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.
From Library Journal
One of the enduring legends of the music business is the record company honcho, huge cigar clenched in his teeth, signing the naive country boy to a one-sided contract. The problem with this cliche is that usually a small, independent label has been the company out there beating the bushes for new talent and fresh trends. No label exemplifies this better than Chess Records. When Chess released a record in 1950 by an unknown (to white audiences anyway) blues singer named Muddy Waters, an empire was born, built on the foundation of blues and later rock'n'roll. Some of the greatest names in both genres recorded for Chess, from Howlin' Wolf to Chuck Berry to Bo Diddley to Buddy Guy. But along with the musical success came the almost inevitable charges of withholding royalties from artists. Freelancer Collis includes a liberal sprinkling of vintage photos to break up a sometimes overwhelming catalog of artists and hits. Chess was not the only trailblazing record label; in Little Labels?Big Sound we get a rundown of ten of the best, featuring such labels as Dial Records, instrumental in starting the bebop revolution with Charlie Parker, and Sun Records, which jump-started rock'n'roll by recording Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. Journalists Kennedy and McNutt have produced an extensively researched look at a time when primitive recording equipment was the standard and hunger for a quick buck was the rule. A guide to reissue anthologies for each of the labels covered is an added treat. Both books are recommended for music libraries.?Dan Bogey, Clearfield Cty. P.L. Federation, Curwensville, PA
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.