- THIS PAGE CONTAINS -
- Chess Records -
- Chess Studio & Office -
- Leonard Chess -
- Phil Chess -
- Marshall Chess -
- Checker 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 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
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
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.
– 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
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.
- 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
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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