A record label founder who profoundly influenced the evolution of American music has died. The New York Times reports that Phil Chess, who founded Chicago’s Chess Records with his brother Leonard and helped usher obscure blues artists to mainstream recognition, died Tuesday at his home in Tucson, Ariz. He was 95.
The Chess label played a part in the creation of rock ‘n’ roll, shepherding influential artists including Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry.
“Chess Records was one of the most prominent of the independent labels — Atlantic in New York and Sun in Memphis were among the others — that became successful in the 1950s by finding little-known performers, recording them and persuading radio stations (not infrequently with the help of cash payments) to play their records,” The Times reports. “Their goal was profit, but their lasting influence was suggested by the first ballot of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which consisted almost entirely of artists who had recorded for independent labels.”
The Chess roster became a who’s who of what came to be known as Chicago blues, with Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson and many others joining Muddy Waters on the label.
“The legacy of the tough-talking, cigar-chomping brothers can be seen not just in the records they made but also in the many songs recorded first by Chess artists and later by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and others,” The Times notes.
Here’s an unusual clip about Bo Diddley’s meeting with the Chess brothers, mostly told by Bo Diddley …