Friday, October 21, 2016

Record Executive Phil Chess Passes on

Phil Chess, who with his brother Leonard founded Chess Records, died on October 19 2016 at the age of 95.

Phil Chess was born Fiszel Czyż in  Częstochowa, Poland. In 1928 he, his mother, his brother Lejzor (later named Leonard), and sister Malka joined their father in Chicago. The family name was later Anglicised to "Chess". Fiszel became Philip while Lejzor became Leonard. During World War II he served in the United States Army.

Following the war Phil and Leonard Chess operated a liquor store and then the Macomba Lounge nightclub. In 1948 Leonard Chess became a partner in Aristocrat Records, a Chicago recording company that was the first to record Muddy Waters. Leonard bought the other owners out and Phil Chess joined the label in 1950. Aristocrat Records then became Chess Record. As Chess Records the label's primary focus would be rhythm and blues. Chess Records' first release was  Gene Ammons's cover of "My Foolish Heart". It was in 1951 that Chess Records began a long association with  Sam Phillips's Memphis Recording Service.

Ultimately Chess Records produced a number of major R&B stars, including Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Etta James, Willie Dixon, and Chuck Berry. In 1951 the Chess brothers founded Checker Records as a subsidiary of Chess. Unlike Chess Records, Checker Records covered a wide range of genres, including blues, doo-wop, gospel, rock and roll, and soul. Checker Records produced its own number of music stars, including Little Walter,  Sonny Boy Williamson II,  Bo Diddley, and Dale Hawkins.

In 1969 the Chess Brothers sold Chess Records to General Recorded Tape (GRT) for $6.5 million. Phil Chess continued to work as a producer well into the Eighties.

Along with his brother Leonard, Phil Chess played a pivotal role in the history of both rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll. Not only was Chess Records home to many early and influential R&B and rock 'n' roll artists, but Phil Chess himself produced a number of important recordings, including the early work of Bo Diddley, Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry, and others.

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