Chess Records was an American record company, founded in 1950 in Chicago and specializing in blues and rhythm and blues. Over time it expanded into soul music, gospel music, early rock and roll, and occasional jazz and comedy recordings, released on the Chess label and on its subsidiary labels Checker, Argo, and Cadet. The entire Chess catalogue is currently owned by Universal Music Group and managed by Geffen Records.
Founded and run by two Jewish immigrant brothers from Poland, Leonard and Phil Chess, the company produced and released many singles and albums regarded as central to the rock music music canon. The musician and critic Cub Koda described Chess as "America's greatest blues label."
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Links to Peel
As a big fan of blues, R&B and early rock'n'roll, Peel was familiar with the output of Chess Records from an early age, although he admitted in his sleevenotes to 'Chess Golden Decade Sampler' (1976) that he was often exposed initially to popular cover versions of songs originally by artists on the definitive Chicago label.
“When I was myself a carefree young cub I remember buying 'See You Later, Alligator' by Bill Haley from Crane's in Liverpool. I probably snapped up the McGuire Sisters' 'Sincerely' around the same time. Doubtless I trundled off home feeling that I was tapped in to the very roots of rock 'n' roll. Now, older and wiser, I know that I should have listened to Bobby Charles and the Moonglows instead.”
In later years, Peel's favourite artists on the Chess roster included groundbreaking figures such as Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley – who were also a huge influence on a generation of British artists heavily played by the DJ. Among others, the Rolling Stones recorded at the Chess studios in Chicago, while Fleetwood Mac released a “Blues Jam at Chess” LP with leading musicians on the label.
The use by other performers of songs first released on Chess remained a constant through the decades of Peel shows, with Jawbone covering Bo Diddley's 'I'm A Man' in 2004. Cover versions the DJ particularly appreciated by artists on the label included an unlikely doo-wop rendition of 'White Cliffs Of Dover' by the Blue Jays.
In the first six months of the 21st century, Peel treated listeners to numerous tracks from the 'The Chess Story 1947-1956' box set. The DJ had bought the 15-CD collection as a Christmas present for himself at the end of 1999.
(Plays by Peel of various artist (v/a) compilations from Chess, including those first released on subsidiary labels as indicated. Please add more information if known.)
(4xLP – Genesis: The Beginnings Of Rock)
(LP - Chess Golden Decade Vol. 1)
(2xLP - Golden Decade Volume 3)
(LP - Heavy Heads)
(LP - A Christmas Dedication) Checker
- 20 December 1978: Violinaires: The Sound Of Christmas
- 24 December 1992: Meditation Singers: Blue Christmas
- 08 December 1999: Meditation Singers: Blue Christmas
- 08 December 1999: Violinaires: The Sound Of Christmas
- 17 October 1984: Billy Barrix: Cool Off Baby (JP: "really awful, but I mean in a kind of wonderful way.")
(2xLP - Golden Age Of Rhythm And Blues)
(CD - The Blues Volume 1)
(15xCD – The Chess Story 1947-1956)
- 04 January 2000: (JP: “For Christmas I bought myself a 15-CD set, The Chess Story 1947-1956. There's a lot of stuff on there I obviously already know and probably have in a different form, but there are tunes on there that I've not heard before. This isn't one of them in fact.”)
- Muddy Waters: I Feel Like Going Home
- 12 January 2000: Forrest Sykes: 'Tonky Boogie
- 16 January 2000 (BFBS): Jimmy Rogers: Goin' Away Baby
- 23 January 2000 (BFBS): Jimmy Rogers: Goin' Away Baby
- 01 February 2000: Muddy Waters: Still A Fool
- 09 February 2000: Little Walter: Mean Old World
- 29 February 2000: Little Walter: Off The Wall
- 15 March 2000: Little Walter: Tell Me Mama
- 05 April 2000: Blue Jays: White Cliffs Of Dover
- 09 April 2000 (BFBS): Blue Jays: White Cliffs Of Dover
- 13 April 2000: Jimmy Rogers: Chicago Bound
- 11 May 2000: Moonglows: Sincerely
- 18 May 2000: Moonglows: Most of All
- 30 May 2000: Bo Diddley: Diddley Daddy
- 31 May 2000: Sonny Boy Williamson: Don't Start Me Talkin'
- 01 June 2000: Chuck Berry: Maybellene
- 01 June 2000 (Radio Eins): Little Walter: You Better Watch Yourself
- 13 June 2000: Moonglows: In My Diary
- 27 June 2000: Chuck Berry: Thirty Days
(LP - Folk Festival Of The Blues) Argo
- Peel On Record Cover Sleevenotes
- John Peel's Record Box
- Record Boxes: Joe Boyd
- Cover Versions
- Covered (category)
- Etta James