Many people are deemed ‘legendary’ or that they ‘changed the world’ in some way when they pass away, although not always true, in the case of Polish immigrant Phil Chess, who died this week at the ripe old age of 95, for once you can believe the hype! If you’re a fan of music and are unaware of the contribution this man made to popular music, sit down as you may be in for a shock!
Without Phil (and brother Leonard) we may have never heard the likes of Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Etta James, Little Walter, Buddy Guy, need I go on?
After emigrating to the US with older brother Leonard way back in 1928, the brothers were soon turned onto the sounds emerging from the mostly black neighbourhoods they were living in – legend has it they first heard gospel music helping run a junkyard that just so happened to be across the road from the local Baptist Church.
Phil and Leonard set up Chess Records on Chicago’s South Side, a location that in the late ’40s and early ’50s was literally oozing with talent. They quickly had a roster of some of THE hottest acts around, signing Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Etta James, Little Walter, Buddy Guy, among many others. Fast forward ten years and these are the very same records that white teenagers in the UK held dear to their hearts (hello Mick Jagger/Keith Richards et al). In fact so important were the records put out by Chess that almost all ‘British invasion’ artists of the ’60s could count a Chess record amongst their set list, as the ’60s went on they also put out some incredible records that mixed up soul, psychedelia and jazz – like Rotary Connection, Dorothy Ashby, Ramsey Lewis and more.
Ooops, almost forgot, way back in 1951 they released a record called ‘Rocket 88’ by Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats, not only an early outing for Ike Turner (that’s him on guitar) but a record that many claim to be the first ever rock ‘n’ roll record….
Phil Chess (March 27, 1921 – October 19, 2016)
You can read the Phil Chess obituary here
You can listen to Rocket 88 here….