October 21, 2016

"The brothers were not musical visionaries; they were small-time 'indie' record men making a quick buck from the poorest, least respected people in America."

"But their recorded bread-and-butter discs of local street musicians and bar bands still sound as fresh today as they did 60 years ago. By failing to be timely, they succeeded in being timeless."

From the obituary for Phil Chess, who was born  Fiszel Czyz in 1927 in Motal, which was in Poland at the time but is now in Belarus.

Chess Records recorded Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley and many others.
Over the years, the Chess brothers were accused more than once of taking financial advantage of their artists, and there were lawsuits, usually settled confidentially. Some Chess artists said their compensation was more often like an allowance than like a salary. But there were many instances of apparently genuine friendship: Chuck Berry sometimes stayed overnight at Phil’s house.....
Key quote from Phil Chess: "I didn’t know what I was doing." 

15 comments:

chickelit said...

Does the obit mention Willie Dixon? I think he felt cheated by Chess.

Carter Wood said...

Most of what I know of Chess is from the not-so-bad movie, Cadillac Records. But the Phil character doesn't even speak.

Rob said...

This seems relevant to Fiszel Czyz.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I guess it makes perfect sense that an obituary writer for the New York Times would take umbrage at management exploiting creative genius.

dustbunny said...

Keith Richards wrote that when the Stones first visited Chess in Chicago, Muddy Waters was in overalls painting the walls.

Mac McConnell said...

Muddy Waters, father of Chicago blues is from Clarksdale, Miss..

rcocean said...

Its funny how some scumbag who cheated a lot of badly educated and naive Black musicians and artists out of a lot of $$$, somehow merits a positive obit in the NYT.

I thought all the NYT's readers loved black folks.

I don't really get all the "Chess" love. Like most "producers" he was just a parasitical middle-man who tried to skim off as much $$$ as he could, leaving many of the real artists and producers with as little as possible.

FullMoon said...

rcocean said... [hush]​[hide comment]

Its funny how some scumbag who cheated a lot of badly educated and naive Black musicians and artists out of a lot of $$$, somehow merits a positive obit in the NYT.

I thought all the NYT's readers loved black folks.

I don't really get all the "Chess" love. Like most "producers" he was just a parasitical middle-man who tried to skim off as much $$$ as he could, leaving many of the real artists and producers with as little as possible.


If it was not for guys like "Chess", guys like Chuck Berry would never be heard. Just like a million other talented people who never get a break.

rcocean said...

"If it was not for guys like "Chess", guys like Chuck Berry would never be heard. Just like a million other talented people who never get a break.'

Bullshit. Chuck Berry would've been heard with or without Chess, because his music was so great. Chess was just the first one there with a contract.

And even if Chess "helped" Berry be heard, how does that excuse the exploitation of poor Black musicians? Was Chess driven by greed or love of music? The answer is obvious.

chickelit said...

If it was not for guys like "Chess", guys like Chuck Berry would never be heard. Just like a million other talented people who never get a break.

You're right. First recording contracts are often deal breakers for fledgling musicians. The Kinks had two strikes against them with Pye Records when they came up with "You Really Got Me." If they somehow hadn't, Ray Davies would have probably done something else. Read his memoir. Only his brother Dave had the "we'll never fail optimism." As for Chess, it's possible to recognize them for what they did, but to criticize them for how they treated some talented people. I'm sure that's the case with most any label.

FullMoon said...

Rcocean said...

"If it was not for guys like "Chess", guys like Chuck Berry would never be heard. Just like a million other talented people who never get a break.'

Bullshit. Chuck Berry would've been heard with or without Chess, because his music was so great. Chess was just the first one there with a contract.


Really? Berry was 29 years old when Chess signed him. Had been playing clubs since a teen. Nobody thought he was good enough to sign in all that time. He made a decent living as a beautician and did music as a sideline. There are thousands of great bands playing tonight around the country. Most will never be known outside the local area.

Mac McConnell said...

Most of these blues musicians were already established south of the Mason Dixon Line, they moved to Chicago either because they had extended family there or to play in a larger market. Many had previously recorded elsewhere. Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf from Clarksdale, Miss., Chuck Berry from St. Louis & Kansas City.The list goes on. The same can be said of NYC Jazz players.

The proof is that you can find remastered recordings records pressed long before these musicians showed up in the 'Big City".

I once got into an argument with a frat brother from Connecticut over Bob Dylan, he hated him. This was 1970, he called him, "nothing but a fake and a New York Jew". I said WTF. My point is that the arrogance and parochialism of the "Big Cities" believing they produced this talent. In reality they're just bigger markets.

Mac McConnell said...

FullMoon
Yes Chuck Berry also served time in Missouri prison. He skipped class at Sumner HS, stole a car, robbed three shops with a broken gun, when that car broke down stole another at gunpoint. So Chuck had plenty of ways to make a living. I believe he started performing in HS.

Laslo Spatula said...

Brokedown Bobby Shakes says...

I was cheated by them Chess brothers, cheated real bad. They said theys was gonna make me a star, and then they gave all the songs I wrote to Chuck Berry, said I was "inappropriate."

"Maybelene?" That was MY song "She May Be Twelve."

"Sweet Little Sixteen?" That was MY song "Sweet Little Twelve."

"Never Can Tell?" That was MY song "Yo Sister Be Twelve."

"No Particular Place To Go?" That was MY song "I Want To Be Lovin' Yo Twelve-Year-Old Sister In The Butt."

They took all my songs and I didn't get a Goddam dime. I tell you what: if I see Chuck Berry I'm gonna beat his bony ass, that's what I'M gonna do...


I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

Brokedown Bobby Shakes says...

Yeah, I had it bad for my friend's sister. She wasn't actually twelve, but she was gonna be twelve real soon...

Life is hard for a rock-and-roll man, and sometimes you just wanna find a nice girl. Except after the age of thirteen all the nice girls are whores, at least in my hometown. That may sound harsh, but that's how those girls could afford their fancy shoes: all the girls in town, they wore the fancy shoes...

I told her Momma that I would provide for her lil' girl, I'd provide real good, but she jess ran me outta the house and shot me in the ass with a blast of rock salt: that shit stings, I tell you that...

Sometimes I wonder what would've happened if me and her had settled on down, but I realize twelve-year-old girls, they don't stay twelve forever. A damn shame, that, but there you have it...

So I live my life on the road, rockin' and rollin'. Who knows -- I might be comin' to your town, too, and if you come see me, do Bobby a favor: bring your granddaughters...

I am Laslo.