open Vault

WGBH Media Library and Archives

Interview with Phil Chess and Marshall Chess [Part 1 of 4]

  • Cite

Summary
Interview with Phil Chess and Marshall Chess [Part 1 of 4]
Topics
Chess, Marshall, 1942-, Chess, Phil, 1921-, Rock and Roll, Chess Records
Tags (0)
Add Tag Add Annotation

Transcript

:

Interviewer:
OK, let's start off, maybe you could just tell me how Chess Records began. What Phil and Leonard Chess were doing in Chicago in the '40s and how that led to the formation of...?
Marshall:
He's the man.
Phil:
In the '40s ah, we had a liquor store on 51st and State called Cut Rate Liquors. And then Uncle Sam wanted my face so he took me away for three and a half years, and my brother ran the liquor bar. And, ah, he ran into some people ah, that had a club on 39th and Cottage Grove called the Macombo Lounge, ah, and they wanted to sell and my brother bought it. He bought it for, anything he did automatically was for the two of us. Or whatever I did was for the two of us. So we got,he ran the Macombo Lounge till from ah, oh, '40... '43 to ah, no, ah, cut, I'm wrong.
Interviewer:
So again, tell me how you and your brother were running clubs in Chicago and how that led into the beginnings of Chess Record.
Phil:
Well the first club, we called it a tavern was a place called the Cut Rate Liquor Store on 51st and State. While I was at the Cut Rate I, I went into the service, ah, three and a half years and my brother sold the club and bought another club at 708 East 47th Street which was the Blues. It was really the blues area and, ah, that's where he ran into Muddy, Bill Walter, Sunnyland Slim, oh, you name them, they were all there. If they were on Maxwell Street they were there and most of them played on Maxwell Street, if you're familiar with Chicago. And, ah, when I got out of the service, ah, no, then my brother sold the club and bought a club on 3905 South Cottage where we had a trio, trio playing. You know like we had Tom Archer and Side Man and we had Elijah Kett, we had Gene Amons and then some people came buy and, two couples and they wanted, wanted to know if he was interested, came in to record somebody in the club. And they wanted to know if he'd be interested in becoming a partner. And, ah, at that time I just got out of the service that was in '46 and, ah, my brother became a partnership but he didn't know anything about what they were recording. They were recording "Get On The Ball Paul" and some white and then harmonica, the Harmonicats, not the Harmonicats, it was ...
Marshall:
Was that on Aristocrat records?
Phil:
On Aristocrat records, yeah, these people owned Aristocrat Records and, ah, my brother bought into that. And then after a while they, we weren't making any money on it and the club was doing good. And what we were making in the club we were putting in, into the record business. So meantime they wanted out. And we bought them out. And, ah, we had the Aristocrat label and the first release on Aristocrat was, ah, Andrew Tibbs "I Can feel Like” .. no, "Bo Bo's Dead". Bo Bo wasn't he governor, senator of Mississippi.
Marshall:
Then Mount Carmel burned down right after that.
Phil:
Yeah that was, no, that was in '51 or '50.
Marshall:
'50?
Phil:
Yeah and, ah, ah, I would work the bar and my brother would take me over like 2 in the morning and, and we, we never closed, at 4 o'clock the license, you're supposed to close, we'd close the blinds and then haul the all the hustlers and all the prostitutes and we'd come in the club and all the jazz guys would come in and they'd jam. And the three hours that you're supposed to be closed that's what they were doing. We made some good money at that time because at that time a dollar for a bottle of beer was a lot of money.
Enter the timecode: