The Story of Chess Records

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It is the major dynamic that has shaped American popular music — the relationship between African-American musicians and the Jewish businessmen who brought their music to the rest of America.

Want an example? Take Chess Records — the home of Chicago blues, the label of Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. Chess was founded by the Chess Brothers, Leonard and Phil, Jewish immigrants from Poland, who happily admitted they couldn’t tell a blue note from a major chord but knew what they liked.

And amazingly what these guys, former scrap iron dealers and saloon keepers, liked — the rest of the world went crazy for. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones made pilgrimages to the Chess Studios. Everyone who has ever bopped to Johnny B. Goode or felt their mojo working has a connection to the music recorded by the immigrant brothers.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)


Nadine Cohodas, author of Spinning Blues Into Gold.