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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Machers and Rockers: Chess Records and the Business of Rock and Roll » User review

How Leonard Chess built one of America's truly great indie labels

  • Dec 3, 2008
These "record men" were a special breed.  Men like Herman Lubsinky at Savoy in New Jersey, Sam Phillips at Sun in Memphis, Syd Nathan of King Records in Cincinnati and one Leonard Chess were the driving force in the evolution of the music we now call rock and roll.  "Machers and Rockers" concentrates on Leonard Chess and tells the remarkable story of Chess Records.  In the span of 20 years beginning in 1948, the Chess brothers, Leonard and Phil, would build Chess records into the second largest independent record company in America.  No small achievement!  More importantly, it was Leonard Chess who played a pivotal role in bringing the blues out of the fields and into America's cities. It was this development, perhaps more than any other, that would ultimately result in the emergence of what we now call rock & roll in the mid 1950's.
How did these guys do it?  Why did these men succeed when so many others tried and failed? A s author Rich Cohen points out there was really nothing terribly mysterious about it.  Leonard Chess was a savvy businessman who was determined to succeed in the record business.  And God knows, he was not afraid of hard work.  Successful "record men" would do whatever it took.  Leonard Chess was actively involved in nearly every aspect of his business.  He beat the bushes in search of talent.  He signed the artists and produced the records. T hen he would stuff thousands of records into the trunk of his car and hustle them all over the Midwest. For the indies like Chess there was little margin for error.  A major miscalculation could doom a small record company.

"Machers and Rockers" is a revealing look into the underbelly of the recording industry in 1950's America.  However,  there are several glaring errors in this book.  Some pretty sloppy research if you ask me.  The best I can muster is a lukewarm recommendation. Since there are a number of books devoted to the subject of Chess records you might want to check out one of those.

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Paul Tognetti ()
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I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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About this book


Chess Records was an American record label based in Chicago, Illinois. They specialized in blues, R&B, gospel music, early rock and roll, and occasional jazz releases.

Run by brothers Leonard and Phil Chess, the company produced and released many important singles and albums, which are now regarded as central to the rock music "canon." Musician and critic Cub Koda described Chess Records as "America's greatest blues label."[1]

Chess Records was based at several different locations on the south side of Chicago, Illinois, the most famous being at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue from c. 1956 to c. 1965., immortalized by British rock group The Rolling Stones in their song "2120 South Michigan", which was an instrumental recorded at that address during their first U.S. tour in 1964. The Rolling Stones would record at Chess Studios two more times after this. This building is now home to the Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation.

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ISBN-10: 039305280X
ISBN-13: 978-0393052800
Author: Rich Cohen
Genre: Music History
Publisher: W.W. Norton and Co.
Date Published: September 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
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