This month's track jumped out at me while surfing through blues recordings online. On the compilation disc Living Chicago Blues, Vol. 3, I found an interesting version of “Have You Ever Loved a Woman,” a classic tune associated with the late, great Freddie King. The relaxed 12/8 feel, and King’s heartfelt vocal delivery, make this a classic slow-burn blues number that has been covered many times. But this month’s version was recorded in 1978 by a group called the Sons of Blues, an outfit that continues to this day under the leadership of Billy Branch, a Chicago-based harmonica player who got his start as a member of Willie Dixon’s band, the Chicago Blues All Stars. Further research established that a fellow named Freddie Dixon was the bassist on this month’s track, and as it turns out, he’s a true S.O.B.—Willie Dixon’s son.
Freddie Dixon is found on recordings by A.C. Reed, Detroit Junior, Big Leon Brooks, the earliest sides of the Sons Of Blues, and several of Willie Dixon’s later recordings. He was a member of Willie’s band for ten years, and there are a handful of videos online where Freddie is laying it down for his dad on a red Rickenbacker 4001. Dixon supports the band with a firm hand, but isn’t above grabbing a little airtime once in a while—his occasional flourishes and crunchy tone caught my ear immediately. At some point in the early ’90s, Freddie left the blues world to became a preacher.
This version of “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” is played as a slow 12/8 G minor blues that goes to the bVI7 chord (Eb7) in bar 9, resolving down to the V7 (D7) in bar 10—a progression that is common in minor blues songs, most notably “The Thrill Is Gone.” The bass part utilizes the classic arpeggiated triad approach throughout, but when the guitar solo hits in the third chorus, Dixon steps it up using staccato attacks, dynamic shifts, and a few extra notes to add some zing—approximated in Ex. 1. The melodic profile of the lick in bar 1 (1–b3–3–5) is standard stuff, but because it emphasizes the 3rd, it sounds a little odd in a minor blues; however, it then morphs into 1–b3–4–5. Transposing the idea to the quick IV chord in bar 2, Dixon adds a little 16th-note skip, signaling his intentions to mix it up. He makes good on that promise when he adds a couple of 16th-notes to the descending line in bar 4, which culminates in a classic “bring-the-band-on-down-behind-me-boys” volume drop on the IV chord in bar 5. A return to the minor triad theme in bars 5 through 7 is followed by a cool chromatic run in bar 8 that leads down to the bVI chord in bar 9. Throughout the track, Dixon uses a R–5–8 pattern on the Eb7 and D7 chords, and bouncing back and forth between the octave and the 5th with 16ths makes the line stick out, but in a very cool way. Dixon digs in for the low G in bar 11, and adds a final 16th-note on the turnaround lick in bar 12.
It must have been interesting to grow up with the renowned blues bassist/ composer/producer as your dad, and playing bass in Willie Dixon’s band was probably both thrilling and harrowing at times. Regardless, Freddie Dixon earned his place at the family table with his sturdy feel, dynamics, and authoritative presence.
Ed Friedland had the blues this morning.
Sons of the Blues, Living Chicago Blues, Vol. 3 [Alligator, 1980]