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[Episode Summaries] [Oral Histories] [The Songs and the Artists] [Eternal Songs] [Instruments and Innovations] [Behind the Scenes] [Links] [Into the Classroom] [Credits] American Roots Music
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MARSHALL CHESS

In 1947, Leonard and Phil Chess, two enterprising immigrant brothers from Poland - bought into fledgling Aristocrat Records, and soon revamped the label under their Americanized sir name. Chess Records quickly became the linchpin of a boldly amplified, inexorably exciting new style of Chicago blues. This new label was unafraid to proudly and prominently display its Mississippi Delta roots while simultaneously underscoring its modern urban brashness. Under the supervision of the brothers Chess, the label became the primary recording catalyst for the entire postwar Chicago blues movement, led by the seminal waxings of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter. The roster of Chess recording artists over the next two decades is a veritable chart of blues royalty, including including Sonny Boy Williamson, Bo Diddley, Memphis Slim, Memphis Minnie, John Lee Hooker, Rufus Thomas, James Elmore, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry, Etta James and Buddy Guy, and dozens more.

Leonard brought his son Marshall into this milieu of creative energy. His intimacy with the music and the musicians led him on a natural path towards producing, and in the 1960s he worked with Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, on records intended to help them to cope with '60s trends and reach out to a rock n' roll audience. In 1969, Leonard Chess died, stilling the heart and soul of Chess Records. The label was sold and Marshall went on to work for the Rolling Stones and made his filmmaking debut with a documentary expose of the Stones' wild antics during a 1970s road tour.

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