Chess history: Label made several moves
July 7, 2011 5:38PM
Updated: July 20, 2011 5:24PM
The 2120 S. Michigan building is the best known Chess site, although it isn’t the only one in Chicago.
The first Chess location opened in 1947 in a storefront office at 2300 E. 71st St., when the label began as Aristocrat Records. The next year Leonard Chess moved the operation to 5249 S. Cottage Grove. From 1951-54 Chess was at another storefront at 750 E. 49th St.
The 2120 glory days were between 1957 and 1967, when Chess moved to a bigger studio at 320 E. 21st St. for the final years of its existence.
But the history behind the 2120 sessions is mind-bending. Chuck Berry came to the 2120 front door auditioning a country version of “Ida Red.” Muddy Waters’ “You Shook Me” featured Willie Dixon on bass, Big Moose Walker on piano and Earl Hooker on guitar. Donny Hathaway and B.B. King recorded at Chess. Session cats included drummer Maurice White, bassist Louis Satterfield and trombonist Don Myrick, who went on to form Earth, Wind and Fire.
The Buckinghams recorded their biggest hit, “Kind of a Drag,” at Chess. The song was arranged by Chess trombonist Frank Tesinksy, who also played on the track. The Buckinghams’ USA label was down the street in “Record Row.”