If one man can be credited with creating the language of rock 'n' roll it is Chuck Berry. In the early 1950's he was just an ambitious Nat "King" Cole imitator gigging in St Louis, but ten years after moving to Chicago and cutting is first hit, "Maybelline", in 1955, he built a catalogue of classics that inspired the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and every rock musician since.
Meanwhile his Chicago rival Bo Diddley, the earthiest and arguably the most exciting of the rock 'n' roll performers, was reminding us that this music was just a step away from the blues. Although he was raised in Chicago, his music was a bizarre, electric version of the blues of his birthplace, Mississippi.
Between them Chuck and Bo caused a revolution in Chicago blues, hitherto largely unknown to white America and the mass market. Both were signed to Chess Records, established by Eastern European immigrants, the Chess brothers, who provided the shop window for Chicago bluesmen, while also conforming to a now all-too-familiar pattern, as white entrepreneurs exploiting black talent.
Chess Records both examines the subject of exploitation within the record business and celebrated the music of two unique and important artists and the extraordinarily fertile blues environment out of which they grew.
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John Collis is a freelance writer whose recent books include Van Morrison: Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, and The Blues: Its Roots and Inspirations. He lives in London, England.From Publishers Weekly:
"Leonard didn't know nothing about no blues." Such is the verdict of blues legend and Chess recording artist Muddy Waters on mogul Leonard Chess; presumably, then, brother and cofounder Phil knew less than nothing, since Leonard was the driving force behind the label. Whatever the truth about the feel these white immigrant entrepreneurs had for the African American music they marketed, their label has become practically synonymous with Chicago blues and certainly played a pivotal role in the development of American music. The key players here are 1950s breakthrough blues stalwarts Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, and Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, who led the turn to rock 'n' roll. Although Chess continued to record great artists like Buddy Guy and Etta James in the '60s, its moment had passed by 1969?the year of Leonard's death and its sale to GRT?and by '75 nothing was left but a back catalogue to be tussled over. Not only did the once-great label die an ignominious death, but here its business practices come across as shady at best, with many artists complaining that they were never paid fairly. Collis has produced a responsible, amply illustrated account, reproducing concert posters, album covers, publicity shots and a wealth of performance photos, all wittily captioned. Still, the lack of a comprehensive discography is unfortunate. Despite the compelling personalities who weave in and out of the text, the writing is uninspired, and the story of the rise and slow fade of an influential record label is not especially gripping. Perhaps not every great institution leaves a great story to be told.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Book Description Bloomsbury USA, 1998. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P111582340056
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