Archive for Chess Records

Lost Classics! The Greatest Blues Album in the World

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2009 by 30daysout

Martin Scorsese Presents The BluesGodfathers and Sons

In 2003, acclaimed movie director Martin Scorcese produced a series of seven films, each created by another acclaimed director, and they called the whole thing “Martin Scorcese Presents The Blues.”  The series aired on PBS and my favorite episode was “Godfathers and Sons,” directed by Marc Levin (not the idiot right-wing talk radio guy).

Levin paired Public Enemy rapper Chuck D with Marshall Chess, son of Leonard Chess and heir to the Chess Records legacy, in Chicago and the film followed them as they produced an album combining contemporary hip-hop musicians with veteran blues and jazz players.  But along the way the film explored the rich history of Chicago blues as recorded by Chess Records, and there was great footage of Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bo Diddley and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, along with original performances by Koko Taylor, Otis Rush, Magic Slim, Ike Turner and Sam Lay.

As good as the film was, the soundtrack CD is even better: it could be the greatest blues album ever released.  Among the 22 tracks are a couple of hip-hoppers and white boys, but when I’m playing the blues I always seem to gravitate back to this album.  There’s a couple of genuflections each to the two gods of Chicago blues – Muddy Waters is represented by “Mannish Boy” and “(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man,” while Howlin’ Wolf checks in with “Spoonful” and “Little Red Rooster,” classics all.  And the killer lineup includes Koko Taylor with “Wang Dang Doodle,” Jimmy Rogers, Buddy Guy, Magic Slim, Little Walter and Jimmy Reed performing their best-known songs.   And what would a Chess anthology be without the late, great Bo Diddley – he could fill an album all by himself but here he’s represented by “Diddley Daddy.”

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Lost Classics! “The Back Door Wolf”

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags , , , on June 8, 2009 by 30daysout

Howlin' Wolf - Front

Blues great Howlin’ Wolf revealed himself to be a somewhat bitter and angry fellow with The Back Door Wolf, released on Chess Records in 1973.  The Wolf, real name Chester Burnett, was incredibly popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s – his 1962 album Howlin’ Wolf (the “rocking chair” album, because there’s a rocking chair on the cover), with classics-to-be “Wang Dang Doodle,” “Little Red Rooster” and “Spoonful,” was his biggest hit and one of the greatest albums ever made.

But by the late 1960s-early 1970s Howlin’ Wolf wasn’t as popular and the big shots at Chess kept trying to find ways to keep their artists current (and selling records).  The Back Door Wolf as a result features some “topical” songs of the day written by the Wolf his own bad self.  “Coon On The Moon” speaks to the prejudice still evident in the time and with the lyrics “You gonna wake up one morning/And a coon is gonna be President” he sarcastically predicted the election of the nation’s first black President 35 years later.

Later in “The Watergate Blues,” Wolf celebrates the black security guard who found a little piece of tape on a door and started into motion a series of events that brought down that era’s president.  The lyrics of these topical songs are rooted in a particular time but they’re still listenable today for their passion and fury. 

Wolf is supported by the great Hubert Sumlin on guitar, but Detroit Junior’s use of the harpsichord on some of the songs is a little odd.  And Wolf himself plays a mean harmonica.  The Back Door Wolf turned out to be Howlin’ Wolf’s final studio album; he died in 1976. 

MP3: “Coon On The Moon”

MP3: “The Back Door Wolf”

MP3: “Moving”

MP3: “The Watergate Blues”

Howlin’ Wolf Home Page

Blues Queen Koko Taylor, R.I.P.

Posted in News with tags , , , on June 4, 2009 by 30daysout

Koko Taylor

Chicago blues legend Koko Taylor died yesterday at the age of 80.   She was an electrifying singer who became famous with her rendition of the Willie Dixon classic “Wang Dang Doodle” in 1965.  Dixon himself discovered Taylor, telling her that the blues world needed a female voice.  She recorded for Chess Records until that label folded in the 1970s but most recently she was on Alligator Records, a modern blues label.  She played clubs and concerts until nearly the very end – truly the Queen of the Blues.

Chicago Tribune obituary on Koko Taylor

MP3: “Wang Dang Doodle”

MP3: “Hey Bartender”

MP3: “I’m A Woman”

MP3: “Stop Watching Your Enemies”

MP3: “Let The Good Times Roll” (live)

Alligator Records official website