- THIS PAGE CONTAINS - 

- Chess Records -
- Chess Studio & Office -
- Leonard Chess -
- Phil Chess -
- Marshall Chess -
- Checker Records -




CHESS RECORDS - Chicago rhythm and blues record company founded in 1947 by Polish  immigrant brothers Leonard and Phil Chess who owned a local nightclub. It was located at  2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois and called Aristocrat.

The brothers soon  began producing records to appeal to the increasing number of black Southerners who were  moving north, particularly from the Mississippi Delta. In 1950 the label renamed Chess,  where an impressive roster of blues artists - Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Muddy Waters, and  John Lee Hooker - began to record. Their subsidiary label, Checker Records, recorded Bo  Didley, Lowell Fulsom.


Chess Records Office and Studio.

Chess also served the growing market for rock and roll with doowop records like the  Moonglows' "Sincerely" and with such hard rockers as Dale Hawkins' "Suzy Q", one of the  first rock records with a 'modern' electric-guitar sound, courtesy of James Burton. Sam  Phillips recorded many blues artists at Sun Records, among them Rufus Thomas, Howlin'  Wolf, and Ike Turner, selling the tapes to the Chess label, which distributed the songs. At  one time Sam Phillips attempted to sell to Chess his entire catalog of Sun artists, including  Elvis Presley, but the Chess brothers turned him down. Chess Records was located directly  across the street from another successful rhythm and blues label, Vee Jay Records (the  second label that released the Beatles in the United States).

Chuck Berry, early rock and roll's most prolific songwriter, enlisted many of Chess' finest  blues musicians to back him on what is still one of rock's most covered back catalogs,  including "Roll Over Beethoven", "Rock And Roll Music", "Sweet Little Sixteen", "The  Promised Land", and "Johnny B. Goode". Another great success came from Bo Diddley,  whose namesake single introduced his much-copied shuffle rhythm.

In the mid-1960s, Chess went to pieces, weakened by Chuck Berry's imprisonments and  unable to come to grips with soul. The label moved out of the Michigan Avenue studios in  1967, folding when Leanard Chess died in 1975, shortly being bought out by tape  manufacturer GTR, which got rid of the blues catalog, deeming it passe.

In early 1994, the Blues Heaven Foundation, founded by Willie Dixon, who wrote blues  songs like "Spoonful" and "Back Door Man", used its fund and a big donation from John  Mellencamp to purchase the building and open offices inside. The foundation hopes to get  several projects going; a royalty-recovery program for artists who wrote big hits but didn't  get the cash they were entitled to; an educational program for schools; and a small blues  and rhythm and blues museum.



LEONARD CHESS – Leonard Chess born on March 12, 1917 was a record company executive  and the founder of Chess Records. He was influential in the development of electric blues.  He was was born as Lejzor Czyz in a Jewish community in Motal, Poland (but now within  Belarus).

He and his brother Fiszel, sister Malka and mother followed their father to Chicago  in 1928. The family name was changed to Chess, with Lejzor becoming Leonard and Fiszel  becoming Philip.

Leonard and his brother Phil became involved in the black nightclub scene on the South Side  of Chicago in 1946, when they took over the Macomba Lounge. 


From left: Leonard Chess, Phil Chess, and Marshall Chess.

In 1947, Leonard became  associated with Aristocrat Records, increasing his share in the company over time;  eventually he and Phil would acquire complete control. The Chess brothers moved the  company away from black pop and jazz and other genres into down home blues music with  artists such as Muddy Waters.

In 1950, the Chess brothers renamed the company Chess Records. "My Foolish Heart" (Gene  Ammons), "Rollin' Stone" (Muddy Waters) and "That's All Right" (Jimmy Rogers) were among  the first releases on the new label. Leonard Chess played bass drum on one of Muddy Waters'  sessions in 1951.

Chess contacted Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records to help find and record new artists in  the South. Phillips supplied Chess with recordings by Howlin' Wolf, Rufus Thomas and Doctor  Ross among others. Of these, Howlin' Wolf especially became very popular, and Chess  Records had to fight over him with other companies which had also been supplied with Wolf  recordings by Phillips. In time, other important artists joined up, including Bo Diddley and  Sonny Boy Williamson, while Willie Dixon and Robert Lockwood Jr. took on a significant role  behind the scenes.

In the 1950s, Chess Records' commercial success grew with artists such as Little Walter, The  Moonglows, The Flamingos and Chuck Berry, and in the '60s with Etta James, Fontella Bass,  Koko Taylor, Little Milton, Laura Lee and Tommy Tucker, as well as with the subsidiary labels  Checker, Argo and Cadet. As the 1960s progressed, Chess's recording enterprise branched  out into other genres including gospel, traditional jazz, spoken word, comedy, and more. In  the early 1960s, Chess became involved in the broadcasting business as part owner of  WVON-AM radio and later acquired WSDM-FM, both in Chicago. In October 1969, a few  months after selling his namesake label to General Recorded Tape, Leonard Chess died on  October 16, 1969 of a heart attack.

Music industry historian John Broven has written that "Leonard Chess was the dynamo  behind Chess Records, the label that, along with Atlantic and Sun, has come to epitomize the  independent record business. Leonard Chess set new standards for the industry in artist  development, deal making, networking, and marketing and promotion…".


PHILIP ''PHIL'' CHESS - born in is an American record producer and company executive, the  co-founder of Chess Records. He was born as Fiszel Czyż in a Jewish community in  Częstochowa, Poland. He and his brother Lejzor, sister Malka and mother followed their  father to Chicago in 1928. The family name was changed to Chess, with Lejzor becoming  Leonard and Fiszel becoming Philip.

In 1946, after leaving the Army, Phil joined Leonard in running a popular club, the Macomba  Lounge. Two years later, Leonard became a partner in Aristocrat Records, a local company  that recorded a wide range of music, and Phil joined in 1950. The company then changed its  name to Chess Records, and began concentrating on rhythm and blues music, signing and  recording artists such as Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, "Sonny Boy Williamson" (Rice Miller),  Robert Lockwood Jr., Etta James and Chuck Berry. Phil Chess was actively involved in  producing many of their seminal blues and rock and roll recordings. The company expanded  successfully through the 1950s and early 1960s, until it was sold to GRT in 1968.

Phil Chess retired to Arizona in 1972. Phil and Leonard Chess were both inducted to the  Blues Hall of Fame as non-performers in 1995.


MARSHALL CHESS – born March 13, 1942 in Chicago, Illinois and is the son and nephew of  the founders of Chess Records, the Chicago-based independent record label that first  recorded an unprecedented list of African-American, blues and early rock and roll artists  such as: Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Bo Diddley, Sonny Boy Williamson II,  Memphis Slim, John Lee Hooker, Rufus Thomas, Memphis Minnie, Elmore James, Willie  Dixon, Chuck Berry, Etta James and Buddy Guy, among others.

Leonard Chess and his brother Phil were two American immigrants from the Jewish  community in Motal, Poland who in 1947 had purchased part of an independent record label  called Aristocrat Records. Within a few short years the label was renamed after the family's  Americanized surname 'Chess' and quickly produced a list of American blues artists that  would come to be regarded as the greatest collection of the genre in recorded history.

Marshall learned every aspect of the record business while working for sixteen years with  the founders of Chess Records; his father Leonard and his uncle Phil doing everything from  pressing records and loading trucks to producing over 100 Chess Records projects and  eventually heading up the label as President after the GRT acquisition in 1969. In the late  1960s Marshall also ran his own record label Cadet Concept, a division of Chess Records. He  created and produced the Rotary Connection, which became the springboard for Minnie  Riperton’s career. He signed John Klemmer and created a new format which was heralded as  the first jazz-fusion album, ''Blowin' Gold''. He signed the underground black rock legends  Black Merda. His Cadet Concept also imported and released the first and only American hit,  Pictures of Matchstick Men, by the British rock group Status Quo. He also created and  produced the controversial psychedelicized blues albums Electric Mud, by Muddy Waters;  and, This Is Howlin' Wolf's New Album. He Doesn't Like It. He Didn't Like His Electric Guitar  At First, Either by Howlin' Wolf. He restored his reputation by producing the jam album  Fathers & Sons with Waters, Mike Bloomfield, Otis Spann, Paul Butterfield, Duck Dunn, Sam  Lay, and Buddy Miles in 1969.

Departing from Chess Records in 1970 after the death of his father, Marshall was hired as the  founding president of Rolling Stones Records, a vanity record label for the English rock group  he had known since the mid 1960s when the band had used Chess studios in Chicago to  record songs while touring the United States. He was an active executive manager, touring  with the band, and being involved with record production as well as outside business  interests. He helped create the Rolling Stones famous tongue and lip logo and was involved  as executive producer on seven Rolling Stones albums during the 1970s. In 1977 Chess  resigned from Rolling Stones Records after realizing that too much drugs, sex, and rock n roll  was undermining his health and leadership in the company. He was replaced with Earl  McGrath on the advice of Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegün, the Stones newly signed  record distribution partner.

As well as music, Chess produced three films in the 1960s and 1970s: The Legend of Bo  Diddley, Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones, and the unrated, unreleased concert  tour documentary Cocksucker Blues by Robert Frank.

During the 1980s and 1990s Marshall produced projects for both Sire Records and Island  Records and for Howdy Doody. He also produced many rap records at the beginning of the  rap generation. He worked with rap star KRS-One, developing an audio comic book project,  Break The Chain, for Marvel Comics.

In 1984, Marshall Chess became a partner in the famous blues and rock publishing company  ARC Music, which he began actively heading in 1992. More recently he finished a film  project called Godfathers and Sons directed by Marc Levin, for the PBS series The Blues,  produced by Martin Scorsese. In the film, Marshall produces a hip hop version of the classic  Chess track “Mannish Boy” featuring rappers Chuck D and Common recording with original  members of the Electric Mud band.

In 1999 Chess founded the Czyz Records record label, with his cousin Kevin. On 21  September 1999 the first record released on Czyz Records was the Murali Coryell album  2120, named after Chess' old Chicago address at 2120 South Michigan. Czyz (pronounded  "Chez" or "Chaz") was the original Polish surname of Leonard and Phil Chess when they  arrived in America from Poland.

In the year 2000, Marshall, his son Jamar Chess, and partner Juan Carlos Barguil created  their own Latin music administration company and all-digital label named Sunflower  Entertainment Co., Inc. Sunflower has quickly become the leading licensor and administrator  of all genres of independent Latin music. More recently, Jamar Chess has overseen the  signing of Vakero, the numbere 1 Dominican hip hop artist and leader of the Rap Dominicano  movement. There have been over 1.8 million views on YouTube of Vakero music and  promotional videos.

Marshall has been on Sirius Satellite Radio's Blues Channel since 2007 hosting the Chess  Records Hour, a three times a week show featuring the music and history of Chess Records.  He also is the executive music producer on two movies, Cadillac Records, released in 2008,  and Who Do You Love, which is now in post production and is scheduled for 2009 release.



CHECKER RECORDS - is an inactive record label that was started in 1952 as a subsidiary to Chess Records  in Chicago, Illinois. The label was founded by the Chess brothers, Leonard and Phil, who ran the label until  they sold it to General Recorded Tape (GRT) in 1969, shortly before Leonard's death.

The label released recordings by mostly African American artists and groups. Checker's releases cover a  wide-range of genres including blues such as Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson II, rhythm and blues such  as Sax Mallard, Jimmy McCracklin, doo-wop such as The Flamingos, The Moonglows, gospel such as  Aretha Franklin, Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, rock and roll such as Bo Diddley, Dale Hawkins, and soul  Gene Chandler.


The label was discontinued in 1971 following GRT's consolidation of the Chess catalogs. As with Cadet and  Chess, the label's catalog is now owned by Universal Music Group and releases from the Checker catalog are  released by Geffen Records and Chess.

Due to the recent expansion of Chess Records, as well as to achieve greater airplay for singles, the Chess  brothers opened up a subsidiary label named Checker. The first 45/78 rpm single released by the label was  "Slow Caboose" b/w "Darling, Let's Give Love a Chance" by Sax Mallard and his Orchestra, which was  released as Checker 750 in April 1952.

The label's most popular artist, in the label's early years, was Little Walter, who had ten songs released by  Checker that made the Top Ten of Billboard magazine's Top Rhythm & Blues Records charts. Among those  ten was "Juke" which topped the charts and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.

Checker released several singles by well-established blues artists such as Elmore James, Arthur "Big Boy"  Crudup (credited as Perry Lee Crudup), and Memphis Minnie, none of which sold well. One well-established  blues artist that did manage to make a hit on Checker was Sonny Boy Williamson II, who charted with  "Don't Start Me Talkin'" a number 3 in 1955, "Keep It To Yourself" a number 14 in 1956, and "Help Me"  number 24 in 1963.

On March 2, 1955, the Chess brothers recorded their first rock and roll artist, Bo Diddley. From this session  came Bo's self-titled debut single on Checker, which topped the Rhythm and Blues charts and was inducted  into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998. Another one of Bo Diddley's Checker singles, "Who Do You Love?",  was inducted in 2010.

In 1957, Checker cracked into the rockabilly market with Dale Hawkins, who had a crossover hit with "Susie  Q", although he could not repeat the single's success. In 1958, Checker released its first 12" 33⅓ rpm LP  record, the Best Of Little Walter, which was released as Checker LP-1428.


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