Phil Chess, Co-Founder of Influential Blues Label Chess Records, Dies at 95
Phil Chess, who started the influential blues label Chess Records with his brother Leonard, has died at age 95. The company, which the siblings founded in Chicago in 1947, was home to such seminal musical artists as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Chess died overnight in Tucson. His brother Leonard passed at age 52 in 1969, just a few months after he sold the company.
The Chess brothers were Polish immigrants who turned another record label, Aristocrat Records, into their famous company. By the middle of the '50s, their roster included some of blues music's best and most influential performers, who helped create some of the greatest songs of the 20th century, including Berry's "Johnny B. Goode," Howlin' Wolf's "Spoonful" and Waters' "(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man."
Those artists helped form the foundation of rock 'n' roll. When British musicians – including the Rolling Stones, who recorded their 5 x 5 EP at the Chicago studios also run by the Chess brothers – started to pick up import records in the '60s, a new generation of rock artists was formed. Led Zeppelin's first two albums were essentially reworked versions of songs from the Chess catalog.
Chess also helped produce 1951's "Rocket '88" by Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats (led by Ike Turner), which is widely considered the first rock 'n' roll song. A 2008 movie, Cadillac Records, told the label's story. Shiloh Fernandez played Phil, while Leonard was portrayed by Adrien Brody.
“Phil and Leonard Chess were cuttin’ the type of music nobody else was paying attention to — Muddy, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy, Jimmy Rogers, I could go on and on — and now you can take a walk down State Street today and see a portrait of Muddy that’s 10 stories tall,” bluesman Buddy Guy, who recorded for Chess, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “The Chess brothers had a lot to do with that. They started Chess Records and made Chicago what it is today — the blues capital of the world. I’ll always be grateful for that.”
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