLUES TOOK A FEW MINUTES AND VISITED WITH ME ON THE AIR IT KFAI RADIO AS A PART OF BLACK HISTORY MONTH... The following is the transcription of our talk which also apears in the paper Blue Monday, published here in Minnesota.

Interview and photo’s by Mark Fredell

So it was the middle of Black History month and I had filled in for the Lovely Denise on The Showcase Of Rhythm & Blues the first 2 Saturdays of February. When on Thursday the 16th I got a call asking if I might be able to sub once more that following weekend and as I love being on the air and I adore Denise I of course said yes, then the bombshell; seeing as it was Black History month I was asked if I might be able to do something to honor it… So now a dilemma, the week before I had invited my young friend (and fellow KFAI volunteer) Miss. Kim to come and co-host with me which she did splendidly so I gave her a call and asked if she’d want to join me again she agreed then I asked if she could perhaps go on line and get some info about Coretta Scott King and maybe Rosa Parks that we could talk about for a bit as a part of the theme, she again agreed. The next day while at home I was thinking about the show and realized that given the nature of the station and the fact that both of these great women had both recently passed away I knew other shows on the air had or would be doing some extensive things about them. So i thought maybe I could come up with something a bit different, when it hit me, lets see if we might be able to chat with one of my very best friends in the blues world Mrs. Marie Dixon, this would be great, she could talk a bit about her late husbands career and the legacy he left which she helps to maintain through the work of the BLUES HEAVEN FOUNDATION. So I gave her a call and she was there… Saturday arrived and 30 minutes into the show, with Willie Dixon playing over the air I dialed her up and we spent the next 15 minutes or so Talking about Willie, the blues, Blues Heaven and a bit more, and these are the results…
Mark Fredell: Well it’s Saturday evening a minute past 6:00 pm and your tuned to KFAI in the background is the legendary Willie Dixon and on the phone is his lovely wife Marie, Can you hear me Marie?
Marie Dixon: I can hear you Mark hello, thanks for having me on the show.
MF: Now for those of you that don’t know, Willie Dixon was perhaps the most prolific song writer in the history of the blues and what better time than in the midst of Black History Month to get the person that knew him best on the air and talk about him a little. After all he’s not here to defend himself. (laughter) So first of all Marie how are you doing?
Marie: I’m doing very good and it’s such a pleasure to be speaking with you.
MF: Thank you very much, I’m so glad to have you on the air. Why don’t you do me a favor and for the benefit of those listening just give us a little bit of the history of Willie Dixon what he did and what he meant to the blues.
Marie: Well, Willie was a great inspiration to the blues and he wrote so many great tunes and was a major influence and inspiration not just to the blues but also the rock world. You know he wrote such songs and Hoochie Coochie Man, Back Door Man, I’m Ready, Wang Dang Doodle and so many more and they were done, recorded by so many great artists. And he was also a musician and producer and so much more. But lets talk about what Willie wanted in his last days of life and that was a foundation to help blues artists and to help bring on the next generation of the blues. He started his vision for a foundation back in the late 70’s and he established the name ‘Blues Heaven Foundation’ in 1982, but he unfortunately wasn’t able to put it in a permanent location but shortly after he passed (in 1992) I was, in 1993 able to purchase the building of the legendary Chess Studios at 2120 S. Michigan Ave in Chicago the location that housed Chess Records for so many years and it now houses the Blues Heaven Foundation. I’d like to elaborate a little on what Blues Heaven does for people, we help artists, blues artists with medical expenses that don’t have medical insurance each year we give a scholarship away to a student; a full time student here in Chicago thats interested in a music education, I give (award) the scholarship each year at the Chicago blues festival. We also sponsor and perform harmonica workshops, I just did a beautiful one today with more than 200 children from Cincinnati Ohio.
: Was Billy (Branch) there?
Marie: No Billy wasn’t there today but we had Fernando Jones. And it really went over great, the kids really loved it you couldn’t have asked for a better group of children, well teenagers, they loved it and they all wanted to meet me and take pictures. We also, the foundation also helps younger up and coming artists - musicians to get there publishing to form their own publishing company this was something that Willie felt was really important, was to help musicians get the publishing and to show them about copyrighting their music. That was something missed during Willie’s early days, but he fought hard to get all those things back. But now at Blues Heaven if you’re a young artist we insist that you get your own publishing Co. and Copyright your own music and that you register your music with the library of Congress. Also we have a blues garden right there beside the building which is 2122 South Michigan and we try to every Thursday night, for one hour, free to the public during the summer, have a live performance from various musicians when they are not out on the road so anybody that’s in the area Thursdays during the summer months we’d love to have them stop by and enjoy an hour of free blues music.
MF: Well that’s wonderful. Now as you were saying, well you and I Marie we’ve known each other a long time (Marie: yes we have) and I can remember vaguely when Willie had first founded Blues Heaven and it seem to me that the concept then was mainly focused on like you said helping artists either get back or establish their publishing rights and also to help older Blues artists with medical expenses and legal expenses and so forth but for me at least one of the more interesting things that the Foundation does now is the blues in the schools program. Could you tell our listeners a little about that?
Marie: Well we have a lot of great people involved like Billy Branch and Roy Hightower, Fernando Jones of course and many others but what we do is, we go into the schools that invite us and we teach the children a little about the blues and Billy or Fernando will do a harmonica workshop.
MF: And you, Blues Heaven gives away a like thousands of harmonicas each year don‘t you?
Marie: Yes we do, we support the blues in the schools with the harmonicas.
MF: and these aren’t toys they are actually Honer harmonicas with the Blues Heaven Logo on them.
Marie: Right.
MF: Now what else is coming up for Blues Heaven, and you personally and even Willie’s legacy?
Marie: Well we’re getting prepared for the Chicago Blues Festival, but there will be more harmonica workshops going on in the building at 2120 S. Michigan up until the Chicago blues fest in June. And then of course well open the garden around that time too. And we also have lots of Blues memorabilia at the building that people can come and see so if any of your listeners are in Chicago they can come by, we’d love to have them stop by.
MF: Well of course that is really one of the key address in the history of the blues in particular and popular music in general. Now I can’t overstate how kind and supportive the Dixon Family has been too me and my endeavors in the blues no matter how large or small, you’ve always been there. I remember you watched me fall on my face and you and the family helped to pull me back up and I certainly appreciate it, and I know had Willie still been around then he would have been right there with you.
Marie: Oh yes Mark I remember that festival you did out there in California, and you had so many great artists I remember you had Floyd Dixon and Papa John Creech and so many others, who else?
MF: Right I put on Floyd and Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers, the Nighthawks, Harmonica Fats and Papa John, and of course Shirli…
Marie: Yes my daughter Shirli and there was another Shirli wasn’t there?
MF: No your thinking of Sherri, Sherri Clark, and of course our good friend Cash McCall.
Marie: Yes of course Cash McCall. And you know you were trying to help support the blues and it had some problems, but it turned out great we all landed on our feet Mark and it was a wonderful show.
MF: Yes we did and I had a lot of fun that day anyways. So I don’t know is there anything else you wanted to say, what is the website, there is a website right?
Marie: Yes the website is and you can go there to get more information.
MF: Excellent, and now all I can say is that Ms. Marie Dixon in the years since Willie passed away, you have stood strong and been a staunch supporter of everybody in the blues; and it’s fascinating at the Chicago blues Festival to hang around the Blues Heaven tent and just see some of the people that stop by just to say hello to you. It ranges from people like Koko Taylor and Hubert Sumlin and Henry Grey to tourists from Nagasaki Japan, or Stockholm Sweden, all coming up just to say hi and shake hands with Marie Dixon.
Marie: Yes and it’s always such a pleasure, you know blues is something I have always enjoyed even though it was pretty much forbidden for me to listen to as a kid but yet I always loved it and I grew up listening to John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and the great BB King and I had not a clue who Willie Dixon’s Big Three Trio was but it happened to turn out to be the man I married.
MF: Yes mamma and of course I’ve told you before that he is the reason I am here to, I told you that story (Marie: yes you have)… Well I want to thank you so much Marie for joining us here today and we’re going to let you go I have cued up the song that you actually requested that I play, can you tell the listeners about this song?
Marie: Well of course. You know Willie had this vision that it Don’t make sense if you can’t make peace, he said you know, you can give a man life using another mans heart, you can give sight to the blind using another mans eyes, you can submerge a submarine for weeks at a time but it don’t make sense if you can’t make piece… And he goes on to tell the story that there are so many things that man can do but they can’t seem to make peace. I remember one of the last conversations we had about it, it was in I guess 1991 less than a year before his death, and the war had just started and he said to me you know this song needs to be out I don’t understand why we can’t live peacefully why can’t we all just make peace with the world. And during that time near the end he asked me if I would see that that song stayed out there. Well I’ve been very fortunate MCA records did release it on what they called the Willie Dixon’s Original Wang Dang Doodle Cd, and a Rock group came in to the Foundation last year around April last year and they recorded it and group called STYX, they did it in a rock style. They did a great version of it. So you know we are trying to spread the word because even if there are wars, we want to tell the people that it don’t make sense if you can’t make peace. And I do ask anytime I get on a program like this I ask lets just try and keep this out there you know lets make peace, you know Willie was a very peaceful man and anyone who knew him, you probably saw that last year at the Chicago blues fest anyone that came up and spoke about him they all said how kind and peaceful he was, and that’s what he tried to do he made that his project to try and change the world the best he could.
MF: Well, he was a pretty big man, had those broad shoulders but that was a pretty big task even for him…
Marie: Yes it was but you know he let everyone he could lean on him and if he couldn’t help you he certainly wasn’t out to harm you.
MF: And you know in that respect he certainly did help a lot of people and his legacy will live on in music as long as there is recorded music. So I’m gonna let you go Marie I want to thank you for taking some time to visit with us and share some of Willie’s legacy here as part of Black History Month.

Marie: Well it was my pleasure, I want to let everybody know that Blues Heaven is a nonprofit a 501c3 and your tax dollars are always appreciated. (MF: Well Marie thanks again and I love you.) I love you too Mark and I look forward to seeing you in Chicago this June.
MF: Well I’ll try and get there, I’ll talk to you soon, and now here is Willie Dixon with It Don’t Make Sense You Can’t Make Peace…


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