The story of the Chess brothers, who worked hand-in-glove with disenfranchised black musicians, and how their lives entwined with the great blues, r&b, and rock artists who appeared on their legendary record labels. They changed what America and the world listened to, introducing us to Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Etta James and countless others.
Polish Jewish immigrants who moved to Chicago in 1928, Leonard and Phil Chess founded an independent record company that produced classics by rock and roll pioneers, along with jazz, soul and gospel artists. An engaging stroll down memory lane combining meticulous scholarship with indelible portraits of musical greats, this history of Chess Records, founded in 1950, and its permutations (Checkers, Argo, etc.) traces the genesis of hits including Chuck Berry's "Rock 'n Roll Music," Etta James's "At Last," the Monotones' "The Book of Love" and Fontella Bass's "Rescue Me." Cohodas (The Band Played Dixie) sensitively explores the complicated dynamic between the Jews who dominated the early "indie" music business and the black performing artists whose music they produced. Although allegations of exploitation and underpayment of royalties led to lawsuits against the Chess brothers in the 1970s, Cohodas stresses the large common ground between Jews and blacks. Leonard's Macomba Lounge, the club he opened in Chicago in 1946, became a magnet of African-American nightlife. His radio station, WVON (Voice of the Negro), was an integral part of Chicago's black community in the 1960s. While long stretches of this book are a workmanlike chronicle of business dealings, Cohodas vibrantly tracks the crossover of R&B to the pop charts, and she dispels many myths and false legends surrounding the Chess brothers, e.g., Keith Richards's fabricated story that he saw downtrodden blues legends Muddy Waters on a ladder painting the Chess studio's ceiling. 16-page photo insert. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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May 15, 2012
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