Understanding "Cadillac Records"
How big was Chess Records?
Walk into Buddy Guy's Legends blues club in
"Cadillac Records" is this season's star-studded musical biopic. Unlike "Ray," "Walk the Line" or "Dreamgirls," it's not about a singer or a band. It's about a record label. A couple of Jewish kids in Chicago who sold Blues records to a Black audience and ended up changing the course of music. It's the most important record label you've never heard of.
The Chess Records story revolves around electricity. Nobody knows who first decided to plug in a guitar to play the Blues, but Muddy Waters gets the credit for it. That innovation took what had been folk music from rural
Chess came to encompass a who's who of the musicians of the day. Howlin' Wolf is still the best blues voice ever recorded. Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker, who between them put the "Rhythm" in Rhythm & Blues were among the Chess artists who didn't even make it into the movie. Chuck Berry and Etta James came relatively late to Chess, but were arguably the best-known of its artists. Chess records alumni now boast eleven seats in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
For a new audience of African-American migrants who moved North with the Blues, the sound coming out of Chess studios was electrifying. Remember that up to this point, the Blues was what Count Basie played. Chess was barroom, not ballroom. It was the kind of Blues you could find at the outdoor Maxwell Street Market barking amidst the trinkets and tamale vendors.
An ocean away, another audience discovered Chess. Despite the fact that Blues records were nearly impossible to find in
You know these kids. Eric Clapton, the Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, and a handful of musicians that would go on to form such divergent bands as Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac. There was also a group who decided to name their band after the Muddy Waters hit "Rollin' Stone." They called one of their first records "2120
Muddy Waters famously sang "The Blues had a baby, and they called it Rock & Roll." Chess Records was the delivery room.
If you want to hear the Chess sound for yourself, check out this collection of the originals that Cadillac Records is based on. If you're really hardcore, the