Today we highlight legendary guitarist Dick Dale.
Be sure to listen to Phil Nee's THOSE WERE THE DAYS radio program tonight … and EVERY Satuarday Night on WRCO ... 6 pm – Midnight (Central):
Just click on the 100.9 headphones and start streaming!
Today we highlight legendary guitarist Dick Dale.
Be sure to listen to Phil Nee's THOSE WERE THE DAYS radio program tonight … and EVERY Satuarday Night on WRCO ... 6 pm – Midnight (Central):
Just click on the 100.9 headphones and start streaming!
Just a couple of hours after we posted the story about the brand new Paul McCartney singles box collection, the official announcement came out ...
And it looks like we had some of our facts wrong. (We were working from the story published by Noise 11 in Australia, who leaked the track list of 159 tunes, MOST of which appeared as either an A-Side or a B-Side during McCartney's solo career.)
The set is actually a collection of eighty 7" vinyl singles, packaged in picture sleeves, just like they were released all over the world at the time of their origin. It sounds like a BEAUTIFUL "box of wax" ... but WAY out of my league ... $612 with a limited run of just 3000 sets (limit two) It also sounds like there are absolutely NO plans to release this material on CD (which is the only way I would have been interested in purchasing it ... and then, only because it was a complete collection of Macca material, all of which I already have anyway ... just nice to have it all in one collected edition.)
Anyway, for those who ARE willing to drop $612 for this set (it comes out December 2nd), here's the info ...
A nice thank you note from Harvey Kubernik ...
And a bit more of his interview with Marshall Chess ...
I've had so many kudos and heartfelt responses from my Marshall Chess Interview you displayed, I thought it deserved an encore.
More Marshall and reminisces from record producer and author Andrew Loog Oldham, who managed the Rolling Stones at the time and brought his band to Chess to record.
Q: Marshall, what do you recall about the Rolling Stones visit to Chess?
A: Besides doing a song about our address “2120 South Michigan Avenue?” I was there during those sessions. We didn’t know about the song title until the album came out. I used to fill out orders from England before I ever knew or realized some came from Mick Jagger after the Stones’ sessions at Chess, I remember driving Brian Jones back to the hotel. I had a ’64 Red Porsche convertible ‘cause I was doing good. See, I was one of the first young guys in the business. I set up Europe. My deal with my dad was that I would get a percentage of all the European royalties. He had none when I started. And all of a sudden, it made like a 150 grand. The first year I got $15,000 bucks. It was like fifty grand.
I really hit it off with Brian. I don’t know why. I drove him back to the Chicago Motel to party. He loved blues and was in awe of Chess. And, before we got to the motel, we stopped on the corner, and all of a sudden these ‘hood types’ started screaming ‘Homo’ Homo’ at him at a bus stop, because he had shoulder length hair. “Homo, Homo Homo.” I went to the hotel with him. I didn’t stay long. I had a screwdriver, ya know. I was Jewish. They were drinking out of the bottle. I also remember packing up some Chess LPs for the Stones as a gift and taking them on a tour of the offices ... introducing them to Phil and my father in the back office that they shared.
Q: In 2007, Andrew Loog Oldham emailed and recalled his Chess time with the Stones.
"It was Chess records, the vinyl actuals, that re-united Mick Jagger and Keith Richards on Dartford Station in 1962. It was Chess Records, the company, the work, that drove Brian Jones to form the Rollin' Stones. It was Chess Records - the wave, that came over me in the Station Hotel in Richmond in April ' 63 when I first saw the Stones and we began our way of life together. Chess was always the underbelly of the Stones beast; the fuel that charged the engine, even after they became their own brand. In fact, for sure after, " Spider and the Fly" in '65 and on '95's " Stripped" shows the ongoing road the Stones continue to show with all that is Chess. The first US tour by the Stones was not the Beatles tour. We had a cult following in the cities and were abandoned in the sticks. The boys needed cheering up. I could not have them de-planning in London looking like ‘The Brothers Glum.’
“I called Phil Spector from Texas, where the Stones had just supported a band of performing seals and asked him to get us booked just as soon as possible into Chess studios. Phil or Marshall Chess called back and said he'd set up two days of recording time, two days hence. Chicago was a piece of heaven on earth for the Stones. The earth had been scorched on most of our mid-American concert stopovers. We hadn't set any records; we didn't yet have the goods, apart from a trio of wonderful one-offs, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man,’ ‘"You Better Move On,’ and ‘Not Fade Away’ we had yet to find our vinyl legs.
"2120 South Michigan Avenue housed Chess Records and Studios and in two days the group put down some thirteen tracks-their most relaxed and inspired session to date, moved, no doubt, by our newfound ability to sell coals to Newcastle. Who would have thought a bunch of English kids could produce black R 'n' B in the States? And here they were in the sanctum sanctorum of Chicago blues, playing in the lap of their gods. The ground floor was a gem, as was Chess engineer Ron Malo. He treated them just like ... musicians.
“Nothing sensational happened at Chess except the music. I was producing the sessions in the greatest sense of the word: I had provided the environment in which the work could get done. The Stones’ job was to fill up the available space correctly and this they did. This was not the session for pop suggestions; this was the place to let them be. Oh, I may have insisted on a sordid amount of echo on the under-belly figure on ‘It's All Over Now,’ but that was only ear candy to a part that was already there. I can remember being impressed with the order of things and how quietness and calm got things done. I remember meeting Leonard and/or perhaps Phil Chess, and being cognizant of the fact that there was no suppressive limey stymieing from the head office to the factory floor. There was just a factory floor and a very relaxed combo of artists, musicians, engineers, and salesmen all at one with each other and getting their jobs done and royalty Cadillacs."
And just that fast, we're out of time!!! (So a Short But Sweet Edition this week!)
Gotta head out into the real world now ...
But I'll leave you first with this little ditty from FH Reader Mike Wolstein ...
Well, The Beatles’ “Revolver” reissue did NOT make it to #1 on Billboard’s Top 200 LP Chart … it debuted at #4 (and odds are that everybody who was going to buy it already has … so it’ll probably make a quick descent down the charts from this point forward.)
But it DID premier at #1 on Billboard’s on Billboard’s Top Rock and Alternative Albums list, their Top Rock Albums Chart and their Catalog Albums Chart. It re-entered Top Album Sales, Vinyl Albums and Tastemaker Albums at #2. (So maybe I was wrong … maybe Taylor Swift really IS bigger than The Beatles!!!)
Still, considering that this material is now some 56 years old, that says a lot for the staying power of the band. (No other artist has ever been able to command these types of chart performances half a century later.) By the way, when “Revolver” was originally released in 1966, it topped Billboard’s Top 200 Album List for a total of six weeks. (kk)
More details here …
And, in other Beatles-related news ...
Coming in December (just in time for the holidays … and yes, you can put this one on my Christmas List) is a brand new box set featuring all of Paul McCartney’s solo singles … 159 tracks in all … presented in chronological order. This includes every A Side AND every B Side from Macca’s solo career, many of these tracks not typically “readily available” in CD format.
You can read more about it (and view the complete track listing) here:
Did you read that Carly Simon / You’re So Vain article I pointed you to yesterday?
The list of potential lovers who may have inspired the song is really quite staggering, especially since she was on the verge of marrying James Taylor at the time! (I have to admit that I was pretty surprised to see David Cassidy’s name on this list!!!)
But the more I think about Carly’s comments about the electricity experienced between her and Jagger, the more I think it HAS to be because they looked exactly like each other at the time. I mean, what could be a greater turn-on than making love to a version YOURSELF (but of the opposite sex)?!?!
Seriously … you think I’m kidding?
Take a look at Carly’s pouty lips on her “No Secrets” album cover … as well as her whole body language … and then Jagger’s look circa 1972 as well. It’s uncanny!!! (kk)[You know, this might be the first time I’ve ever looked up as high as Carly’s lips in this photo!]
Regarding your comments about Colonoscopies in Forgotten Hits, if you haven't seen this, it is well worth the read for anyone who is undergoing their first such procedure or their 10th!
It was written in February, 2008, by a writer who prior to this article wrote a nationally syndicated humor column for the Miami Herald from 1983 to 2005 . . . Dave Barry!
I called my friend Andy Sable, a
gastroenterologist, to make an appointment for a colonoscopy.
A few days later, in his office, Andy showed me a color diagram of the colon, a lengthy organ that appears to go all over the place, at one point passing briefly thru Minneapolis. Then Andy explained the colonoscopy procedure to me in a thorough, reassuring and patient manner. I nodded thoughtfully, but I didn”t really hear anything he said, because my brain was shrieking, quote, “HE”S GOING TO STICK A TUBE 17,000 FEET UP YOUR BEHIND!”
I left Andy”s office with some written instructions, and a prescription for a product called “MoviPrep,” which comes in a box large enough to hold a microwave oven. I will discuss MoviPrep in detail later; for now suffice it to say that we must never allow it to fall into the hands of America’s enemies.
I spent the next several days productively sitting around being nervous. Then, on the day before my colonoscopy, I began my preparation. In accordance with my instructions, I didn't eat any solid food that day; all I had was chicken broth, which is basically water, only with less flavor. Then, in the evening, I took the MoviPrep. You mix two packets of powder together in a one-liter plastic jug, then you fill it with lukewarm water. (For those unfamiliar with the metric system, a liter is about 32 gallons.) Then you have to drink the whole jug. This takes about an hour, because MoviPrep tastes – and here I am being kind – like a mixture of goat spit and urinal cleanser, with just a hint of lemon.
The instructions for MoviPrep, clearly written by somebody with a great sense of humor, state that after you drink it, “a loose, watery bowel movement may result.” This is kind of like saying that after you jump off your roof, you may experience contact with the ground.
MoviPrep is a nuclear laxative. I don’t want to be too graphic, here, but: Have you ever seen a space-shuttle launch? This is pretty much the MoviPrep experience, with you as the shuttle. There are times when you wish the commode had a seat belt. You spend several hours pretty much confined to the bathroom, spurting violently. You eliminate everything. And then, when you figure you must be totally empty, you have to drink another liter of MoviPrep, at which point, as far as I can tell, your bowels travel into the future and start eliminating food that you have not even eaten yet.
After an action-packed evening, I finally got to sleep. The next morning my wife drove me to the clinic. I was very nervous. Not only was I worried about the procedure, but I had been experiencing occasional return bouts of MoviPrep spurtage. I was thinking, “What if I spurt on Andy?” How do you apologize to a friend for something like that? Flowers would not be enough.
At the clinic I had to sign many forms acknowledging that I understood and totally agreed with whatever the heck the forms said. Then they led me to a room full of other colonoscopy people, where I went inside a little curtained space and took off my clothes and put on one of those hospital garments designed by sadist perverts, the kind that, when you put it on, makes you feel even more naked than when you are actually naked.
Then a nurse named Eddie put a little needle in a vein in my left hand. Ordinarily I would have fainted, but Eddie was very good, and I was already lying down. Eddie also told me that some people put vodka in their MoviPrep. At first I was ticked off that I hadn’t thought of this is, but then I pondered what would happen if you got yourself too tipsy to make it to the bathroom, so you were staggering around in full Fire Hose Mode. You would have no choice but to burn your house.
When everything was ready, Eddie wheeled me into the procedure room, where Andy was waiting with a nurse and an anesthesiologist. I did not see the 17,000-foot tube, but I knew Andy had it hidden around there somewhere. I was seriously nervous at this point.
Andy had me roll over on my left side, and the anesthesiologist began hooking something up to the needle in my hand. There was music playing in the room, and I realized that the song was “Dancing Queen” by ABBA. I remarked to Andy that, of all the songs that could be playing during this particular procedure, “Dancing Queen” had to be the least appropriate.
“You want me to turn it up?” said Andy, from somewhere behind me. “Ha ha,” I said. And then it was time, the moment I had been dreading for more than a decade. If you are squeamish, prepare yourself, because I am going to tell you, in explicit detail, exactly what it was like.
I have no idea. Really. I slept through it. One moment, ABBA was yelling “Dancing Queen, feel the beat of the tambourine,” and the next moment, I was back in the other room, waking up in a very mellow mood. Andy was looking down at me and asking me how I felt. I felt excellent. I felt even more excellent when Andy told me that It was all over, and that my colon had passed with flying colors.
I have never been prouder of an internal organ.
CB ( which stands for . . . seriously . . . I have to actually type this?! . . . "Colonoscopy Boy!" )
I’ll go a step further in relating my own personal experiences from Colonoscopy #1 …
The prep was everything that Dave Barry describes above … imagine the worst stomach flu you’ve ever experienced in your life and then multiply it by about 10,000. (Worse yet, you’re actually inflicting this torture upon yourself to get ready for the big exam.)
I KNEW I was in trouble when I got to the hospital and the medical team administering the procedure all put goggles on before giving me my sleep-inducing dose. Goggles?!?! Seriously?!?! I actually laughed out loud at the prospect of what I might still have in my bowels to projectile spray the fine doctors of Alexian Brothers Hospital! (And you thought being a doctor was a glamor job!!!)
That whole idea of what you see on tv is the real deal … “Count backwards from 100” … I think I got to 98 and I was already out.
Scary part is I woke up a couple of times briefly during the procedure … just enough to hear some muffled commentary about what they were seeing … and to see some hazy, blurred images of the doctors hard at work, going about their exploration … I even got to see what THEY were looking at on the big monitor screen. (The good news is I didn’t see anybody covered in any of my bodily fluids … OMG, how embarrassing would that be to wake up and see their splattered uniforms?!?!)
But I DID have a difficult time coming out of the anesthesia … enough so that they expressed a concern to Frannie, who had been waiting there for a while to drive me home. At one point one, of the doctors told her that they’d give me a couple more minutes and if I still hadn’t woken up by then, they’d give me something else to induce awakeness. (I’m thinking that’s probably not the OFFICIAL medical term for it … but you get my drift.)
And please know we are NOT making light of this … it is a NECESSARY and potentially life-saving procedure that we ALL should be doing to avoid any of the kind of last minute surprises like Jack mentioned yesterday regarding Andy Taylor of Duran Duran. His intentions were just as honorable … simply put, check yourself! (I don’t know about any of you guys out there, but I always seem to put my own health last … there is ALWAYS something FAR more important that demands my attention than my own health … which is just plain wrong, especially as we all grow older.)
We’ve gotten a bit off the musical path with this one … but if from time to time we can take a moment to pause and offer good healthy advice (and maybe even make you smile a little bit in the process), then I feel like we’ve done our job. (kk)
Years ago we did a piece asking the musical question, “Is there a ‘sound’ of The City Of Chicago?” Well, if there is, it would probably relate back to our rich Blues Heritage, rather than our pop roots the populated the charts in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s.
That being said, have you heard about this new release?
Encompassing a wealth of explosive archival performance footage and no shortage of players steeped in blues heritage, Born In Chicago, now complete after an effort spanning decades, pays loving tribute to a distinctly American art form. This joyous doc traces the origins of Chicago blues from the Deep South to the South Side, as white prodigies such as Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield and Barry Goldberg seek out and fall in with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy and other Black legends, learn from them, perform with them, and introduce their musical tradition to a new generation of fans. Proving the blues revival of the 1960s went beyond Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and The Rolling Stones, directors John Anderson and Bob Sarles meticulously showcase the era and conditions that made Chicago the epicenter of the American blues scene. The film is enthusiastically narrated by blues fan (and Blues Brother) Dan Aykroyd.
A Ravin' Film presented by Shout! Studios and Out The Box Records, Born In Chicago was directed by Bob Sarles and John Anderson, produced and edited by Bob Sarles. Co-producer and story editor was Christina Keating. Produced and written by Joel Selvin. Featuring: Barry Goldberg, Nick Gravenites, Harvey Mandel, Sam Lay, Charlie Musselwhite, Elvin Bishop, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Steve Miller, Eric Burdon, Marshall Chess and Hubert Sumlin.
About the filmmakers
Bob Sarles is a Primetime Emmy nominated film and television editor, producer and director. He edited the Peabody Award winning documentary series Moon Shot, MTV's ground breaking reality series The Real World. He co-directed and edited the feature documentary BANG! The Bert Berns Story and directed and edited the Sony Music/Legacy Recordings-produced documentary SWEET BLUES: A Film About Mike Bloomfield. He recently produced and edited the television documentary The Nine Lives of Ozzy Osbourne for A&E.
John Anderson is a GRAMMY®-nominated and Emmy-winning director, producer and editor. He was nominated for a 2006 GRAMMY for his direction of Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE, which marked Anderson’s fourth collaboration with the Beach Boys leader, following Imagination, Brian Wilson On Tour, and Pet Sounds Live In London. John Anderson’s directorial projects include Sam Lay In Bluesland, Horn From The Heart: The Paul Butterfield Story, The Beach Boys: Doin' It Again. He is currently completing a documentary about the jazz vocal group Manhattan Transfer.
About Chicago Blues Reunion
Barry Goldberg (keyboard) was a fixture on the 60’s Chicago blues scene dating from his teen years. He was co-founder of the Barry Goldberg - Steve Miller Blues Band and went on to form The Barry Goldberg Blues Band, recorded the seminal “Two Jews Blues” with Michael Bloomfield and founded The Electric Flag. Along the way, he’s written hit songs for Rod Stewart and Gladys Knight, backed up Bob Dylan at Newport, worked with Phil Spector and The Ramones, produced a GRAMMY-nominated album for Percy Sledge and has scored numerous films and TV shows.
Harvey Mandel (guitar) is considered by many critics to be one of the best electric guitarists in the country. He’s recorded with The Rolling Stones, toured with British blues icon John Mayall, and was a member of Canned Heat, who were featured in the landmark music film, Woodstock. As a soloist and as a band member, his musical pedigree is legend.
Jimmy Vivino (guitar), seen on stage in the Born In Chicago documentary, is best known for years as Conan O’Brien’s musical director, guitarist and bandleader for 26 years. He has produced, led bands and recorded with a countless number rock and roll and blues artists for five decades including the likes of Hubert Sumlin, Warren Haynes, Bob Weir, Keith Richards, Elvis Costello, Johnnie Johnson, Son Seals, Shemekia Copeland, Levon Helm, Phoebe Snow, Dion, Laura Nyro, Bob Margolin, Lowell Fulson, John Sebastian, Joe Louis Walker and Al Kooper.
Rob Stone (harmonica/vocals) combines tough Chicago blues tradition with a swinging West Coast rhythmic drive. He cut his musical teeth in the gritty clubs of Chicago’s north, south and west sides, learning from certified blues masters like his Chicago Blues Reunion bandmates. He has shared bills with B.B. King, Etta James, Robert Cray, James Cotton, Los Lobos, Jose Feliciano, Sheryl Crow and others, as well performing with Chicago blues heroes like Robert Jr. Lockwood, Hubert Sumlin, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Pinetop Perkins, Jimmy Rogers, Koko Taylor, David Myers, Henry Gray, and Jody Williams to name a handful.
Rick Reed (bass) is a veteran of the Paul Butterfield Band and has played with countless legends. His recent international tours have been with Canned Heat, Fabulous Thunderbirds founder Kim Wilson as well as Chicago Blues Reunion.
Vince Fossett Jr. (drums) began drumming at the age of two, having been inspired by his father, a drummer who worked with gospel artists including James Cleveland and R&B stars such as Earth Wind and Fire. Vincent Jr. went professional at the age of 17 and has since played with gospel and greats including Karen Clark-Sheard and Alex Aisles. He currently serves on the faculty of LA’s Musicians Institute.
And this from Harvey Kubernik …
MARSHALL CHESS On the Legacy of Chess Records;
Sony Music Publishing worldwide administration deal with the estate of Muddy Waters
Born In Chicago Blues Documentary To Screen at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles November 21st
By Harvey Kubernik © Copyright 2010, 2022
Veteran music business legend Marshall Chess is the son of Leonard and nephew of Phil Chess, the dynamic duo who founded the monumental Chicago-based blues label.
After departing from Chess Records in 1969, Marshall formed and served as President of Rolling Stone Records for seven years. He helped create the Rolling Stones famous tongue and lip logo and was involved as Executive Producer on 7 Rolling Stone #1 albums during the 1970’s.
Marshall Chess is prominently featured and interviewed in the new Born In Chicago blues documentary that will screen on November 21st in downtown Los Angeles at the Grammy Museum.
Narrated by Dan Aykroyd, Born In Chicago is a soulful documentary film that chronicles a uniquely musical passing of the torch.
It's the story of first-generation blues performers who had made their way to Chicago from the Mississippi Delta and their ardent and unexpected followers - middle class kids who followed the evocative music to smoky clubs deep in Chicago's ghettos. Passed down from musician to musician, the Chicago blues transcended the color lines of the 1960s as young, white Chicago music apprenticed themselves to legends such as Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.
In mid-October 2022, Variety announced Sony Music Publishing signing a worldwide administration deal with the Muddy Waters estate.
A Ravin' Film presented by Shout! Studios and Out The Box Records. Directed by Bob Sarles and John Anderson. Produced and Edited by Bob Sarles. Co-Producer and Story Editor: Christina Keating. Featuring: Marshall Chess, Barry Goldberg, Nick Gravenites, Harvey Mandel, Sam Lay, Charlie Musselwhite, Elvin Bishop, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Bob Dylan and Keith Richards.
“The Chess brothers and their record labels were instrumental in popularizing the blues music of Chicago’s South Side,” emailed Born In Chicago co-director and co-producer Bob Sarles in summer 2022.
“Marshall Chess has kept that flame burning to the present day. His story about The Rolling Stones’ visit to the Chess Records studio is a highly entertaining part of our documentary.”
Born In Chicago Trailer:
Marshall Chess was born in Chicago, Illinois, on March 13, 1942, and was raised during the heyday of the independent record business. Leonard Chess had a piece of a record company named Aristocrat Records in 1947, and later in 1950 he brought his brother Phil into the fold and the brothers assumed sole ownership of the company and renamed it Chess Records. They also operated a club on the South side of Chicago, the Macomba Lounge.
Marshall “started” in the family business at age 7 accompanying his father Leonard on radio station visits. For sixteen years Marshall worked with his dad and his uncle Phil, doing everything from pressing records, applying shrink wrap and loading trucks to producing over 100 Chess Records projects, eventually heading up the label as President after the GRT acquisition in 1969.
Over years the monumental Chess catalog has had various homes, including a 1975 sale to All Platinum Records, and eventually a couple of decades ago the Chess master tapes were purchased by MCA Records, now Universal Music Enterprises. The UMe label for many years has re-released top-notch Chess Records packages, compilations and boxed sets manufacturing product configurations for radio, retail, and digital streaming outlets.
Few pieces of audio art have been as influential as Muddy Waters' seminal debut album The Best of Muddy Waters, a humble piece of vinyl released by Chess Records label in 1958 that served as The Big Bang for rock 'n' roll and the ensuing half century of modern popular culture.
In 2017, Geffen/UMe celebrated the 60th anniversary of Waters' first album on Chess by reissuing The Best of Muddy Waters on vinyl in original mono for the first time in 30 years while also making it available for download and streaming for the first time ever, giving new and familiar listeners a reminder of the blues man's truly incandescent music.
Universal/Spectrum in the U.K. has also released a 2 CD compilation Can’t Be Satisfied: The Very best of Muddy Waters 1947-1975.
Chess Records showcased blues, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, soul, jazz and comedy: Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Little Walter, Buddy Guy, Jimmy Rogers, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Little Milton. Maurice White and Charles Stepney both learned their craft at the label. The label issued seminal efforts by Etta James, the Dells, Billy Stewart, and Fontella Bass. The Miracles, Four Tops, Bobby Charles and Dale Hawkins cut singles for Chess.
In addition, there was a jazz division with Gene Ammons, Ahmad Jamal and the Ramsey Lewis Trio. Argo, the jazz arm of Chess released material by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, James Moody, Clark Terry, Zoot Sims, Kenny Burrell, the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet (with the debut recording of pianist McCoy Tyner), Ray Bryant, Roland Kirk, Oliver Nelson, Jack McDuff, Illinois Jacquet and John Klemmer.
In the late 1960’s Marshall created his own record label Cadet Concept, a division of Chess Records. He created and produced the Rotary Connection, which became the springboard for vocalist Minnie Riperton’s career. He signed John Klemmer and created a new format which was heralded as the first jazz fusion album, Blowin’ Gold. Marshall also produced the blues albums Electric Mud and After the Rain. The Chess comedy division offered long players by Moms Mabley, George Kirby, Pigmeat Markham and Slappy White.
Marshall Chess has produced three films. The Legend Of Bo Diddley, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones, and the rarely glimpsed 1972 Rolling Stones’ Robert Frank-directed tour documentary Cocksucker Blues. Chess is also a revealing interview subject in Robert Greenfield’s 2006 captivating book Exile On Main St. A Season In Hell With The Rolling Stones.
In 2004, Marshall was featured in a movie project collaboration titled Godfathers and Son’s directed by Marc Levin, for the PBS-TV series The Blues, produced by Martin Scorsese. Chess produced a hip-hop version of the classic Chess track “Mannish Boy” with rappers Chuck D and Common recording with members of the original Muddy Waters’ Electric Mud band.
In 2008, Marshall concluded a DJ stint hosting a weekly blues music program on Sirius Satellite Radio. His Chess Records Hour debuted in November 2006 and aired for 81 shows.
During 2009, I interviewed Marshall Chess in West Hollywood, California at the Sunset Marquis Hotel.
In 2010 I spoke with Marshall by telephone from his office in New York City.
Chess spent a few hours with me discussing Chess Records, the label’s legacy, his personal relationship with the company’s artists, and working with the Rolling Stones.
Q: Can you explain how Chess Records worked? Can you even compare or contrast Leonard and Phil Chess? How could your uncle and father know so much about music, the blues, and bringing it to the world? They were Polish immigrants.
A: Because they were very bright people. They worked in black businesses. My dad had a liquor store. I sat around my uncle and asked, ‘everyone always asks me about music, and how did Chess get into music.’ And, my uncle’s vision is this. That in Poland, in the small Jewish ghetto town, there was no music. Then some guy got a windup victrola. And the whole fuckin’ village would stand underneath this guy’s window when he played it. That was the first recorded music they heard. They come to America.
My grandfather, who was here seven years prior in Chicago brings them. He had a scrap metal yard. Across the street from it, on the west side of Chicago, was a black gospel church. My uncle said that my dad and him were kids, and after work they would hear the bass drum and gospel singing with a piano, they would be fascinated. They would stand there and get punished for being late, ‘cause they were listening to the black music. That’s where it began to me.
For some reason it affected them. And then, when my uncle went into the army, my dad, I think because he was an immigrant got him near Maxwell Street, the black neighborhood. No prejudice. That’s just it. No blacks in Poland. You don’t get raised being prejudiced in Europe. You hate Nazis, but no blacks to hate. So, they had no problem, and they saw that there was this giant influx of blacks in Chicago, and they had money, and they were working. And my dad started with a liquor store after he worked in a shoe shop. Berger’s shoes. Then the liquor store, where he had a jukebox, and he was there 15-18 hours a day hearing blues. I watched the jukeboxes being serviced. They used to be controlled by gangsters of Chicago. They’d come and pick ‘em up from us. The Italian gangsters.
Q: Can you offer some reflections about the Chess studio?
A: We had fabulous engineers. Ron Malo and Malcolm Chism. They were the two best engineers. Ron came from Detroit. He had worked on Motown studios and he was a big part. Before Ron, we had these two Weiner brothers, who actually built the studio. It was a basic classic studio design, with the echo chamber in the basement, very small control room.
One of the secrets of the Chess studio was not the studio but our mastering. We had a little mastering room with a lathe. Eventually we had a Neumann lathe. The first one was an American one. We did our own mastering and had these Electrovoice speakers on the wall.
The great part about that room that when it sounded right in that mastering room it would pop off the radio. That’s what it was all about. And the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, later Fleetwood Mac had to make visits there.
Q: The Chess sonic delights are amazing.
A: The best explanation is, this may sound way out. It contains magic. The most apparent magic that we can see or experience is music. Let’s face it. Music changes the way you feel. That’s magical. Chess Records for some reason was a magnet for amazing artistry and all these magicians came to Chess. And we were able to capture it. And it’s something that can be experienced through audio. The music has stood up without a cinematic aspect like video. And the method of recording.
As I grew older, and was a person of the hippie generation, and discovered things like meditation, psychedelic drugs, Buddhism. I realized what was happening in the early Chess studio was like a high Buddhist monk meditation manager. Because when you recorded in mono and two-track with 5 or 6 players and a singer there wasn’t any correction possible. One of the main jobs as a producer was like a meditation manager master. He had to get the band locked together to go down. I remember when they were teaching me to produce, they always would say, “when the motherfucker fucks up you got to embarrass him and tell him to play that shit right. Over and over.”
Q: Vee-Jay Records was across the street from Chess in Chicago.
A: Ewart Abner was a good friend of mine. The Vee-Jay stuff came later. It was more on the edge of ‘60s. That led into the Impressions, Curtis Mayfield all that part of Chicago. The thing that this early music has is that it just has some fuckin’ kind of magic in it. I think maybe it’s the direct to two-rack recording of the period. I don’t know what it is. Some kind of alchemy. A real esoteric alchemy. That’s what drew the Stones to record in our studio. There’s some alchemy in those early records that even carries over when you sample them. Jerry Butler and Dee Clark. Brilliant singers. Amazing. They all come from black church. Etta. Every one of them. This is the shit, man. All these motherfuckers learned from church, or the fuckin’ cotton fields in Mississippi.
I love Chess Records. Because it was the greatest, happiest place in the world. You would love going there. You laughed all fuckin’ day. The artists hung out there, no, not all the artists, but what we would call the family artists. Sonny Boy, Muddy Waters, Dells, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley.
Q: And Billy Stewart!
A: Billy Stewart shot the doorknob off at the studio if they didn’t let him in quick enough. What was Billy Stewart mad about? ‘I brought some fuckin’ pepper stuffed crabs from Baltimore. You gotta taste them before they get ruined!’ We were into eatin’ and laughing. Maurice White is the drummer on Billy’s ‘Summertime.’ I saw genius in him. He was the first black guy that ever had a Volkswagen. He was like the first of the switch from the Cadillac to the cool.
I’m proud and I’m thrilled, and helped historically continue the legacy of the Chess Records label. I’m not a classic blues fan, a blues collector, I am not into the anal aspect of what guitar strings Muddy used, or what harmonica did Little Walter play.
I only wanted to be around my family, and my father, who was a workaholic. It was a family business. They were immigrants and embraced that. For age 7 to age 12 or 13, my dad took me on the road, not because I wanted to be in the record business but because I wanted to be with my father. So, I got it really by osmosis, ya know. And that was my real reason for hanging out there.
Q: In Hollywood at Fairfax High School, the Father and Sons album released with Muddy, Otis Spann, Sam Lay, Buddy Miles Paul Butterfield, Michael Bloomfield, and Donald “Duck” Dunn was the big hit in the school hallway with collectors and stoners. It’s been reissued by Universal. The version of “Long Distance Call” is totally amazing!
A: Man, and live, you couldn’t see it, Muddy did this dance on ‘Got My Mojo Working’ that was unreal! Like Nureyev. He put down his guitar and did a pirouette. The place went wild! You can hear it on the record. You can hear the crowd when that happens.
Q: What sort of images flash in your head when you play the music of Chess Records?
A: I see them. My dad and uncle. Man, that’s what goes through my head. Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters went to my Bar Mitzvah. A lot of black people were there which was a very unusual event back then in 1955.
The Chess recording artists were always writing about women problems and sex. That’s all I ever heard from them when I was a kid. I saw some of these records being recorded. I sold them originally. I helped their initial exposure. On the SiriusXM radio program I brought more exposure.
But being around the blues, and all these records being made, and knowing the artists, I don’t know, man, it just, ya know, got into me. It just became part of me. It’s part of my life. I’ve never even considered it work. I appear and promote Chess and the blues in films and TV documentaries. I do as much as I can because I get a buzz out of it. I’m just amazed, man, that this music that we made in Chicago has become so historical
Q: In the Chess stable as far as songwriters like, who, was your main man?
A: Chuck Berry was the best. He had a spiral notebook, a fuckin school spiral book. I saw all those lyrics written out. Like poetry, man.
Q: The earliest I saw Chuck Berry was 1969. He was having pickup bands even then.
A: A pick up band… In the mid to late 1950s he was just brilliant. Johnnie Johnson on piano. I don’t remember much. The first session I remember in detail when he came out of jail was ‘Nadine.’ I was his road manager for six gigs. I brought him his clothes when he came right from the prison. My dad gave me $100.00 to take him down next to the Chicago Theater on State Street to buy him a new outfit. And then we went on tour. The first gig we did was in Flint, Michigan, with the Motown rhythm section backing him.
Q: I never got to see that…
A: Chuck was great. But I always felt he was too greedy. He ruined the alchemy because those pickup bands, as good as they knew it, weren’t locked, like if it would have been his own band. That’s why in Keith’s movie he had all those problems with Chuck. He wouldn’t lock. And he lost it. He needed my father there. I don’t know if I could even deal with it. My dad was the one. As for guitar playing, he invented that whole thing, ya know. And he sang and wrote the words, too.
Q Run down some of the other Chess artists. Howlin’ Wolf. I loved it when he was on Jack Good’s Shindig! television show in 1965 when the Rolling Stones were booked.
A: Howlin’ Wolf…On stage very commanding, but off stage a very gentle, soft man. I remember him telling me he was learning how to read music. Did you know that? He went to school to learn how to read music so he could learn how to play the guitar. He wanted to learn notes. One time my dad had me bring him a thousand dollars to his house, and he opened like those tool boxes that you lift off the tray at the top. And it’s stacked full of money. “What do you need this money for?” “I gotta go buy some special dogs to go huntin’ on my farm.” (laughs). He was a gentle man but ferocious. Big. He used to drink a lot. He was pretty much high a lot when he performed.
Q: Muddy was the showman and a towering regal figure.
A: Muddy liked to drink. Muddy on stage and in the studio was the best. He was organized. He was a fuckin’ leader. I always say this. People say ‘what do you mean?’ He was a fuckin’ leader. Muddy was the reincarnation of a tribal chief, of a President, of a King. Such a powerful presence. I just loved him. And he treated me so good. He used to call me his white grandson. His wife Geneva used to send me fried chicken wrapped in foil. Muddy once wrote a poem to a girl for me that I gave when I was in high school. I always say this and people laugh but most of what I discussed with these guys was about sex. That was the main thing on their mind.
In the fifties and very early sixties there were clubs, during that early blues heyday of Muddy, and Wolf, they were places where people went primarily on weekends to find women. And women to find men and to party. And the music was very much party music. It was like a psychological influence on the people in these little clubs. And it was what these guys wanted to do. Drinkin’ and make love.
It then began to die out as R&B and Motown happened. It’s a period when I was in a few of those clubs that were hot and steamy and smelly and funky and the music was loud. Those were the clubs where Muddy Waters put the coke bottle in his pants and Wolf got down on his knees, howling, drinking whisky out of a bottle. Those were a whole different audience then when the white blues market discovered it.
Look at their lyrics. With the TV programs recently on Muddy. The American Masters documentary, it’s all very gratifying. We always knew it. Gratification is the best word. Not for all of them. Muddy, Wolf, Chuck Berry. These are like Beethoven and Bach. They should be right up there.
Q: Buddy Guy?
A: Buddy Guy brought me a real moio from Mississippi that I used to wear when I was in high school that I used to wear when I was trying to get girls. This little pink bag I pinned to my under shirt.
Q: Bo Diddley?
A: I have always considered Bo Diddley to be one of the most creative, innovative and original of all the Chess artists. From his custom guitars that he built himself to his constant searching for new sounds. He has influenced many recording artists with his originality. He was not afraid to take chances with his music. Chess Records was the perfect place to be as we to were not afraid to experiment with new sounds and ideas. During the 50’s both Bo and Chess were always ready to push the envelope. Brilliant artist. A true original. Great artist. But he’s a trip. The thing I remember about Bo, and here’s my memory. I remember Bo with this long airport limousine broken down in front of 2120 S. Michigan Ave. on his back repairing it himself in the street jacked up changing the rear end or something. On the curb. You know what I told Bo Diddley? “The reason you’ve never had another hit is because your creativity is tied up in bitterness. I said let that shit go and you can have a hit tomorrow. You’re a fuckin’ genius.”
Q: Willie Dixon?
A: Willie Dixon. Songwriter, producer, bass player. He’d get the bands together. I think he was a great songwriter and a great –promoter and a real hustler and he was a great guy. He was very important to the success of Chess and I will not take that away from him. He wasn’t Chess at all. But he was an important part of Chess Records. Very important part of that blues era.
Q: Etta James?
A: The Queen of Soul’ They were calling her that before Aretha (Franklin). She’s just great. She started singing in church. She’s a real L.A. girl. A street girl. Johnny Otis broke her out on Modern, and then she had that hit “Roll with Me, Henry” that was later re-titled “Dance with Me, Henry.”
In 1960 she came to Chess and our Argo label, and then another hit in ’61 with “At Last.” In 1967 came “Tell Mama.” Both great records. They blew our minds. We loved good shit. We knew when it was good. (Laughs). We had black radio in our pocket. We were strong. Not only that, we had a radio station WVON. (Voice Of The Negro) which was part of it. E. Rodney Jones was our program director.
Q: Little Walter? People are still talking about him.
A: He’s the truest genius of all the Chess artists. Because he invented and perfected a new way to play the harmonica, and did it with tremendous creativity and talent. Very much like Hendrix with guitar. They’re exactly alike. Miles Davis considered Walter a genius. Hendrix considered Walter a genius. I liked him as a person but he was always drunk. I never knew him when he wasn’t fucked up. Smelling of liquor. But, yeah, I liked him. There was something ‘sloppy drunk’ about him that I liked. But he had a mean side to him, too. I saw him and my dad go at it with anger numerous times when he was drunk. He’d be a mean drunk. But we loved him. And my dad and my family loved him. We buried him.
Q: You issued Electric Mud by Muddy Waters and have been defending it from the day of retail release.
A: Here’s the true Electric Mud story. I produced it. I recorded it and promoted it. At that time, I was very aware and very on top of alternative FM radio. I drove across the United States, visiting FM DJ’s like Tom Donahue and Bobby Mitchell in San Francisco. I’d meet all the DJ’s at radio stations in Los Angeles like KMET-FM and KPPC-FM and meet all these people. And these guys would be smoking joints on the air and they’d take an album right from your arm and play it immediately five times on the air!
Q: FM “Underground” radio gave airplay to blues recordings during 1967-1970
A: Those were the great days. I was part of the generation. When everyone took LSD to watch the Grateful Dead, I did. I’ve been at the Fillmore West sitting on the floor. What happened to me was that I was part of that sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll generation. And it blew my mind.
Bill Graham was the greatest for that for the blues artists of that era. B.B. King on the bills. FM radio was a Godsend for the blues. The big commercial AM stations would not play the records at all except some black stations. And I decided to repackage Chess to that market that was getting stoned and going deep. It was a big boost when the English groups covered the music earlier. On records and at their shows. We loved it and something we thought could never happen.
Muddy Waters and B.B. King really dug white people doin’ their stuff. Sonny Boy was very much into white people doin his stuff. So was Howlin’ Wolf. I remember (Eric) Clapton gave him a fishing rod. Wolf was a real sportsman. He had fuckin’ huntin’ dogs that were a thousand dollars each. It blew our mind, of course it was a fantastic thing. We loved it. And we never thought that could happen. It was a total fantasy. But we first noticed it with the Muddy At Newport album came out. See, albums were not selling to black people. They didn’t have record players. I can remember we got all these orders from Boston on the Muddy album and we knew it was white people buying it. College kids. The first things we noticed as the album market developed.
Q: In 1984, you became a partner in the established blues rock publishing company, the Arc Music Group, which he began actively heading in 1992. You and the Arc Music team placed Chess Records-birthed recordings and music copyrights into major motion pictures, television shows, and TV commercials. You just oversaw the sale of Arc Music to Fuji Entertainment America.
A: I’m in shock and still haven’t realized it. It was time. We’ve had people chasing us since 2001. We’ve just been waiting for the right buyer. It was the right price with the right respect for the catalogue.
Speaking of The Blues, Buddy Guy (who has officially announced his retirement) and The Doobie Brothers (The Doobie Brothers???) are two of the headliners at next year’s Bluesfest being held in Melbourne, Australia. (The Doobie Brothers???) kk
And Gary Theroux tells us that he and Wink Martindale have just completed the brand new 2022 edition of THE 100 GREATEST CHRISTMAS HITS OFF ALL TIME. The ten hour special will run over the Christmas Holiday Weekend on great stations like Me-TV-FM. (kk)