Tag Archives: Chess Records

The Chess Records Story

Before Motown and in the spirit of our tremendous musical legacy let me share a story of the record company that introduced the world to the blues and black music when it was called “race music”. It is the story of the legendary Chess Records Family. Let me include the great Maurice White of Earth, Wind, and Fire was nurtured and part of the Chess Family. Yes, I am talking about the ghost of the greats, which laid the founders for Rock and Roll.

                                                                 

                            Leonard Chess                                                Phil Chess

Leonard and Phil Chess, two Polish born immigrants, founded Chess Records the pre-eminent Blues label of the 50s and 60s.Eventually they created a monopoly of Chicago music recording, doing sessions and releasing recordings by every major blues performer from John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, “King of the Slide Guitar”, to Bo Diddley through Jimmy Reed, Chuck Berry and everyone in between.

Brothers Phil and Leonard Chess owned the upscale Macamba nightclub on Chicago’s Southside. Chess Records “Home of the Electric Blues” was started by brothers Leonard and Phil Chess in the late forties. Leonard and Phil Chess – two enterprising immigrant brothers from Poland – bought into fledgling Aristocrat Records, a label that had been formed a short time before by Evelyn Aron and her husband.

By the time they got involved with Aristocrat, Leonard and Phil were already aware of what sort of music might sell in the Black community that of a young Delta-born-and-bred slide guitarist: Muddy Waters. Waters had previously recorded for Columbia, the company but none of his work was released. When he recorded “Gypsy Woman” and “Little Anna Mae” for Aristocrat the Chess brothers found in him the means to distinguish their little company from the hundreds of other independent R&B labels springing up across the country.

At the beginning, Leonard and Phil focused their recording and publishing ventures primarily in the area of popular jazz, but soon expanded into blues, receiving their first Billboard recognition in 1947. By 1949 Aristocratic Records which became Chess Records in 1950, was a fixture in the world of music and its recordings and the songs published by Arc Music remain the most impressive collection of blues music in the world.

From their experiences in the nightclub business on the South side of Chicago, the Chess brothers understood the popular preferences of their predominantly African-American audiences, but also saw the marketability of blues music to a broader audience. In the beginning Chess Records was ran as a two man business, with Phil overseeing the nightclub and the offices of Aristocrat/Chess and Arc, while Leonard alternately scouted talent, produced the sessions, and hand delivered fresh recordings to radio stations in the Chicago area.

Willie Dixon

Slide guitarist Robert Nighthawk’s pre-war popularity made him a nice acquisition, and the 1948 session that produced his “My Sweet Lovin’ Woman” was doubly important because it introduced bassist Willie Dixon, an artist whose talent as a producer/songwriter/ session player during the 1950s and 1960s vastly contributed to the label’s long-term success.

McKinley Morganfield aka Muddy Waters and sideman Little Walter

In 1950, the Chess brothers launched Chess Records with Gene Ammons’  “My Foolish Heart,” followed by Waters’ “Rollin’ Stone.” Guitarist Jimmy Rogers made his Chess debut August of 1950, with t “That’s All Right” and “Luedella.” Little Walter who revolutionized the role of the harmonica in Chicago blues with his astonishing flights of amplified fancy. Walter’s legacy is punctuated by his slew of hits during the ’50s: “Mean Old World,” “Off The Wall,” “You’re So Fine,” and the 1955 Dixon-penned R&B chart-topper, “My Babe.”

Chester Burnett aka Howlin’ Wolf

Despite his  success with  local talent, Leonard Chess, aided by Sam Phillips, began to look outside Chicago for talent. Phillips supervised Memphis pianist Roscoe Gordon’s smash “Booted” (1952) and shipped Chess masters by Rufus Thomas, Dr. Isaiah Ross, Joe Hill Louis, and Bobby Bland, but his top contribution to the label’s legacy was Chester Arthur Burnett, a.k.a.  Howlin’ Wolf. With Ike Turner playing the piano both sides of Wolf’s first Phillips-produced Chess 78, “How Many More Years” and “Moanin’ At Midnight,” proved major sellers in 1951. By 1953, Wolf had left Memphis for Chicago, recording more hits including “Who Will Be Next” and “Smokestack Lightnin’.”

Eddie Boyd 

Willie Mabon

                                                                          Memphis Slim 

A host of other blues legends recorded for Chess during the early and mid-1950s. Memphis Slim, Eddie Boyd and Willie Mabon, assuredly did. Boyd’s 1953  “24 Hours” and “Third Degree” both sold very well, as did Mabon’s “I Don’t Know” (1952) and “I’m Mad” (1953), both number one R&B smashes.

John Lee Hooker

John Lee Hooker first recorded for Chess in 1950. Joe Williams made the charts that same year with “Every Day I Have The Blues.” Big Bill Broonzy and Washboard Sam recorded  material in ’53 that straddled the fence between pre-war Chicago blues and the brasher new style.Memphis Minnie likewise attempted to resuscitate her career with a 1952 Checker single, “Me And My Chauffeur.” On the jazzier side of the tracks, saxmen Leo Parker, Tab Smith, Lynn Hope, and Eddie Johnson kept things swinging. By the early-1950s, Water’s group added pianist Otis Spann. Though he was now a star in his own right, Little Walter still recorded behind his ex-boss on Waters’ immortal “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” and “I’m Ready.”

Rice Miller a/k/a Sonny Boy Williamson II

In 1955  new talent was added to the Chess stable. Sonny Boy Williamson, a blues legend across the Mississippi Delta thanks to his King Biscuit Time radio broadcasts, joined Checker, a Chess subsidiary label.  For his first recording “Don’t Start Me Talkin'” Chess paired him with most of Water’s band. Bo Diddley was signed in 1955 too. His first two-sided smash for Checker, the self-titled “Bo Diddley” and “I’m A Man.

But no one at Chess had the impact on the future of popular music that Chuck Berry did. Berry accepted Water’s advice regarding the advantages of working with Leonard Chess, signing with the label in May of 1955 and his first unforgettable hit, “Maybellene.”

There were also vocal at Chess. Harvey Fuqua’s the Moonglows from Louisville had a 1954 hit with  “Sincerely,” and The Flamingos, a Chicago quintet fronted by Nate Nelson, scored big for Checker in 1956 with their dreamy “I’ll Be Home” and “A Kiss From Your Lips.”

As Berry, Bo, and the vocal groups sold platters by the crates, some of the blues greats that had epitomized Chess during its early years of operation began to recede into the background. But mainstays Muddy, Sonny Boy, and Wolf hung tough, Wolf doing some of his best work during the early ’60s when Dixon wrote “Back Door Man,” “The Red Rooster,” and “Hidden Charms” for him (the latter manically energized by Hubert Sumlin’s elastic guitar work).

In 1960, Dixon recruited younger Chicago blues talent, signing guitarists Buddy Guy (“First Time I Met The Blues” and “Broken Hearted Blues”) and Otis Rush (1960’s “So Many Roads, So Many Trains”)

Etta James

Etta James also made her Chess debut in 1960, scoring no less than four hits for the imprint that year alone. Etta’s magnificent work for Argo (and later Cadet and Chess) over the next 16 years uncovered depths of passion and pain barely
hinted at on her previous waxings. She waxed the torch ballads “At Last” and “Trust In Me” (both major hits in 1961) surrounded by sumptuous strings, rocked the house with a gospel-rooted “Something’s Got A Hold On Me” the next year, and set Muscle Shoals ablaze in ’67 with her strutting “Tell Mama,” sounding equally confident in all three diverse settings.

Fontella Bass

In addition to James had many female artists during the mid-1960s that Jan Bradley (“Mama Didn’t Lie”), Sugar Pie De Santo (“Slip-In Mules”), (“I Had A Talk With My Man”), Fontella Bass (“Rescue Me”), Jackie Ross (“Selfish One”), Jo Ann Garrett (“Stay By My Side”), Laura Lee (“Dirty Man”), and the Gems, whose precocious membership included Minnie Riperton. Even Irma Thomas joined the Chess in 1967, recording in Muscle Shoals. protégé Koko Taylor scored the last Chicago blues hit for Checker in 1966 with her growling “Wang Dang Doodle.”

As rhythm and blues merged with gospel influences to form the basis of soul, Chess was right on top of the trend. Little Milton Campbell who had hits with “We’re Gonna Make It,” “Who’s Cheating Who?” and “Grits Ain’t Groceries.”

The Dells

Along with Little Milton, were the Dells, (“There Is” and “Stay In My Corner”) the Radiants (“Voice Your Choice”), Billy Stewart (“Summertime,” “Sitting In The Park”), Bobby Moore & the Rhythm Aces (“Searching For My Love”), Tony Clarke, James Phelps, and Bobby McClure.

Tommy Tucker’s “Hi-Heel Sneakers,” a huge ’64 hit on Checker, traveled bluesier terrain, while the Ramsey Lewis Trio, with Eldee Young on bass and Red Holt on drums, turned out to be a crossover sensation when their grooving instrumental remakes of “The In Crowd” and “Hang On Sloopy” vaulted up the R&B and pop charts in 1965. Nor was the Chess combine deficient in humor – albums by veteran comics Moms Mabley and Pigmeat “Here Comes The Judge” Markham made sure of that.

Chuck Berry remained at Chess into 1966, seemingly rejuvenated after serving a prison term (his 1964 hits included “No Particular Place To Go” and “You Never Can Tell”). After unwisely switching to Mercury Records for a few lean years, he returned home to Chess and scored his biggest pop hit of all in 1972 with “My Ding-A-Ling.” Bo Diddley recorded a slew of Checker LPs throughout the decade, his trademark beat never faltering.

2120 South Michigan Avenue

So inspired by the magnificent output of Chess were the Rolling Stones that they immortalized the label’s famous address, 2120 S. Michigan Avenue, in song on one of their early LPs.

During this time, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf tried their best to cope with ’60s trends. “Muddy Waters Twist” was admittedly nothing to write home about, but his ’63 Folk Singer LP was a heartening return to his Delta roots, and 1969’s Fathers and Sons set united Muddy with adoring disciples Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield. Though at the tail end of the decade producer Marshall Chess submerged Waters and Wolf in a quagmire of psychedelia, each legend emerged with his vaunted reputation intact.

In 1969, Leonard Chess died, stilling the heart and soul of Chess Records. Earlier that year, he and Phil had sold the company to GRT where producers Ralph Bass and Gene Barge tried their best to hold things together. Sadly, though, the momentum that Chess had long enjoyed quickly began to erode. In 1975, GRT closed down the logo, selling it to All Platinum Records of Englewood, New Jersey.

Finally, in 1985, MCA acquired the rights to the massive Chess catalog. At the start of 1987, MCA Vice President of Catalog Development & Special Markets A&R, Andy McKaie began to mount an ambitious long-term reissue campaign of the invaluable Chess masters – an ongoing program that rages full steam ahead all year long in 1997 with the 50th anniversary celebration.

“The impact of Chess was far wider and greater than any of the others, ranging from the impact of the Chicago blues sound, the Chuck Berry/Bo Diddley School of rock & roll, and the vocal group sounds,” he continues. “The range of that impact was so great that it’s still being felt today.

It was the profound music that made the artists of Cadillac Records the groundbreaking home for black music. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

Courtesy of DK Peneny, Published 3/98 – Last update 10/15/2009

 

The Sound Of Philadelphia: Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff

Happy birthday to Kenny Gamble one half of 8these two giants who were equally as significant as the founders of Motown and STAX records because they created “The Sound Of Philadelphia” catapulting Philadelphia International Records into worldwide fame. Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff collaborated on a number of earlier R&B songs, but the pop hits did not arrive until 1966 with the Intruders and Soul Survivors’ We’ll Be United, Together, Cowboys To Girls, and Expressway To Your Heart among others.

They also wrote and produced Atlantic hits for Archie Bell & the Drells and Wilson Pickett. But most of all, they were instrumental in reviving the career of ex-VeeJay singer, Jerry Butler in 1967 with hits like Only The Strong Survive, What’s The Use Of Breaking Up and Hey Western Union Man on the Mercury record label. In 1969, the Neptune label was founded and distributed through Chess Records. Although Neptune released only four albums, it marked the starting point for Gamble and Huff’s collaboration. Upon a recommendation by the Intruders, they brought in the O’Jays and Thom Bell to join the label as an arranger, writer, producer and musician.

By 1971, Chess Records’ involvement with Soul Music declined, so Gamble and Huff signed a national distribution, music catalog and financial deal with CBS Records then changed the company name to Philadelphia International Records. Though no longer an independent record label, with distribution and financial issues behind them, their label was free to go in the positive message artistic directions it desired. What elements lead to the creation of their musical signature?

Gamble and Huff learned that a successful record label needed a strong cache of writers, musicians, arrangers and producers to maintain a stream of hits. They had the brilliance and luck to hire Gene McFadden and John Whitehead as associate producers and arrangers. Linda Creed joined Thom Bell to form a high-impact Soul Music writing, arranging and producing tandem at the company. Next, Gamble and Huff constructed a house band from accomplished session artists.

In keeping with their mission statement to deliver positive messages, they called their session band, Mother Father Sister Brother (MFSB) comprised of Roland Chambers and Norman Harris (guitars), Vince Montana (vibes), Ronnie Baker (bass) and Earl Young (drums). With such hits from:

The O’Jays with Back Stabbers, Love Train, and For the Love of Money. They recorded the Jacksons, Jerry Butler, and other prominent acts on the label: Billy Paul (Me and Mrs Jones) and Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes (If You Don’t Know Me By Now and The Love I Lost), Blue Magic, Teddy Pendergrass, Jean Carn, Lou Rawls, The Spinners (Could it Be That I’m Falling in Love), Stylistics (Betcha by Golly, Wow), The Hustle by Van McCoy. The Three Degrees, and Delfonics (Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time), Patti LaBelle’s release of I’m In Love Again that reached gold sales status. They were hugely validated when Don Cornelius, producer and host of Soul Train asked the Three Degrees to do vocals for the show’s new theme track, with instrumentals by MFSB.

Gamble and Huff puzzled together dance rhythms, orchestral arrangements, and positive topical lyrics that established a musical signature having sophisticated soulful orchestration. Philadelphia International Records became a force in the Soul Music market and even drew praise from its rivals. With all the ingredients in place – the rest is history. Thank you guys! And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


The Great Bluesman Muddy Waters

5What we know today as Rock and Roll was the creation of a genius from the Mississippi Delta named McKinley Morganfield, better known to the world as Muddy Waters. This bluesman also known as the “father of the modern Chicago Blues” has been credited for being the major inspiration behind the British blues explosion of the 1960s. Muddy’s career resulted in his being ranked No. 17 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

Recent research has uncovered a 1955 interview in the Chicago Defender where he claimed 1915 as his year of birth, which he continued to use in interviews from that point onward. His grandmother is credited with giving the boy she raised the nickname “Muddy” at an early age because he loved to play in the muddy water of nearby Deer Creek. Muddy later changed it to “Muddy Waters.” A testament to his monumental achievements the shack where Muddy lived in his youth on Stovall Plantation is now located at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Although Muddy started out on harmonica but by age seventeen he was playing the guitar at parties, emulating two other blues artists who were extremely popular in the south, Son House and Robert Johnson. However, Muddy would go on to surpass them in stature in terms of changing the face of music.

His influence is tremendous, over a variety of music genres: blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, folk, hard rock, jazz and country. It was Muddy who helped Chuck Berry get his first record contract. The Rolling Stones named themselves after his 1950 song “Rollin Stone” and Jimi Hendrix covered one of Muddy’s songs called “Catfish Blues.” Hendrix recalled “the first guitar player I was aware of was Muddy Waters. I first heard him as a little boy, and it scared me to death.”

Cream covered “Rollin and Tumblin” on their 1966 debut album Fresh Cream. Another great Eric Clapton was a big fan of Muddy Waters when he was growing up, and his music influenced Clapton’s musical career. Muddy’s songs were also covered by Canned Heat at the legendary Monterey Pop Festival and later adapted by Bob Dylan on the album Modern Times. Led Zeppelin’s biggest hits, “Whole Lotta Love”, is lyrically based upon the Muddy Waters hit “You Need Love”, written by Willie Dixon.

Dixon wrote some of Muddy Waters’ most famous songs, including “I Just Want to Make Love to You” that became a big radio hit for Etta James as well as the 1970s rock band Forghat. One of Muddy’s biggest hits “Hoochie Coochie Man that The Allman Brothers Band famously covered was big for them and Humble Pie and Steppenwolf as well.

In 1993, Paul Rodgers released the album Muddy Water Blues: A Tribute to Muddy Waters, on which he covered a number of Muddy Waters songs. Including “Louisiana Blues”, “Rollin’ Stone”, “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “I’m Ready” that included a number of famous guitarists such as Gary Moore, Brian May and Jeff Beck.

Muddy Waters’ songs have been featured in long-time fan Matin Scorsese’s movies, including The Color of Money, Goodfellas and Casino. His music was used in Better Off Dead, the hit film Risky Business, and featured in the rockumentary The Last Waltz.

The Beatles referenced Muddy in the song Come Together: “He roller coaster/he got Muddy Waters.” Van Morrison lyrics include “Muddy Waters singin,’ “I’m a Rolling Stone” from his 1982 song “Cleaning Windows”, on the Album Beautiful Vision. Honestly, I could go on and on as long as I have room to write.

What impressed me most about the great Muddy Waters was that he created what every band since has configured musically. It was Mud, as he was sometimes called, who configured his band with a bass guitar, and instruments to enhance his talents.

Although there were many greatest produced out of his era – Muddy Waters lead the way and, dare I say, was the innovator of what the world now knows as Rock ‘n’ Roll. Mud might be best known for his beautiful Cadillac’s, being a lady’s man or as having Little Walter harmonic talents as his gifted sideman. The great Muddy Waters is best-known for changing the world of music and music has never been the same. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

CHESS RECORDS STORY


BREAKING NEWS: Maya Angelou Dead At 86

Two independent sources close to Angelou confirmed her death to WXII’s Wanda Starke Wednesday morning. She was 86.

A police car, an ambulance and a hearse were seen outside Angelou’s home on Bartram Road around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. Winston-Salem police said they are at the home to investigate a death but released no other information.

The area near Angelou’s home has been blocked off to try to keep people out of the area, as well as to give respect to the family, WXII’s Talitha Vickers reported.

Angelou had been the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University since 1982. Wake Forest officials released the following statement:

“Today members of the Wake Forest University community mourn the loss of beloved poet, author, actress, civil rights activist and professor Dr. Maya Angelou. Dr. Angelou was a national treasure whose life and teachings inspired millions around the world, including countless students, faculty, and staff at Wake Forest….Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Angelou’s family and friends during this difficult time.”

Angelou was born April 4, 1928, in St. Louis. At 14, she became San Francisco’s first black female cable car conductor, and in the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asked Angelou to serve as northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Angelou received many accolades, including dozens of honorary degrees, the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000 and the Lincoln Medal in 2008.

Read more: http://www.wxii12.com/news/dr-maya-angelou-dead-at-86/26204272#ixzz331Ba3qVr

R.I.P.


%d bloggers like this: