Back in the 1960s my local record shop, which was in a basement, got flooded, and some of the LPs in stock got a bit damp – so I managed to get a copy of an LP on the legendary Chess label, “Pieces of Chess”, which had been lovingly curated by the late Mike Raven, for just ten bob. The cover had dried out and the record inside the sleeve was untouched. That was the start of my Chess Records collection – I am still adding to it.
The Chess label ran from the 1940s to the 1980s and put out hundreds of classic blues, jazz, jump, rhythm and blues, soul, gospel and rock records. Some of them were produced by Chess themselves; some of them were leased and some of them were picked up from other smaller local companies for national and international distribution. The contribution to music made by Chess Records is enormous.
The Chess brothers acquired Aristocrat Records in 1950 and renamed the company Chess. In 1969 they sold Chess Records to General Records and Tapes for $6.5 million and some stock in GRT. GRT sold the Chess masters to raise money to All Platinum Records and Polygram Records. In 1979 GRT itself was declared bankrupt. It is thought some 250,000 Chess records were discovered at the Chess offices, and were deemed to be of no interest, and were dumped.
In 2005 and again in 2015 a limited number of releases were pressed on vinyl 7″ to mark anniversaries of Chess Records.
There are still some gaps missing in our lists of records and of artists details. Putting this web site together is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle which is so large it creeps out of the front door and down the street; there is no picture to help you put it together, and most of the pieces are buried and could turn up anywhere.
One of the saddest aspects of this project has been the realisation that so many recording artistes who recorded for or who were issued on Chess labels have sunk into obscurity and there is no known information about them. If you can help with missing information, for instance if you are related to those missing people, please get in touch by leaving a comment. There remains a large body of interest in these old recordings.
21 May 2017
Leonard, Phil and Marshall Chess. Copyright details being sought