The Doors covered Howlin’ Wolf‘s version of Dixon’s “Back Door Man”. The Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead did “Little Red Rooster”. And when Robert Plant wailed “You need coolin’, baby, I’m not foolin’…” on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” in 1969, he was ripping off Muddy Waters‘ version of Dixon’s “You Need Love” (Dixon would successfully sue Zep for royalties).
Thousands and thousands of greats, near-greats, and not-too-greats have covered hundreds and hundreds of Dixon songs, such as “Built for Comfort”, “Evil (Going On)”, “The Seventh Son”, “Spoonful”, “I’m Ready”, “My Babe”, “Three Hundred Pounds of Joy”, “You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover”, “I Just Want To Make Love To You”, etc., etc., etc. and etc.
Willie Dixon also recorded many classic blues tracks of his own and produced and/or played bass on many others by the Chess Records artists who made his songs famous: Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Bo Diddley, Koko Taylor, Chuck Berry, Etta James, etc.
“Wang Dang Doodle”, one of Dixon’s most famous compositions, was first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in the early ’60s. Wolf apparently hated it. A few years later, Dixon discovered Koko Taylor, a young woman from Tennessee who was working as a cleaning lady by day and singing in Chicago blues clubs at night. She would go on to record the most famous version of the song
Here’s an excerpt from “I Am the Blues”, Dixon’s 1989 autobiography:
…when (Koko Taylor) first came to me, she told me, “I can sing but every time I go to somebody and sing, they tell me they don’t like this growl, that heavy part of my voice”
” That growl you got to your voice will put you over.”
… After I started working with Koko on different songs, I was telling her I wanted to do “Wang Dang Doodle.” The first thing she said, “That ain’t no song for a woman to sing.”
“The hell it ain’t. You’re trying to get over and this is something different.”
Koko Taylor still performs her biggest hit today at the age of 79. Here’s a clip of her singing it on a 1967 European television program, accompanied on harmonica by Little Walter (in one of his only known appearances on film, ever):
Here’s Willie Dixon himself, performing the song at one of the first Montreal Jazz Festivals in the early 1980s: