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Machers and Rockers: Chess Records and the Business of Rock & Roll (Enterprise) Hardcover – September 17, 2004


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a postscript to his dynamic history of Chess Records, Cohen (Tough Jews) confesses that its tale is one he's been telling since adolescence, "using whatever was at hand to make the case: not only does this song rock, it also has something big to tell us." Cohen's book has something big to say too—about how the unlikely marriage of the shtetl and the plantation produced Chicago blues and rock and roll. The music that exploded into the living rooms of America and the world might have remained in the juke joints of the South if not for "record men" like Leonard Chess, whose label is rivaled only by Atlantic for its influence. Sensing an audience where the big labels didn't, Chess carted unvarnished recordings of artists like Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry in the trunk of his Cadillac, getting them in stores and on the air by any means necessary. Cohen weaves the story of the mercurial, lovable but not always entirely ethical Chess with the stories of the artists he recorded and well-judged glimpses of social history. Though written with the energy of his teenage bull sessions, Cohen's history avoids the rhetorical excess nearly endemic to rock and roll books, offering instead a punchy and driven but also sturdy and careful narrative.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

More acclaim is rendered to Chess Records and Leonard Chess, in particular, in Cohen's engaging book based on the proposition that "Leonard Chess, along with a handful of the musicians he signed and promoted and coddled and fucked over and enriched, invented the very idea of Rock & Roll." The musicians Leonard and his brother, Phil, signed and so forth included Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, and the rest of the Chicago blues elite, and this is inevitably the story of black musicians and Jewish businessmen coming together to almost inadvertently create timeless rhythm and blues and inspire the development of rock. Cohen blends the artists' stories with the upward progress of Leonard Chess' family, notably including son and eventual rock mogul Marshall, who called Muddy Waters grandfather. The Chess story hasn't languished untold, but Cohen's version of it, centered on the savvy businessman who moved to "an old money town" as his business grew but kept commuting to the south side to make it work right, is utterly fresh. Mike Tribby
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Series: Enterprise
  • Hardcover: 222 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (September 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780393052800
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393052800
  • ASIN: 039305280X
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,885,857 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

I read this book in one sitting, it just flows.
Jeff Desmond
Rich Cohen has done it again--this time with the blues and the business of rock and roll.
Number 1 Reviewer
As author Rich Cohen points out there was really nothing terribly mysterious about it.
Paul Tognetti

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Mystery Fan on October 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Machers and Rockers is an embarrassment to the publishing industry. Just about everything the author knows about Chess Records and the Chess brothers was lifted from Nadine Cohodas's vastly superior book, Spinning Blues Into Gold. Cohen manages to insert a mistake onto every other page of his book, even to misreading Cohodas's book. For example, the address of the Macomba was 39th and Cottage Grove, not 47th and South Karlov, Muddy Waters was NOT pioneering his new sound in the Checkerboard (a club that came way after the 1940s), Chess was not recording in makeshift studios early on, but in the top-notch Universal Recording, he has Sam Phillips selling Evis's contract to RCA for 30K in one place and 35K in another, he has Etta James singing "Don't Go to Strangers" instead of Etta Jones and then pretends to have listened to it with an evocative description, he has 2120 the last address of Chess when the address was it was 320 E. 21st, he has Ben E. King leading the Moonglows when it was Bobby Lester, and on and on and on. Not only can Cohen not get the facts right, he has absolutely no understanding of the label and its recording legacy. This is a dishonest book written by an author who has absolutely no quams on foisting a worthless book on the public.

If you plan to spend money on a book about Chess Records and the Chess brothers I emplore you to invest it in the tremendously researched and far more interesting Spinning Blues Into Gold. Books like Marchers and Rockers need to be ground up into pulp as fast as possible to avoid infecting the public discourse on this famous label.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By J. Case on October 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a book about American Pop Culture. About music, yes, but also about a certain type of person, and and a certain time, and a certain culture that is on its way out. Or already gone. I think it is really like a Chicago version of that Irving Howe book, "World of Our Fathers." It is about Jews, blues and the old city of Chicago. I reccomend it highly.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Barry Wood on October 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
this book reminds me of a great old rock and roll song. more than any other book or movie i know, it makes clear all the connections, where the blues turns into rock and roll, and where the businessman becomes the rock and roll executive. it is also the bigger story of race and culture, and how that old nation became the new America.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Desmond on October 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I read this book in one sitting, it just flows. But it's also full of surprises and things you will want to tell people about.

I had no idea who Leonard Chess was before this, and now I cant believe that was the case.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C. Anthony on June 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I recently purchased Rich Cohen's 'The Record Men' and 'Machers and Rockers', which are presented as two separate books on the subject of Chess Records, i.e. the descriptions are completely different. In actuality, the only difference is 'The Record Men' is a paperback, and 'Machers and Rockers' is hardcover. Otherwise, the chapter titles and text throughout are exactly the same. Amazon also offers a discount for purchasing these titles together, which is highly misleading. If Mr. Cohen didn't have enough material or insight on Chess Records to write two separate books with separate content, he should have written one book, and included better pictures and more extensive historical information. Buyer beware!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By 2lateblooz on October 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
i liked rich cohen's previous books, and this one is filled with juicy anecdotal detail and a fresh perspective on the emergence of rock & roll. but it's filled with factual errors: bo diddley's name is misspelled throughout (in a history of chess records!); ben e. king is identified as the lead singer of the moonglows (it was the drifters); twice, cohen says that sam phillips sold elvis' contract to columbia records; he places the who's 'who's next' tour in '77 (the album came out in '71); dion & the belmonts didn't record 'stagger lee'...dion did as a solo artist. cohen's writing is vivid, and the story he has to tell is an important one, but when the story is riddled with mistakes (there are plenty more), it becomes frustrating.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Owen Cannew on October 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Another addition to the "hey I never knew" series of books put out by this author. Gritty, tough, hard to put down. This is a great read and short enough that it doesn't give you a hand cramp. What could be better? Okay, so maybe Chess was a bit of a thieving creep, but he was interesting and did something with his life. No? You might also check out: Tough Jews. Different characters, same gestalt, more blood.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Daniel B. Pepper on August 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a decent book that is mostly about the life of Leonard Chess, who was the genius behind Chess Records, which produced some of the greatest electric Blues and Rock 'N' Roll records of the 1950s and '60s. Unfortunately, the author constantly misquotes lyrics to songs by Muddy Waters, Chess Records' biggest star, something for which there is no excuse. There are also many other inaccuracies in the book, such as: the author stating that "Gershwin created the template for Jazz" (page 88), which is beyond absurd, the mentioning of Robert Little John (does the author mean John Littlejohn?) and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown being Chess artists (page 105), stating that there wouldn't have been a Woodstock without the Beatles (where is the proof of this?), giving incorrect lyrics to a Little Walter song (page 112), stating that The Moonglows' lead singer was Ben E. King (he was a part of The Drifters), mentioning that older Blues stars, specifically Lonnie Johnson, were pushed into retirement during the Rock 'N' Roll era and "rediscovered" twenty or thirty years later (this would mean Lonnie was "rediscovered" in the '70s or '80s, by which time he was long dead), and some minor mistakes. This is an easy read and certainly not a bad book, though.
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