The Chess Label
Part I (1950-1952)

© George R. White, Robert L. Campbell, Tom Kelly, and Dr. Robert Stallworth


Latest revision: February 13, 2016


Revision note: We have now worked in coverage of 45 rpm releases, from a company that was not an early adopter of the format (July 1951 for Chess 1469, August 1952 for Checker 758). More label photos will follow. We added another rebranded Premium, Chess 903 by Memphis Slim. We have also added a biography of Bobby Lewis, including more information about his 1952 session with the Leroy Kirkland Orchestra.


On June 3, 1950, Leonard and Phil Chess, now the sole owners of Aristocrat Recording Corporation, changed the name of the label to Chess. They launched a new series of releases at number 1425, commemorating their family's first home in Chicago, which was located at 1425 South Karlov Street.

Of the first 8 releases on the new label (Chess 1425 through 1432), 6 used material recorded in June 1950 or earlier; they mark a transitional phase from Aristocrat to Chess. During the new label's first two years, its proprietors dipped continually, but not very systematically, into the Aristocrat archives. Meanwhile, the Aristocrat records that they had in stock kept on being distributed until January 13, 1951, when the old label was officially discontinued. Leonard and Phil Chess made ample use of older Gene Ammons sides, reissuing several of his Aristocrat singles, but showed no apparent interest in older Muddy Waters performances. Muddy's only Aristocrat-era side to be reissued on Chess during this period was his 1948 hit "I Can't Be Satisfied," hastily retitled to serve as the flip side to Chess 1514. After the middle of 1952, Aristocrat material ceased to be of interest; it would not draw attention again until Chess took up the LP in 1956.

Our first table displays material recorded for Aristocrat, up through the founding of Chess Records on June 3, 1950. Every session for Aristocrat is included that led to releases on Chess singles. Through the middle of 1952, when they lost interest in their back catalog, the Chess brothers mined it for 27 sides (25 if we count only releases that we are sure took place; Chess 1483 by the Blues Rockers was cancelled). When the material was previously released on Aristocrat, we give the Aristocrat release number in square brackets, but the release dates are for the Chess incarnations only. You can find the Aristocrat release dates on our Aristocrat page.

We mark matrix numbers in bold when we have been able to verify them from the actual releases.


Four-A-Melody-Men,
A renamed group that had recorded for Aristocrat. From the collection of Tom Kelly.

Jimmy Bell,
Courtesy of Rod Branham

Jimmy Bell,
Courtesy of Rod Branham

Reverend Gatemouth Moore,
One of the many early Chess sides drawn from the Aristocrat vaults. From the collection of Tom Kelly.

Robert Nighthawk,
From the Big Joe Louis collection.

Robert Nighthawk,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

Gene Ammons,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Aristocrat sessions (1947-1950) reissued on Chess

Matrix Artist Title Release Number Recording Date Release Date
U-7028 Tom Archia and his Orchestra | Vocal: Sheba Griffin Mean and Evil Daddy [Mean and Evil Baby] Chess 1448
[Aristocrat 601A]
July 1947 January 1951
U 7029 Tom Archia and his All Stars (vocal: George Kirby) Ice Man Blues [Aristocrat 602A] July 1947
U 7030 Tom Archia and his All Stars (vocal: Sheba Griffin) Cherry [Aristocrat 602B] July 1947
U 7031 Tom Archia and his All Stars (vocal: Buster Bennett) Fishin' Pole [Aristocrat 601B] July 1947
U 7036 Seven Melody Men Rockin' Lord [Aristocrat 901A] August 1947
U 7037 Seven Melody Men Nobody Knows - Nobody Cares [Aristocrat 901B] August 1947
U-7038 Four-A-Melody Men [Seven Melody Men] I'm on My Way Chess 1475
[Aristocrat 902A]
August 1947 August 1951
U-7039 Four-A-Melody Men [Seven Melody Men] Mother Pray for Me Chess 1475
[Aristocrat 902B]
August 1947 August 1951
U 7070 Tom Archia and his All Stars Jam for Sam [Aristocrat 603B] October 1947
U7071 Tom Archia and his All Stars Macomba Jump [Aristocrat 604B] October 1947
U7072 Tom Archia and his All Stars Downfall Blues [Aristocrat 605] October 1947
U-7073(reverb added) Tom Archia and his Orchestra Blues at Twilight [Slumber] Chess 1448
[Aristocrat 603A]
October 1947 January 1951
U-7094 Jimmy Bell's Trio | Vocal by Jimmie Bell Just about Easter Time [Aristocrat 1901A] December 1947
U-7095 Jimmy Bell's Trio | Vocal by Jimmie Bell Jimmy's Swing Boogie [Aristocrat 1901B] December 1947
UB 7096 [sic] Jimmy Bell's Trio | Vocal by Jimmy Bell Me and My Baby Chess 1427 December 1947 June or July 1950
UB-7097 [sic] Jimmy Bell's Trio | Vocal by Jimmy Bell If You Believe in Me Chess 1427 December 1947 June or July 1950
U7108 Muddy Waters Good Lookin' Woman (Chess LP 80002) December 1947
U7109 Muddy Waters Mean Disposition (Chess LP 9180) December 1947
U7110 Sunnyland Slim with Muddy Waters She Ain't Nowhere [Aristocrat 1304A] December 1947
U7111 Sunnyland Slim with Muddy Waters My Baby, My Baby [Aristocrat 1304B] December 1947
[U7112] U-7112 [Muddy Waters with rythm [sic] accompaniment]
Muddy Waters and his Guitar
[I Can't Be Satisfied] Looking for My Baby [Aristocrat 1305A]
Chess 1514
December 1947 June 1952
U7113 Muddy Waters with rythm [sic] accompaniment I Feel like Going Home [Aristocrat 1305B] December 1947
U7127 Nighthawks (vocal: Ethel Mae) Down the Line (Chess [Br] 6499 433) July or August 1948 (mastered November 10, 1948)
U7128 Nighthawks (vocal: Ethel Mae) Handsome Lover (Chess [E] 6499 433) July or August 1948
U7129 Nighthawks (vocal: Robert McCullum) Return Mail Blues unissued July or August 1948
U-7130 Robert Nighthawk My Sweet Lovin' Woman Chess 1484 July or August 1948 December 1951
U7140? Tom Archia and his All Stars Jam for Boppers (Chess LP 1445) early October, 1948
U7141 Gene Ammons with Tom Archia
[Tom Archia and his All Stars]
Boppin' for Santa
[Swinging for Christmas]
Chess 1445
[Aristocrat 606]
early October, 1948
(mastered October 12, 1948)
December 1950
U7142 Gene Ammons with Tom Archia
[Tom Archia and his All Stars]
Talk of the Town Chess 1445
[Aristocrat 606]
early October, 1948 December 1950
U7143? Tom Archia and his All Stars The Battle (Chess CHV 414) early October, 1948
U-7174 Christine Chatman's All Star Combo With "Gene Ammons" On Tenor| Vocal: Christine Chatman Hey Mr. Freddy [Aristocrat 8001B] February 28, 1949
U-7175 Vocal by Christine Chatman with Gene Ammons and his Sextet Do You Really Mean It Chess 1428 February 28, 1949 July 1950
U7176 Gene Ammons?
unissued? February 28, 1949
U-7177 Christine Chatman's All Star Combo With "Gene Ammons" On Tenor| Vocal: Christine Chatman When Your Hair Has Turned to Silver [Aristocrat 8001A] February 28, 1949
U7178 Gene Ammons? ? unissued? February 28, 1949
U-7179 Gene Ammons and his Sextet | Vocal: Mary F. Graham Bless You Chess 1425 February 28, 1949 June 1950
U-7180 Three O'Clock Jam Session | Leo Blivers [sic] Guitar, Ike Day Drums, Gene Ammons Tenor Sax, Christine Chatman Piano, Lowell Pointer Bass Part 1 (Stuffy) [Aristocrat AR-711A] February 28, 1949
U-7181 Gene Ammons Orchestra
[Three O'Clock Jam Session]
Once in a While
[Part 2 (Once in a While)]
Chess 1525
[Aristocrat AR-711B]
February 28, 1949 September 1952
UB 9549 Rev. "Gatemouth" Moore and his Congregation The Bible's Being Fulfilled Every Day [Aristocrat 905A] April or May 1949
[United Broadcasting Studio]

UB 9550 Rev. "Gatemouth" Moore and his Congregation Glory, Glory, Hallelujah [Aristocrat 905B] April or May 1949
[United Broadcasting Studio]

UB-9551 Rev. Gatemouth Moore I'm Going Through Chess 1437 April or May 1949
[United Broadcasting Studio]
October 1950
UB-9552 Rev. Gatemouth Moore Thank You Jesus Chess 1437 April or May 1949
[United Broadcasting Studio]
October 1950
UB9720
[purchased from John Coppage]
Floyd Smith Blue Moods Chess 1439
[Aristocrat 409]
June 8, 1949
[United Broadcasting Studio]
November 1950
UB9721
[purchased from John Coppage]
Floyd Smith Saturday Night Boogie Chess 1439
[Aristocrat 409]
June 8, 1949
[United Broadcasting Studio]
November 1950
U7194 The Nighthawks (vocal: Robert McCullum) She Knows How to Love a Man (Blues Ball LP 2003) July 12, 1949
U7195 The Nighthawks (vocal: Robert McCullum) Black Angel Blues [Aristocrat 2301B] July 12, 1949
U7196 The Nighthawks (vocal: Robert McCullum) Annie Lee Blues [Aristocrat 2301A] July 12, 1949
U-7197 Robert Nighthawk Return Mail Blues Chess 1484 July 12, 1949 December 1951
U7198 The Nighthawks (vocal: Ethel Mae) Sugar Papa (Chess [Br] 6499 433) July 12, 1949
U7231 Gene Ammons and his Orchestra Pennies from Heaven Chess 1431
[Aristocrat 411A]
January 8, 1950 August 1950
U7232 Gene Ammons and his Orchestra The Last Mile Chess 1431
[Aristocrat 411B]
January 8, 1950 August 1950
U-7233 Gene Ammons and His Sextet Chabootie Chess 1429
[Aristocrat 416]
January 8, 1950 July 1950
U7234 Gene Ammons and His Sextet Full Moon
[correct title: More Moon]
Chess 1429
[Aristocrat 416]
January 8, 1950 July 1950
U7235 Muddy Waters Rollin' and Tumblin' (Part 1) [Aristocrat 412A] February 1950
U7236 Muddy Waters Rollin' and Tumblin' (Part 2) [Aristocrat 412B] February 1950
U-7237 Muddy Waters and his guitar Rollin' Stone Chess 1426 February 1950 June 1950
U-7237 [alt.] Muddy Waters Rollin' Stone [alt.] (Chess LP 8202) February 1950
U-7238 Muddy Waters and his guitar Walkin' Blues Chess 1426 February 1950 June 1950
U-7239 Blues Rockers When Times Are Getting Better [Aristocrat 413 [!]] March 5, 1950
U-7240 Blues Rockers Blues Rockers' Bop [Aristocrat 413 [!]] March 5, 1950
U7241 The Blues Rockers Little Boy, Little Boy Chess 1483
(cancelled)
[Aristocrat 417?]
March 5, 1950 December 1951
U7242 The Blues Rockers My Mama's Baby Child Chess 1483
(cancelled)
[Aristocrat 417?]
March 5, 1950 December 1951
7247 Gene Ammons and His Orchestra Tenor Eleven Chess 1525 May 2, 1950 September 1952
U-7248 Gene Ammons and His Sextet Good Bye Chess 1428 May 2, 1950 July 1950
U7249 Gene Ammons and His Sextet You Go to My Head (Chess LP 1442) May 2, 1950
U-7250 Gene Ammons and His Sextet My Foolish Heart Chess 1425 May 2, 1950 June 1950

Gene Ammons in the early 1950s
From the collection of Billy Vera

Gene Ammons,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

The Chess brothers continued to book studio sessions at Universal Recording in Chicago. Universal would, in fact, remain their studio of choice during this entire period; they did not acquire the ability to make even crude recordings in their offices until 1954, and the renowned Chess studios wouldn't open until May 1957. But their operation was on the tightest of budgets. In the U7000 series that Chess inherited from Aristocrat, just 30 new sides were newly recorded at Universal Recording in Chicago—and that's if we assume that the missing U7257 and U7258, U7273 and U7274 were actually made. Two further sides by The Dozier Boys were cut at United Broadcasting Studios in August; the rapidity with which these items were released indicates that they were done for Chess, not for the Premium label which regularly used that studio and eventually sold most of its remnants to the Chess brothers. Besides, Aristocrat had used United Broadcasting Studios on several occasions in 1948 and 1949. Chess also cut two Claude McLin sides at Modern Recording Studio (a studio used by such rival indies as JOB and Seymour). These bring the total to a measly 34.


Sax Mallard,
From the collection of Stephen Janci

The first session done under the auspices of the new label consisted of six sides by two artists already established on the Aristocrat roster. Uptown blues singer Andrew Tibbs had been responsible for no fewer than 7 releases on the predecessor label. Through the middle of 1949 he had been the company's most reliable seller. Sax Mallard had released three singles of his own and accompanied Tibbs and the Dozier Boys. What's more, when the session was cut, Mallard was a featured soloist in the all-star jazz band that Al Benson had put together for a Saturday night TV show on WBKB. Mallard seems to have used several of his band mates on the session, to which he contributed subtly Ellingtonian arrangements. Whatever its attractions to jazz fans today, this was not the sound that most record buyers wanted. Just one single was released from the session; despite the expenses the Chess brothers had sunk into recording them, the rest remain unissued to this day. Tibbs, whose own popularity was eroding, was addicted to heroin, and his habit would soon get him into trouble; although he made a few more records, they would all be done for other companies.


Sax Mallard,
From the collection of Stephen Janci

Claude McLin,
From the collection of Armin Büttner

The Chess brothers' next move was to bring Claude McLin back into the studio. They knew the tenor saxophonist from his frequent participation in jam sessions at the Macomba Lounge. In March 1949, his band was in residence there while Tom Archia temporarily worked the Congo Club, and he recorded for Aristocrat behind singer and pianist Laura Rucker. The idea on this occasion was to get Claude McLin to follow Gene Ammons' lead by recording a popular ballad. The tune selected was "Mona Lisa," which had been a big hit for Nat "King" Cole; a violinist and a steel guitarist sweetened McLin's regular combo sound on this number only. The flip side, "Benny's Bounce," was more typical McLin fare, though a mystery second tenor saxophonist joined in. We don't know for sure whether two further sides were made, as was customary at the time, or the allotted 3 hours were consumed getting "Mona Lisa" and "Benny's Bounce" right.


Claude McLin,
From the collection of Armin Büttner

"Mona Lisa" sold well enough to keep Claude McLin in Chicago for another year and a half; he had been scuffling for gigs since late 1949, but his fortunes improved temporarily now that he had a record out.


Gene Ammons,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Gene Ammons,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

The Chess brothers were eager to record their top-selling artist, Gene Ammons, whose May session had produced "My Foolish Heart," the label's biggest hit of the year. Jug entered the studio in August to cut four sides with the latest version of his working group: Bill Massey on trumpet, Mattthew Gee on trombone, Junior Mance at the piano, Gene Wright, bass, and Wes Landers, drums. He even got his celebrity front-line partner Sonny Stitt to participate, on baritone sax. All four sides were promptly released on two singles.


Gene Ammons,
From the collection of Armin Büttner

Gene Ammons,
From the collection of Armin Büttner

Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Another high priority was gettingMuddy Waters back in the studio. Since two sides from Muddy's second session for Aristocrat scored a local hit in the summer of 1948, he had become an increasingly valuable asset to the label, and the Chess brothers intended to build on what he had already accomplished. They had been challenged, earlier in the year, by Muddy's moonlighting on a session for the short-lived Parkway label that featured his regular band with Little Walter and Baby Face Leroy Foster. Foster had left after his Parkway sides were released, but Leonard and Phil Chess finally ended their holdout and decided to include Little Walter on a Muddy Waters session. Four sides were made at an unclear date—most likely August 15, 1950, when the two sides featuring Jimmy Rogers are known to have been made. The results, enriched by Walter's harmonica playing, were impressive. The company still fell short, however, of including Waters' full band; the only other participant on the session was bassist Big Crawford.


Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

The strong release on Chess 1434 paired two of Muddy's best slow blues, "Sad Letter Blues" and "You're Gonna Need My Help, I Said" (a title that got a creative parsing on the label). The record was not a hit, but the groundwork for future success was laid. The other two sides from the session were both released within a year, "Appealing Blues" on Chess 1468, and "Early Morning Blues" on Chess 1490.


Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Jimmy Rogers,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

Another delayed reaction to Parkway behavior was signing Jimmy Rogers, who had been playing second guitar in Muddy's working band for quite some time. Rogers had sung on sessions for Ora Nelle (1947), Tempo-Tone (1949), JOB (1949), and finally Parkway (1950)—without getting sides released from any of them. On August 15, he was called in to cut two titles of his own, both already tried and tested. "That's All Right" had been on his JOB session; before that he had played behind Othum Brown's released rendition of the same song when it was called "Ora Nelle Blues." "Ludella" had been Rogers' only side for Parkway. On each, his vocals and guitar enjoyed sterling backing from this bandmates: Little Walter on harmonica, and Big Crawford on string bass. It must have been gratifying to get "Ludella" out on the radio and onto the retail shelves; meanwhile, "That's All Right" was a substantial hit.


Jimmy Rogers,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

Next came the Dozier Boys, who had been the most active vocal harmony group on Aristocrat. Apparently just two sides were done, at United Broadcasting studio instead of Universal. The resulting single effectively contrasted a jump, "You Got to Get It," with a ballad, "Pretty Eyes," but the release is tremendously scarce today and obviously didn't sell. King Fleming was the session pianist for the date, and a horn section was added for "Got to Get It." The company dropped the group, whose next contract would be with OKeh's revived Chicago operation (they did a session in 1951, and were listed in advertisements for the label, but their sides were never released). The Doziers would fare better with a new indepedent called United, where they recorded in 1952 and 1953.


Two months went by without more studio recording. Leonard Chess still operated the Macomba Lounge, though now that he bore primary responsibility for the record company, club management was largely delegated to Phil. But four years of club ownership and its attendant burdens came to end when the Macomba Lounge was badly damaged by fire. Nadine Cohodas's book places the fire in August, but the lists of contracts accepted and filed by Musicians Union Local 208 indicate it was a little later, probably in early October. The Chess brothers decided against opening another club; they were now irrevocably committed to the record company.


Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Jimmy Rogers,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

Jimmy Rogers,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

When recording resumed on October 23, it was with another session by Muddy Waters' band, again with Walter and Crawford. Only two of the six sides featured Muddy's vocals, but one of these, "Louisiana Blues," turned out to be a classic. Its flip, "Evan Shuffle," strategically named after a DJ, was an enjoyably rustic instrumental featuring Walter's harmonica. Two more were features for Jimmy Rogers, again accompanied by Walter and Crawford; "Going Away Baby" is a close relation to "Louisiana Blues." The final two were vehicles for Johnny Shines, who was making his debut for Chess, with accompaniment by Walter, Rogers, and Crawford (Shines was not asked to play his guitar on this occasion). The Shines sides were of the same superb quality as the rest of the material recorded that day, but were held back from release, despite being given a number and listed in a Chess catalogue. Apparently Leonard Chess developed second thoughts, on the grounds that Shines's declamatory vocal style was too likely to compete with Muddy Waters'. Shines wouldn't get another opportunity until Joe Brown recorded him in April 1952.


Calvin Bostick,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Aristocrat had carried three piano trios on its roster, under the leadership of Prince Cooper, Jimmy Bell, and Duke Groner. Though each trio remained active, the Chess brothers had lost interest in them. Jimmy Bell had already decamped to Premium, and in the fullness of time Prince Cooper would land at Club 51, while Duke Groner would resurface at Vee-Jay. Instead, the brothers chose pianist and singerCalvin Bostick, whose unit had been working steadily in the South Side clubs for a year. He was born Calvin Thomas Bostick on July 4, 1928, in Anniston, Alabama. He began playing piano when he was four years old, and attended secondary school at the Mary Potter Academy, in Oxford, North Carolina. He majored in music at Lincoln University, in Jefferson City, Missouri, studying under the famed composer R. Nathaniel Dett. There Bostick wrote “People Will Talk about You” and “All of My Life.” Upon graduation in 1947 he moved to Chicago, but did not join Local 208 until October 18, 1949.


Calvin Bostick

C. T. Bostick showed up right away on the Local 208 contract list on October 20, 1949, when he posted a contract for 3 nights at Square's. He drew well enough to rate another week there (contract accepted and filed November 3, now under the name "Cal Bostick"). On January 19, 1950, he posted an "indefinite" contract with the 113 Club, which featured piano trios. In April he moved to the 411 Club (3 month contract filed on April 6). In July, he extended his residency there for another six months (contract posted on July 20). The 411 Club was a cocktail lounge, where Bostic's classically trained tinkling posed no threat of stretching the boundaries of jazz.

Bostick cut his first single for Chess in October, while still resident at the 411. An item in the October 14 Chicago Defender, titled “Calvin Cuts 2 New Sides,” claimed that the sides were “currently on tryout with local disk jockeys.” “People Will Talk about You” was described as a “novelty blues,” and “All of My Life” was described as a ”blues ballad.” These were both accurate descriptions. The numbers were plainly inspired by Nat King Cole, as was Bostick's vocal style on each. We do not know who Bostick's guitarist and bassist were, but the trio heard on the record is tight and virtuosic and the guitarist gets a solo.


Calvin Bostick,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Claude McLin,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Around the same time, the company urgently wanted a sequel to "Mona Lisa." Claude McLin and his band cut two sides at Modern Recording Studio. This time, the chosen vehicle was "Tennessee Waltz," which was growing into a monster hit for Patti Page on Mercury and was drawing R and B cover versions by the day (in addition to two Chicago-based covers there was at least one out of New York, by Milt Larkin and his X-Rays for Regal). Although the material was worthy, and McLin's rendition, unhampered by the added violin, was eloquent, a new Chicago-based competitor called Chance had had the same idea, and Schoolboy Porter's version trounced McLin's at the cash register. Most listeners today would prefer McLin's jazz balladeering over Porter's purposely square enunciation of the melody. But Chess never reissued "Tennessee Waltz," or its flip, a surprisingly substantial improvisation on "Pop Goes the Weasel."


Claude McLin,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Another symptom of tightness in the finances was the company's decision not to record new numbers for the Christmas season. Instead, Tom Archia and Gene Ammons' medley from 1948 was recycled under the new title "Boppin' for Santa." The flip of Chess 1445 consisted of "Talk of the Town" (not retitled) from the same session. The credits were changed to draw attention to Jug's presence on both sides. Leonard Chess used the occasion to test out his new system for putting reverb on recordings: it consisted of a 3-foot length of concrete sewer pipe with a speaker at one end and a microphone at the other. The results on "Boppin' for Santa" were underwhelming (as was the fake applause dubbed in at the beginning) but Leonard would soon learn how to put his homemade equipment to better use. Meanwhile, Chess 1445 is harder to find today than Aristocrat 606, just as Chess 1448 is harder to find than Aristocrat 601—which goes a long way toward explaining why the Chess brothers didn't bring Tom Archia back for further sessions.


Sessions newly recorded in Chicago for Chess, July-December 1950

Matrix Artist Title Release Number Recording Date Release Date
U-7251 Sax Mallard and his sextet | Vocal by Andrew Tibbs You Can't Win Chess 1430 July 1950 August 1950
U-7252 Sax Mallard and his sextet | Vocal by Andrew Tibbs Aching Heart Chess 1430 July 1950 August 1950
U7253 Sax Mallard and his sextet (vocal by Andrew Tibbs) She's My Baby unissued July 1950
U7254 Sax Mallard and his sextet (vocal by Andrew Tibbs) Crying the Blues unissued July 1950
U7255 Sax Mallard and his sextet (vocal by Andrew Tibbs) Boogie unissued July 1950
U7256 Sax Mallard and his sextet (vocal by Andrew Tibbs) Blues in Hawaii unissued July 1950
U7257 Claude McLin?



U7258 Claude McLin?



U-7259 Claude McLin and his Sextet Mona Lisa Chess 1432 July 21, 1950 August 1950
U-7260 Claude McLin and his Sextet Benny's Bounce Chess 1432 July 21, 1950 August 1950
U-7261 Muddy Waters | Vocal Muddy Waters Your [sic] Gonna Need My Help "I Said" Chess 1434 prob. August 15, 1950 September 1950
U-7262 Muddy Waters | Vocal Muddy Waters Sad Letter Blues Chess 1434 prob. August 15, 1950 September 1950
U-7263 Muddy Waters and His Guitar Early Morning Blues Chess 1490 prob. August 15, 1950 December 1951
U-7264 Muddy Waters and his Guitar Appealing Blues Chess 1468 prob. August 15, 1950 July 1951
U-7265 Gene Ammons and his Orchestra Jug Head Ramble Chess 1433 August 1950 September 1950
U-7266 Gene Ammons and his Orchestra Can Anyone Explain? (No! No! No!) Chess 1433 August 1950 September 1950
U-7267 Gene Ammons Orchestra Don't Do Me Wrong Chess 1450 August 1950 February 1951
U-7268 Gene Ammons Orchestra Prelude to a Kiss Chess 1450 August 1950 February 1951
U-7269 Jimmy Rogers and his Trio | Vocal Jimmy Rogers That's All Right Chess 1435 August 15, 1950 October 1950
U-7270 Jimmy Rogers and his Trio | Vocal Jimmy Rogers Ludella Chess 1435 August 15, 1950 October 1950
UB50-817 Vocal by the Dozier Boys You Got to Get It Chess 1436 c. August 1950 October 1950
UB50-818 Vocal by the Dozier Boys Pretty Eyes Chess 1436 c. August 1950 October 1950
U7271 and U7272 See Purchased Material
U7273




U7274




U-7275 Muddy Waters Louisiana Blues Chess 1441 October 23, 1950 November 1950
U-7276 Muddy Waters Evan's Shuffle Chess 1441 October 23, 1950 November 1950
U-7277 Vocal by Jimmy Rogers Going Away Baby Chess 1442 October 23, 1950 November 1950
U-7278 Vocal by Jimmy Rogers Today, Today, Blues Chess 1442 October 23, 1950 November 1950
U7279 Shoe Shine Johnny Joliet Blues Chess 1443 October 23, 1950 November 1950
U7280 Shoe Shine Johnny So Glad I Found You Chess 1443 October 23, 1950 November 1950
U-7281 Calvin Bostic [sic] Trio | Vocal by Calvin Bostic All of My Life Chess 1444 October 1950 December 1950
U-7282 Calvin Bostic Trio People Will Talk about You Chess 1444 October 1950 December 1950
U7283 Calvin Bostic Trio Danny Boy
October 1950
AR-30451
E0-0B-13025-1
Claude McLin and his Orchestra Tennessee Waltz Chess 1446 November 1950 December 1950
AR-30452E0-0B-13026-1
Claude McLin and his Orchestra Pop Goes the Weasel Chess 1446 November 1950 December 1950


Confirming our hypothesis that they were keeping a close watch on every penny, the Chess brothers leased or purchased a very modest amount of material in 1950. Two sides by jazz tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson, one of which featured a vocal by Thelma Thompson, came from an unidentified label in the New York City area.


Lucky Thompson,
Courtesy of Cary Ginell at Sound Thinking Music Research

Doc Pomus,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Chess also acquired two sides by blues singer Jerome "Doc" Pomus (who would gain fame later on as a songwriter). Accompaniment to the Doctor's raspy vocals was provided by a jump band with a tenor saxophone soloist whom the singer addressed as "Ray." Pomus recalled in an interview that Leonard Chess had actually traveled to New York to record the session; we remain skeptical, but at least there's no dubiety about the location. The Pomus sides carry a CR prefix in the plastic, though not on the label. The CR could stand for the name of another record company; it could also merely indicate Chess Records.


Doc Pomus,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Finally, the brothers picked up two isolated Country sides by Guy Blakeman and His Blue Grass Serenaders. These apparently came from Stan Lewis in Shreveport, Louisiana; Lewis had been a distributor since the Aristocrat days, and in the future he would become a somewhat more regular supplier. If Leonard and Phil really got them in August 1950 (as suggested by the U7000 matrix numbers that the sides ended up with) they felt no urgency about releasing them. The Blakeman record didn't appear until November 1952, on one of the two singles (!) that were given the number Chess 1525. In total, there were 6 sides purchased in 1950, only 4 of which saw release that year.


Sides purchased for release in 1950

Matrix Artist Title Release Number Recording Date Release Date
U-1902
[source unidentified]
Lucky Thompson and his Orchestra Slow Drag Chess 1438 September 15, 1949
[New York City]
November 1950
U-1903
[source unidentified]
Vocal by Thelma Thompson with Lucky Thompson and his Orchestra Nothin' from Nothin' Chess 1438 September 15, 1949
[New York City]
November 1950
1000
[source unidentified]
Doc Pomus and his Orchestra No Home Blues Chess 1440 1950
[New York City]
November 1950
1002
[source unidentified]
Doc Pomus and his Orchestra Send for the Doctor Chess 1440 1950
[New York City]
November 1950
U-7271
[Stan Lewis]
Guy Blakeman and His Blue Grass Serenaders Oh Yes I'm Lonely Chess 1525 1950?
[Shreveport]
November 1952
U-7272
[Stan Lewis]
Guy Blakeman and His Blue Grass Serenaders I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None of My Jelly Roll Chess 1525 1950?
[Shreveport]
November 1952

After a few commercial successes in 1950, Leonard and Phil Chess felt they could afford to step up their recording activity in the new year. 1951 would also see them dip a toe in the growing market for 7-inch 45s. These had been brought to the market by RCA Victor, with much fanfare, in the fall of 1949, and some small labels (such as Rondo) had accepted RCA's introductory offer of cheap mastering and pressing. Aristocrat had not, however, and during its first full year of operation, Chess hadn't either. One suspects that the gradual spread of 45-rpm jukeboxes had something to do with this decision.


Sax Mallard,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

The very first session (by Sax Mallard) was held for release for more than a year, when two sides were used to open the new Checker subsidiary. Checker 750 was advertised in Cash Box on April 5, 1952 and reviewed in Billboard on April 26, 1952 (p. 27). Perhaps the tunes were held back because Mallard had followed the pattern of so many Aristocrat sessions, contrasting R&B jump numbers with lounge ballads. One of the released sides featured ballad singing by drummer Osie Johnson—so, apparently, did two further tracks that are still unreleased. A blues-based instrumental like "Slow Caboose" held a lot more commercial promise in 1952.


Sax Mallard,
Lounge ballads like this one were losing favor with Chess's clientele. From the collection of Tom Kelly.

On release, "Slow Caboose" carried composer credits to Alan Freed, the influential Cleveland-based disk jockey, and to one Carl Germany. Although the Chess brothers did not engage in the wholesale production of bogus composing credits that was standard operating procedure for some of their competitors, in 1952 they did toss occasional writing credits in Freed's direction as an enticement to play their records. Just who Carl Germany was, and why it was important to toss him anything, is yet to be revealed, but his name shows up on several more labels from 1951 and 1952.

A big gap in the U7000 series comes right after the Mallard session—no known sides between U7288 and U7299. Not counting the missing items (which could simply have been skipped in the master book) 94 new cuts were recorded for Chess during the year, nearly all at Universal Recording.

Apparently Calvin Bostick's first release was doing well enough to warrant a second session. In mid-January, Bostick and trio laid down four sides, two of which appeared on Chess 1451. Blessedly, the company now took a hiatus from studio gimmickry (no speeded up piano lines this time). The released sides were a relaxed blues, sung in a style influenced by Nat King Cole but not blatantly imitative, and a better than average lounge ballad. Bostick sang both in a smooth baritone. The gentility quotient was high, but the solid musicianship made Bostick's trio one of the very best plying its trade in Chicago during the period.

Next, the Chess brothers brought Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers back into the studio on January 23. This time, Muddy and band recorded a full session, followed by Jimmy Rogers with his own band for three sides. Then Rogers' pianist, Eddie Ware, got to do five more of his own.

Three of the the four sides laid down by Muddy (with Little Walter, harmonica, and Big Crawford, bass) were promptly released. On "Honey Bee," Little Walter played second guitar, as he had previously done on the Parkway session. A fourth side was of comparable quality, but once the Chess brothers added a certain Memphis-based performer to their roster later in the year promoting a number titled "Howlin' Wolf" wouldn't have made for the best marketing procedure.


Jimmy Rogers,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

Rogers used Ernest Cotton, tenor sax, and Eddie Ware, piano, along with Crawford for his three sides. They were joined by Muddy's regular drummer, Elga Edmonds (still not recording on Muddy's own tracks). (It seems odd that Rogers would use a different tenor saxophonist from Eddie Ware, when all of the sides were done in succession, but discographies usually credit Ernest Cotton, a veteran of Memphis Slim's House Rockers who also worked with Sunnyland Slim. And the sax work does sound like Cotton's.)


Jimmy Rogers,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

Jimmy Rogers,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Eddie Ware,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Finally, Eddie Ware made five cuts of his own, three of which were released. Former Miracle and Premium headliner Eddie Chamblee played tenor sax on these cuts. Chamblee was responsible for the vocal on "Lima Beans," which may have been incorrectly credited for fear of unexpired contractual obligations, either to Premium, which was still extant when the session was cut, or to Decca/Coral, where Chamblee may have been in May 1951, when the record was released. Little Walter, who had stuck around from Muddy's session, ended up playing second guitar on some of the numbers.

Chess 1561 would also appear on 45 rpm, making it the company's oldest single recorded in Chicago to appear in that format in the first half of the 1950s. But this would not happen until 1954, judging from the different type font, and the placement of "Record" and "Corp." in the company logo.


Eddie Chamblee,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

John Lee Hooker
John Lee Hooker. From the collection of Billy Vera.

John Lee Hooker,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

John Lee Hooker,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

After testing the water with two sides that they bought from Joe Von Battle (see below, under purchased sessions), the Chess brothers decided to bring John Lee Hooker to Chicago for their own session at Universal. The session of April 26 was previously said (for instance, in Michel Ruppli's Chess Discography) to have been done in Detroit and sold to Chess, but the latest research (by Dave Sax and others) indicates otherwise. The outing was highly productive, leading to three singles on Chess. Because Hooker was still under contract to Bernie Besman in Detroit, the pseudonym "John Lee Booker" was applied, fooling precisely no one. Particularly when the company didn't even bother to carry the "Booker" handle over to the composer credits...


John Lee Hooker,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

On May 3, Chess got a final opportunity to record Gene Ammons and his combo. This time Jug's tenor sax was accompanied by his regular rhythm section: Junior Mance (piano), Gene Wright (bass), and Teddy Stewart (drums). Two sides from May 3 were promptly released on Chess 1464. The other two would gather dust until the company put them on an LP. (See below for two sides by Gene's old front-line partner Sonny Stitt, which have been incorrectly associated with this session; they were recorded around the same time, but by Premium rather than Chess.)

Considering Ammons' importance to the company (he practically kept Chess afloat in 1950) and his continuing commercial potential (the company was in a hurry to put his music on LP once it adopted that medium), we are not sure why and how he fell off the roster. Ammons may have had some lingering obligation to Prestige, but that presumably expired after his November 1951 session with that label. During 1952 and 1953, he recorded in New York for Decca, then in Chicago for United. Could Leonard Chess have made a bid and lost out to Lew Simpkins and Leonard Allen, or had his interest in Ammons simply diminished? In November 1954, Ammons resumed recording for Prestige, remaining under long-term contract to the company for the rest of his life. The Chess brothers would learn about this the hard way; in 1961 and 1962 they made a couple of quickie Ammons LPs for their Argo subsidiary, only to be compelled to hand over the masters, along with monetary damages, after Presige sued them.


U7339 and U7340 by tenor saxophonist Robert Caffery and his combo were recorded in New Orleans, some time later in May; just to confuse matters, two of the same matrix numbers has already been used on the last Gene Ammons session. The Caffery release is among the least common from this period.


The next session in Chicago featured a singer named Lou Blackwell. The rest of the lineup remains unknown, as the sides have never been released. The Chess brothers could have found Blackwell's suave baritone too uptown for their tastes. Blackwell would turn in some respectable stand-up blues singing with Tab Smith's combo, on an October 1951 session for United, but he had no better luck getting those sides released. His third and last session, for Chance in November or December 1952, finally produced a single, though Art Sheridan may have intended it for his new pop series (but it was released after all in the label's blues and R&B series).


Erline Harris,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

In June, John Peek and his band made their only session for the company. The single that was released, Chess 1471, featured the vocals of Erline Harris. The itinerant singer had been active on the recording scene for a couple of years. She made her debut with "Rock and Roll Blues," recorded in New York City for DeLuxe in April 1949. She next surfaced in New Orleans, recording for Regal with Plas and Ray Johnson's combo in July of that year. In April 1950 she cut four sides for DeLuxe in Cincinnati, with backing from a band led by jazz saxophonist Joe Thomas. When she joined the Chess roster, Harris had been featured in Chicago clubs for more than a year; during a run at Ralph's Club (2159 West Madison) from April through June 1950 she was duly billed as "Erline (Rockin and Rollin) Harris." At Ralph's Harris had been accompanied by tenor saxophonist Epp James and his band; who Peek was and why he was selected for this record date instead of James, or one of the company's house tenor saxoponists, we don't really know. We also don't know why the session for Chess was her last.


Erline Harris,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Leo Parker,
From the collection of Hubi Horst

July would prove to be a busy month in the studio. First Chess welcomed baritone saxophonist Leo Parker to Universal Recording. Parker had first attracted attention as a member of Billy Eckstine's band in 1944. By this time, he had recorded for several labels, and become as well known on the R&B scene as in the jazz world; he had also acquired a drug habit, and a corresponding reputation for unreliability. Parker was accompanied by a group of Chicago-based musicians: Eddie Johnson on tenor sax, Claude Jones at the piano (and an auxiliary doodad called the Lowrey Organo), Johnny Pate on bass, and Al Williams on the drum stool. Except for Williams, all had previously appeared on an Eddie South session recorded by Al Benson back in March (see below) and subsequently purchased by the company.


Leo Parker,
From the collection of Hubi Horst

Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Next Leonard Chess brought Muddy Waters in for a powerhouse session on July 11. The four tunes laid down that day are instantly recognizable from the heavy tread of the bass drum, played by Leonard Chess himself. Elga Edmonds, finally asked to appea with Muddy, wasn't getting the backbeat that Chess wanted, so he chased Edmonds off and applied himself to the foot pedal. We doubt that he advertised his presence on the records to Local 208... "My Own Fault" and "Still a Fool" appeared on Chess 1480, in October; within a year, the other two sides were on Chess 1490 and Chess 1509 (1509 being the first Muddy Waters item to garner a release on 45 rpm).


Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Jimmy Rogers,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

Muddy's session was immediately followed by a four-tune outing for Jimmy Rogers. Two sides were promptly released on Chess 1476.


Jimmy Rogers,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

On August 4, the company tried one last time with Claude McLin and his combo. This time the band laid down four jazz originals; no violins added, no pop hits covered. Unfortunately from the company's perspective, the tenor saxophonist moved his family to Los Angeles early in 1952, before anything had been released from the session. Now that he was off the Chicago scene, the Chess brothers apparently concluded that McLin's sides would not get the sales push they needed. Two were finally released on an LP in 1972; the other two still repose in the vaults.


Eddie Johnson,
Chess goes for a hit instrumental on a popular tune. From the collection of Tom Kelly.

Eddie Johnson,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Besides, the brothers had found a new jazz tenor saxophonist who they believed had major jukebox potential. Eddie Johnson had been on the Chicago scene since the late 1930s, and Leonard and Phil had surely crossed paths with him at some point during the previous decade. But the brothers' attention was apparently piqued by the March 1951 Eddie South session (see below), which they'd acquired from Al Benson. In October 1951, they gave Johnson and his combo another hit song to work with (in this case, "Cold Cold Heart" by Hank Williams); Chess 1488 was rushed into release (78 and 45 rpm formats) and given a strong advertising push, including a mention of Leonard's new and improved sewer-pipe method. The Ellingtonian "Walk Softly," on the flip side, is what jazz fans today would notice. The single didn't quite meet the elevated sales targets that such activity implied, but the brothers persevered with Johnson, who would be their standard-bearer on tenor sax for the next year or so.


Ad for Eddie Johnson on Chess 1488
Ad for Eddie Johnson's first single, from Billboard, November 1951.

Eddie Johnson,
More jazz content on the B side. From the collection of Tom Kelly.

Eddie Johnson,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Also in October, Chess invited Eddie Boyd in for a session with his working trio (piano, guitar, and bass). Boyd had a feeling the company was more interested in obtaining songs for its established blues artists than in adding him to the roster, even though he had been on the Chicago scene since the early 1940s and had recorded several sessions as a leader, going back to 1947. Boyd was fully justified in his suspicions: there was no effort to release anything from the session. But after his second session for JOB in May 1952 produced a massive hit in "Five Long Years," the Chess brothers rethought their decision. However, the fact that "Five Long Years" as released used a larger combo with tenor sax (the sax was actually overdubbed) and drums discouraged any delayed releases from the October 1951 outing. The sides had to sit until the 1970s reissue programs kicked in.


Cbess also returned to studio recordings of gospel music, as a group generically referred to as Gospel Singers laid down six sides. We can say nothing further, as none have ever been released.


Two Honeys and a Cone,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Later in October (well, maybe it was November), the Chess brothers waxed four tracks by a vocal group called Two Honeys and a Cone. Even though the brothers were investing more in 45s, and Chess 1500 was among those picked for release in the format, the response to the single obviously did not encourage further explorations of this particular market. The composer credits to "Randolph" point to trumpeter and bandleader Zilner T. Randolph (1899-1994) might be involved. Sure enough, a brief Chicago item in the March 1, 1952 issue of Billboard declared that "Elaine [Randolph], daughter of cleffer [Zilner Randolph], debuts on the new Chess Records release, "Twenty Robbers," singing as a member of Two Honeys and a Cone group and soloing" (p. 40). The writer unfortunately garbled their names into "Elaine Zilner" and "Randolph Zilner."

Around the beginning of 1949, Two Honeys and a Cone had cut a (very low circulation) single for Zilner Randolph's own Blue House label. Blue House 1 consists of "So Worried," with a lead vocal by Hattie Randolph and a trumpet solo by Lucious Randolph, who was 13 or 14, and "Blue Be Bop," with a lead by Regina "Genie" Randolph, who was all of 10 years old at the time. Accompaniment was by Zilner Randolph on piano, Ike Perkins on guitar, and Ransom Knowling on bass.

Zilner Randolph had seven children, all of whom received musical training, so the Randolph family band underwent some turnover. By 1952, Hattie Randolph was already performing on her own, and the vocal trio on Chess 1500 probably consisted of Elaine, Genie, and Lucious. "Twenty Robbers" is a pure big band vocal number; "Love My Mom" ranges into R&B. Zilner played piano (he takes a very short solo on "Love"), while several uncredited buddies filled out the ensemble on trumpet, trombone, alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, bass, and drums.

Lucious Randolph later recorded with Sun Ra's Arkestra and did occasional session work, not to mention a tour or two with Jerry Butler. Hattie Randolph went on to record a single for Drexel (one side was composed by her father); she sang on two sessions with Sun Ra, producing a latter-day jazz classic with "'Round Midnight." Regina Randolph became a schoolteacher and later went into acting.


Two Honeys and a Cone,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Billy Vera

Jackie Brenston,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell. Another composer credit for the mysterious "Carl Germany."

Jackie Brenston,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

In mid-December, Chess sought to follow up on the success of "Rocket 88" (see below, under purchased recordings) by bringing Jackie Brenston up to Chicago to record his own session. Much was obviously expected, as the singer and baritone saxophonist laid down no fewer than 8 sides. But just four were released, and the sales of Chess 1496 and 1532 must not have been up to expectations. Chess 1496 (78 and 45 rpm) has shown up in quite a few collections; 1532 (78 only) was Brenston's last release on Chess, and is less often seen. The full band personnel for the session is not known, but two Memphis stalwarts were on hand: Phineas Newborn Jr. at the piano and his brother Calvin Newborn on guitar (Calvin is also credited as the composer on "Starvation," a solid jazz instrumental). The band was rounded out with an alto sax, a tenor sax, bass, drums, and guest singer Edna McRaney (who appeared on "88 Boogie" and "Lovin' Time Blues" as well as "Hi, Ho Baby").


Jackie Brenston,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Jackie Brenston,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

The final session of the year took place on December 29. The main attraction was Muddy Waters. Despite the session's high productivity, however, just one of Muddy's sides was released—a stark, eerie rendition of "All Night Long" that put Leonard Chess's new and improved sewer-pipe reverb to good use. Two other takes of the same piece survive, noticeably different in ambience from the issued version. It is easy to understand why the Chess brothers passed on a number titled "Howlin' Wolf," since they'd added an artist by that name to the roster. But nothing else from the session seemed to interest the company, not even a masterpiece on the order of "They Call Me Muddy Waters." The neglected tracks would prove a treasure trove for reissuers, starting in the early 1970s.


Floyd Jones, 'Dark Road
From the collection of Tom Kelly

The December 29 session included no follow-on for Jimmy Rogers; instead the Chess brothers brought in Floyd Jones to make another four numbers with the band. This was a bit of a reunion, as Floyd Jones, Little Walter, and Jimmy Rogers, had all worked on the Tempo-Tone sessions back in May 1949. We will take the word of the discographers who put one Willie Coven on the drums here; the drummer doesn't sound like Elga Edmonds, who was definitely on Muddy's sides.


Floyd Jones,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Despite the apparent lack of continuity, F1006 and F1007, versions of "Dark Road" and "Big World" by Floyd Jones, were cut at the same session as U7417 and U7418, "Playhouse" and "Overseas." Some misdirection may been have been involved in the decision to put these two items in a series previously reserved for material recorded elsewhere. In fact, as Dave Sax and George Paulus have recently been able to show, Chess actually put out two versions of its first Floyd Jones single. Jones had done "Dark Road" and "Big World" on March 22, 1951 with a Sunnyland Slim unit, results duly released on JOB 1001. The ensuing single was the JOB's label's best seller up to that time. Some copies of Chess 1498 are straight reissues of JOB 1001. Others, however—and these are more common—feature the remakes from December 29, 1951. The remakes, done with Muddy Waters' band, were as stark and eerie as their session-mate "All Night Long." Highly esteemed by blues fans today, they probably outsold the JOBs on the strength of superior distribution. Chess's decision to put out a second version of 1498 killed all prospects of cooperation with Joe Brown until 1958. Meanwhile Floyd Jones' "Playhouse" and "Overseas," nearly as good as the two that were released, stayed in the vaults until the early 1970s.


Sides newly recorded for Chess in 1951

Matrix Artist Title Release Number Recording Date Release Date
U7284 Sax Mallard and His Orchestra Turn Me Loose
January 8, 1951
U7285 Sax Mallard and His Orchestra Angels Sing
January 8, 1951
7286 Sax Mallard and His Orchestra Slow Caboose Checker 750 January 8, 1951 April 1952
7287 Sax Mallard and His Orchestra Darling, Let's Give Love a Chance Checker 750 January 8, 1951 April 1952
U7288 through U7299 Unused Matrix Numbers
U-7300 Calvin Bostick and His Trio | Vocal Calvin Bostick I'm in Love with You (And I Hope That You'r [sic] in Love with Me) Chess 1451 mid-January 1951 March 1951
U-7301 Calvin Bostick and His Trio | Vocal Calvin Bostick Fleetwood Blues Chess 1451 mid-January 1951 March 1951
U7302 Calvin Bostick and His Trio You Do Something
mid-January 1951
U7303 Calvin Bostick and His Trio unidentified title
mid-January 1951
U-7304 Muddy Waters and his Guitar | Vocal Muddy Waters Long Distance Call Chess 1452 January 23, 1951 March 1951
U-7305 Muddy Waters and his Guitar | Vocal Muddy Waters Too Young to Know Chess 1452 January 23, 1951 March 1951
U-7306 Muddy Waters and his Guitar Honey Bee Chess 1468 January 23, 1951 July 1951
U7307 Muddy Waters Howlin' Wolf (Chess LP 1553) January 23, 1951
U-7308 Jimmy Rogers and His Rocking Four I Used to Have a Woman Chess 1506 January 23, 1951 April 1952
U-7309 Jimmy Rogers with His Rocking Four | Vocal Jimmy Rogers The World Is in a Tangle Chess 1453 January 23, 1951 March 1951
U-7310 Jimmy Rogers with His Rocking Four | Vocal Jimmy Rogers She Loves Another Man Chess 1453 January 23, 1951 March 1951
U-7311 Eddie Ware and His Band Give Love Another Chance Chess 1507 January 23, 1951 April 1952
U-7312 Eddy Ware and his Band Wandering Lover Chess 1461 January 23, 1951 May 1951
U7313 Eddie Ware and His Band I Found Out (P-Vine Special [J] PLP-6022) January 23, 1951
U-7314 Eddy Ware and his Band
[vocal really by Eddie Chamblee]
Lima Beans Chess 1461 January 23, 1951 May 1951
U7315 Eddie Ware and His Band Rumba Dust (P-Vine Special [J] PLP-6022) January 23, 1951
U7316 and U7317 See Purchased Material
U7318 through U7323 See Purchased Material
U7324 and U7325 See Purchased Material
U-7326
E1-QB-14488-1A
John Lee Booker Louise Chess 1482
[Modern 852]
April 26, 1951 December 1951
U-7327 John Lee Hooker High Priced Woman Chess 1505
[78 and 45 rpm]
April 26, 1951 April 1952
U-7328 John Lee Hooker Union Station Blues Chess 1505
[78 and 45 rpm]
April 26, 1951 April 1952
U-7329 John Lee Hooker unidentified title
April 26, 1951
U-7330
E1-QB-14489-1
John Lee Booker Ground Hog Blues Chess 1482
[Modern 852]
April 26, 1951 December 1951
U-7331 John Lee Booker Leave My Wife Alone Chess 1467 April 26, 1951 July 1951
U7332? John Lee Hooker Just Me and My Telephone (Chess LP1454) April 26, 1951
U-7333 John Lee Booker Ramblin' by Myself Chess 1467 April 26, 1951 July 1951
U7334? John Lee Hooker Dreamin' Blues (Chess LP1454) April 26, 1951
U7335 and U7336 See Purchased Material
U-7337 Gene Ammons Orchestra Baby Wont You Please Say Yes [sic] Chess 1464 May 3, 1951 June 1951
U-7338 Gene Ammons Orchestra Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe Chess 1464 May 3, 1951 June 1951
U7339 Gene Ammons It's You or No One (Chess LP 1442) May 3, 1951
U7340 Gene Ammons You're Not That Kind of a Girl (Chess LP 1445) May 3, 1951
U7339 [sic] Robert Caffery Ida Bee Chess 1470 May 1951 [New Orleans] July 1951
U7340 [sic] Robert Caffery Blodie's Blues Chess 1470 May 1951 [New Orleans] July 1951
U7341 L. E. Blackwell Soliloquy
May or June 1951
U7342 L. E. Blackwell Blues
May or June 1951
U7343 L. E. Blackwell Crazy Rhythm
May or June 1951
U7344 L. E. Blackwell The Masquerade Is Over
May or June 1951
U7345 John Peek and his Orchestra with Erline Harris I Have No Right
June 19, 1951
U7346 John Peek and his Orchestra unidentified title
June 19, 1951
U-7347 John Peek and his Orchestra (vocal: Arline [sic] Harris) Long Tall Papa Chess 1471 June 19, 1951 July 1951
U-7348 Erline Harris with John Peek and his Orchestra Pushin' My Heart Around Chess 1471 June 19, 1951 July 1951
U7349 and U7350 See Purchased Material
U7351 and U7352 See Purchased Material
U-7353 Leo Parker and his Quintet Candlelight Serenade Chess 1477 July 7, 1951 September 1951
U7354 Leo Parker Hornet (Chess CHV-413) July 7, 1951
U-7355 Leo Parker and his Quintet Reed Rock Chess 1477 July 7, 1951 September 1951
U7356 Leo Parker Leo's Blues (Chess CHV-413) July 7, 1951
U-7357 Muddy Waters and His Guitar Country Boy Chess 1509 July 11, 1951 April 1952
U-7358 Muddy Waters and His Guitar She Moves Me Chess 1490 July 11, 1951 December 1951
U-7359 Muddy Waters and His Guitar My Fault Chess 1480 July 11, 1951 October 1951
U-7360 Muddy Waters and His Guitar Still a Fool Chess 1480 July 11, 1951 October 1951
U-7361 Jimmy Rogers and his Rocking Four Money, Marbles and Chalk Chess 1476 July 11, 1951 August 1951
U7362 Jimmy Rogers Hard Working Man (Chess [Br] 6641174) July 11, 1951
U-7363 Jimmy Rogers and his Rocking Four Chance to Love Chess 1476 July 11, 1951 August 1951
U7364 Jimmy Rogers My Little Machine (Chess [Br] 6641174) July 11, 1951
U7367 Claude McLin Swivel Hips (Chess CHV-414) August 7, 1951
U7368 Claude McLin Green Dolphin
August 7, 1951
U7369 Claude McLin Vanity
August 7, 1951
U7370 Claude McLin Never Mind (Chess CHV-414) August 7, 1951
U7371 and U7372 See Purchased Material
U7373 and U7374 See Purchased Material
U7375 and U7376 See Purchased Material
U7377 and U7378 See</td> Purchased Material
U-7379 Eddie Johnson and Orchestra Cold Cold Heart Chess 1488
[78 and 45 rpm]
October 1951 November 1951
U-7380 Eddie Johnson and Orchestra Walk Softly
[78 and 45 rpm]
Chess 1488 October 1951 November 1951
U-7381 Eddie Johnson and his Orchestra Sister Murphy
[78 and 45 rpm]
Chess 1503 October 1951 April 1952
U7382 Eddie Johnson and His Orchestra Sleep Again
October 1951
U7383 Eddie Boyd Picture in the Frame (Chess [G] 6.24810AG) October 1951
U7384 Eddie Boyd I Got the Blues (Chess CHD2-9385) October 1951
U7385 Eddie Boyd Got Lonesome Here (Chess [G] 6.24810AG) October 1951
U7386 Eddie Boyd I Began to Sing the Blues (Chess CHD2-9385) October 1951
U7387 Gospel Singers Ruler of the Land
November 1951
U7388 Gospel Singers Glorious Days
November 1951
U7389 Gospel Singers Always Tired
November 1951
U7390 Gospel Singers A Little While
November 1951
U7391 Gospel Singers Jubilee
November 1951
U7392 Gospel Singers Ain't Gonna Study War No More
November 1951
U7393 and U7394 See Purchased Material
U7395 and U7396 See Purchased Material
U7397 and U7398 See Purchased Material
U7399 and U7400 See Purchased Material
U-7401 Two Honeys and a Cone Love My Mom & Love My Pop Chess 1500
[78 and 45 rpm]
November-December 1951 March 1952
U7402 Two Honeys and a Cone Syrup Pitcher
November-December 1951
U7403 Two Honeys and a Cone Rain That Falls
November-December 1951
U-7404 Two Honeys and a Cone Twenty Robbers Chess 1500
[78 and 45 rpm]
November-December 1951 March 1952
[78 and 45]
U-7405 Jackie Brenston and Edna McRaney with the Delta Cats Hi, Ho Baby Chess 1496
[78 and 45 rpm]
December 15, 1951 January 1952
U-7406 Jackie Brenston Tell Troubles Goodbye unissued December 15, 1951
U-7407 Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats The Blues Got Me Again Chess 1532 December 15, 1951 December 1952
U-7408 Jackie Brenston You Won't Be Comin' Back (Chess [J] PLP 6027) December 15, 1951
U-7409 Jackie Brenston 88 Boogie (Chess [J] PLP 6027) December 15, 1951
U-7410 Jackie Brenston Lovin' Time Blues (Chess [J] PLP 6027) December 15, 1951
U-7411 Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats Leo the Louse Chess 1496
[78 and 45 rpm]
December 15, 1951 January 1952
U-7412
[7412-A in vinyl]
Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats Starvation Blues Chess 1532 December 15, 1951 December 1952
U7413 Muddy Waters They Call Me Muddy Waters (Chess LP 1553) December 29, 1951
U-7414 Muddy Waters and His Guitar All Night Long Chess 1509
[78 and 45]
December 29, 1951 April 1952
U7414 [alt. 1] Muddy Waters All Night Long (Chess [Br] 6641047) December 29, 1951
U7414 [alt. 2] Muddy Waters All Night Long
December 29, 1951
U7415 Muddy Waters Stuff You Gotta Watch (Chess [Br] 6641174) December 29, 1951
U7416 Muddy Waters Lonesome Day (Chess [Br] 6641174) December 29, 1951
U7417 Floyd Jones Overseas (Chess [Br] 6641174) December 29, 1951
U7418 Floyd Jones Playhouse (Chess LP 411) December 29, 1951
U-1006
(F1006 in vinyl)
Floyd Jones and his Guitar Dark Road Chess 1498
[second version]
December 29, 1951 January 1952
U-1007
(F1007 in vinyl)
Floyd Jones and his Guitar Big World Chess 1498
[second version]
December 29, 1951 January 1952

There was also significant growth outside of Universal Recording; the Chess brothers were vastly accelerating their purchases. In 1951 they began a pact with Sam Phillips' operation in Memphis (as many as 36 sides during the year—sometimes we're not 100% sure Phillips was the source). He had begun operating his now-legendary studio in 1950; in the early going he recorded material for many independent labels, including 4 Star, Gilt-Edge, and Modern/RPM (for details, see John Boija's page on records that were done at the Sun studio from 1950 through 1952, at http://www.boija.com).


Ike Turner,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Jackie Brenston,
The original release, on 78 rpm. From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Jackie Brenston,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth. The placement of Record and Corp. in the logo identifies this 45 as a reissue from 1954.

The first Phillips session that went to Chess was cut on March 5, 1951 by Izear Luster "Ike" Turner and his combo: Turner at the piano, Raymond Hill and Jackie Brenston, tenor saxes; Willie Kizart, electric guitar; and Willie Sims, drums. It led to a pair of releases, Chess 1458 and 1459. On 1459, the group was billed as Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm; Turner did the singing, which was never his strong suit.

1458 turned over the vocal chores to Jackie Brenston; it was opportunistically attributed to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats. "Come Back Where You Belong" tended to prove that Jackie Brenston wasn't that good at singing slow blues, on which he was given to yips and whines. But perfectly suited to his narrow skill set was a mutant boogie called "Rocket 88," which Kizart's loud and accidentally fuzz-toned guitar (legend has it that his amplifier fell off the roof of the band's car, somewhere along Highway 61, inflicting irreversible damage on its speaker) pushes into rock and roll territory. Nowadays "Rocket 88" is often billed as the first rock and roll record, but rock and roll was the product of a gradual evolution and there are earlier competitors for this notional honor. In 1951, no one thought to call it rock and roll, but it's fair to infer that a lot of record buyers sensed something different about it and liked it. The record was a big hit, and in 1954 the company even gave it a belated release on 45 rpm, most likely to compete with Bill Haley's cover on Decca.


Jackie Brenston,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Jackie Brenston,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth.

Jackie Brenston,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Jackie Brenston,
With the second Jackie Brenston single, Chess finally yielded to clamoring fans (and jukebox operators), producing a 45 alongside the 78. From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth.

With a hit on the charts, Chess wanted more where that came from, and the same ensemble plus a trumpeter and a string bass player returned to Phillips' studio in July to make a sequel. "My Real Gone Rocket" is a pretty obvious continuation, but neither Turner nor Phillips quite realized what they had wrought. With the string bass theoretically helping on the low end, Kizart's guitar becomes less prominent and the resulting performance, despite its raw energy, doesn't get nearly so close to the rock and roll end of the continuum. The track's session mate wasn't deemed worthy of release. Jackie Brenston returned to the Phillips studio on September 20 with a new band that featured Memphis greats Phineas Newborn Jr. (piano) and Calvin Newborn (electric guitar). "Tuckered Out" is a credible performance, though Brenston didn't like it because it had originally been a Country number; it was paired with "Real Gone" on Chess 1469. The company obviously had hopes for the single, because it was the first one it would release on 45 rpm.

Four other Brenston sides were never used during the original Chess label's lifetime and remain obscure today; they appear to have been made at another session around this time.

Chess not being an early adopter of the 7-inch 45, 1469 is highly significant, as the first release from the label to appear in both formats simultaneously. (Chess 1458 and 1461 would be reissued on 45 rpm in 1954.) Chess would actually not return to the 7-inch format until Chess 1487 came out, would not pick up the frequency of 45-rpm releases till Chess 1499, and would not make 45 rpm releases on every title until Chess 1604— which came out in 1955.


Jackie Brenston,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Jackie Brenston,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Two further sides from the September 20 session also came out under Jackie Brenston's name (never mind that on "Juiced," a better singer named Billy Love was credited as the composer—but not the lead vocalist). Hopes for Chess 1472 were scaled down; it was released on 78 only.

The Chess brothers also acquired material from the Miracle operation in Chicago, which had gone belly-up in June 1950 (most notably, they snagged 8 Sunrise sides by Al Hibbler). And they scarfed up the remains of its successor, Premium, which quit recording just over a year later, in July 1951 (6 sides were released, but many more ended up in the Chess vault).


Memphis Slim,
Chess obtained this Memphis Slim single from Premium. From the collection of Robert L. Campbell.

Around the beginning of 1951, the Chess brothers bought 6 masters from the blues-oriented Chicago independent JOB, two of which had already been released in 1950 on (the second incarnation of) JOB 100. Joe Brown's label was a mom-and-pop operation that lacked distribution, which probably explained the sales. Another 2 sides were apparently leased to Chess. The relationship with JOB did not last; by the end of the year Chess would rerecord two Floyd Jones sides that had already been released on JOB then leased and reissued on Chess 1498. There ended up being two versions of 1498, one consisting of the sides made for JOB on March 22, and one with the remakes made on December 29, 1951 (see above). The Chess 1498 inbroglio would end any kind of cooperative relationship between the companies for several years. The Chess brothers also made their first purchase from Joe Von Battle's operation in Detroit (2 sides).


J. B. Lenoir,
A master that Chess bought from JOB. From the collection of Tom Kelly.

Disc jockey Al Benson, who had been the front man for the Old Swing-Master operation in 1949, was starting to do a little free-lance recording; he, too, sold a session to Chess (8 more sides).

Two more came in from the Hilltop label; Galen Gart says that Hilltop 701 was put out by a company in New York City, but he also lists a Hilltop in Cincinnati, run by one Robert Hill (who happens to be credited as the composer on both of the Hilltop-derived sides). It appears that John Godfrey, the leader on the session, was a drummer; "Hey Little Girl" features some rather thin vocal harmonies from his trio, plus some prominent work by an ornithological alto saxophonist.

The Felix Gross tracks were reportedly recorded in Los Angeles (we do know that Gross, a pianist and bandleader, had previously recorded for Exclusive and for Swing Time in LA, and a later session for Chess may have originated in Dallas). If these sides were cut in Los Angeles, they had to have been purchased either from a bigger operation like Swing Time, or from a small label there, as the Chess brothers were not recording anything in California at this early date. In all, 64 sides were purchased.


With these purchases, the Chess brothers felt a need to create a separate matrix series for purchased items (though they would never employ them with full consistency—some purchased material always leaked back into the original U7000 series). Starting at U60 and for U61 for two John Lee "Booker" sides from Detroit (originally issued by Joe Von Battle on the hyper-low circulation Gone 60/61), they found it useful to extend this series for the sides that began cascading in from Sam Phillips in Memphis.


Evangelist Gospel Singers,
One of the less well known acquisitions from Sam Phillips. From the Big Joe Louis collection.

The deal with Sam Phillips was critical to the future of the label, because it brought Howlin' Wolf to the Chess catalog for the first time. (Incidentally, he was nearly always referred to in New York Times style—as "The Howlin' Wolf"—on Chess labels from this era.)

Particularly obscure are some gospel sides that seem to have been recorded in Memphis, but cannot be proven to have originated from Sam Phillips' studio. But if they didn't come from Sam Phillips, where would Chess have gotten them? On that supposition, they've been included in Sun reissue packages.


Evangelist Gospel Singers,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

The Spiritual Stars,
Another Sam Phillips production. From the Big Joe Louis collection.

The Spiritual Stars,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

Roscoe Gordon,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell


Roscoe Gordon,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Toward the end of the year, the Chess brothers obtained a Roscoe Gordon single from Sam Phillips. Roscoe's feature, "Booted," was a sizable hit for them, which may explain its simultaneous (or near-simultaneous) issuance on 45 rpm. The flip was a number by Bobby "Blue" Bland, then just getting his start. Actually, it was sung as a duet between him and Gordon. In later days, Bland wasn't terribly fond it of it. A fan once asked him to autograph a 78 of Chess 1487. The singer obliged—then put the record between his elbows, broke it, and handed back the halves.


Roscoe Gordon (and Bobby Bland),
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Roscoe Gordon (and Bobby Bland),
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

John Lee Hooker,

From the collection of Tom Kelly. Note the reassigned composer credits...

The two aforementioned sides by John Lee Hooker were obtained from Joe Von Battle, who had recorded them in the back of his record store in Detroit; obviously they did well enough in the marketplace to justify transporting Hooker to Chicago for a lengthy session in April (see the preceding section) and releasing some further John Lee "Booker" records.


John Lee Hooker,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Al Hibbler in 1946
Singer Al Hibbler in 1946. Sales of his singles, acquired from the defunct Sunrise label, helped to keep Chess afloat in 1951. From the collection of Billy Vera.

Most important for the bottom line, though, was the acquisition of Al Hibbler's Sunrise sides, probably via Lee Egalnick of Miracle, whose company had distributed Sunrise releases and participated in a joint venture. Most entrepreneurs would not anticipate big sales on a recording that was already 3 1/2 years old and had already been a hit. But the Chess brothers sold enough copies of Hibbler's "Trees" to finance a great many forays into jukebox jazz and down-home blues. In fact, when the Hibbler sides were ready for release in April 1951, the brothers jumped over number 1454 in their release series, as if to set off the simultaneous unleashing of Chess 1455, 1456, and 1457, all by Hibbler. They never did get back to 1454. Later in the year, they also managed to duplicate number 1475, which was more or less simultaneously applied to a gospel record by the Four-A Melody Men (excavated from unissued Aristocrat material) and to a White blues record by Harmonica Frank Floyd (obtained from Sam Phillips). Otherwise, however, the Chess release series proceeded unbroken.


Four-A-Melody-Men,
One of two Chess 1475s. From the collection of Tom Kelly

Sides purchased for release in 1951

Matrix Artist Title Release Number Recording Date Release Date
100A
[JOB]
Baby Face Leroy and His Trio My Head Can't Rest Anymore Chess 1447A
[JOB 100]
mid 1950 January 1951
100B
[JOB]
Baby Face Leroy and His Trio Take a Little Walk with Me Chess 1447B
[JOB 100]
mid 1950 January 1951
U-31641
[JOB]
J. B. Lenore [sic] and his Bayou Boys Deep in Debt Blues Chess 1463 c. December 1950
[Modern Recording Studio, Chicago]
June 1951
U-31642
[JOB]
J. B. Lenore and his Bayou Boys Carrie Lee Chess 1463 c. December 1950
[Modern Recording Studio, Chicago]
June 1951
JB-31643
[JOB]
J. B. [Lenoir] and His Bayou Boys My Baby Told Me Chess 1449 c. December 1950
[Modern Recording Studio, Chicago]
January 1951
J.B.-31644
[JOB]
J. B. and His Bayou Boys Korea Blues Chess 1449 c. December 1950
[Modern Recording Studio, Chicago]
January 1951
SU-2135
[Sunrise]
Al Hibbler and His Orchestra (Vocal Al Hibbler) It Don't Mean a Thing Chess 1455 1948 March 1951
SU-2140
[Sunrise]
Al Hibbler and His Orchestra What Will I Tell My Heart Chess 1455 1948 March 1951
SU-2039
[should be 2029]
[Sunrise]
Al Hibbler and Orchestra Trees Chess 1456
[Miracle M-501]
November 1947
[New York City]
April 1951
SU-2030
[Sunrise]
Al Hibbler and Orchestra Lover Come Back to Me Chess 1456
[Miracle M-501]
November 1947
[New York City]
April 1951
EB-1002
[Sunrise]
Al Hibbler and Orchestra Solitude Chess 1457
[Sunrise 2002]
early 1947
[New York City]
April 1951
EB-1004
[Sunrise]
Al Hibbler and Orchestra Feather Roll Blues Chess 1457
[Sunrise 2002]
early 1947
[New York City]
April 1951
U-7316
[Sam Phillips]
Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats Rocket "88" Chess 1458 March 5, 1951
[Memphis]
April 1951 [78]
1954 [45]
U-7317
[Sam Phillips]
Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats Come Back Where You Belong Chess 1458 March 5, 1951
[Memphis]
April 1951 [78]
1954 [45]
U-7324
[Sam Phillips]
Ike Turner and his Kings of Rythm [sic] Heartbroken and Worried Chess 1459 March 5, 1951
[Memphis]
April 1951
U-7325
[Sam Phillips]
Ike Turner and his Kings of Rythm I'm Lonesome Baby Chess 1459 March 5, 1951
[Memphis]
April 1951
U7318
[Al Benson]
Eddie South and his Orchestra Pate-rified (Chess CHV-415) c. March 3, 1951
U-7319
[Al Benson]
Eddy [sic] South and His Orchestra | Vocal and Directed by Al Benson I Can't Give You Anything but Love Chess 1460 c. March 3, 1951 April 1951
U7319 [alt.]
[Al Benson]
Eddie South and his Orchestra I Can't Give You Anything but Love (Chess CHV-415) c. March 3, 1951
U7320
[Al Benson]
Eddie South and his Orchestra Fiddle Ditty (Chess CHV-415) c. March 3, 1951
U7320 [alt.]
[Al Benson]
Eddie South and his Orchestra Fiddle Ditty Ending (Chess CHV-415) c. March 3, 1951
U7321
[Al Benson]
Eddie South and his Orchestra Yesterdays
c. March 3, 1951
U-7322
[Al Benson]
Eddy South and his Orchestra | Directed by Al Benson Currant Jelly Chess 1460 c. March 3, 1951 April 1951
U7323
[Al Benson]
Eddie South and His Orchestra Sentimental Rhapsody (Chess CHV-415) c. March 3, 1951
U-60
[Joe Von Battle]
John Lee Booker and his Guitar | Vocal John Lee Booker Mad Man Blues Chess 1462
[Gone 60/61]
late 1950 [Detroit] May 1951
U-61
[Joe Von Battle]
John Lee Booker and his Guitar Boogie Now Chess 1462
[Gone 60/61]
late 1950 [Detroit] May 1951
U7335
[Premium]
Sonny Stitt I Cover the Waterfront (Chess LP 1445) 1951
U7336
[Premium]
Sonny Stitt Don't Worry 'bout Me (Chess LP 1445) 1951
? [Premium] Sonny Stitt unidentified title
1951
? [Premium] Sonny Stitt unidentified title
1951
U-62
[Sam Phillips]
Rufus Thomas, Jr. Night Workin' Blues Chess 1466 c. May 1951
[Memphis]
July 1951
U-63
[Sam Phillips]
Rufus Thomas, Jr. Why Did You Deegee? Chess 1466 c. May 1951
[Memphis]
July 1951
U-64
[Sam Phillips]
Lou Sargent and his Orchestra Ridin' the Boogie Chess 1465 c. May 1951
[Memphis]
July 1951
U-65
[Sam Phillips]
Lou Sargent and his Orchestra (vocal: Les Mitchell) She Really Treats Me Wrong Chess 1465 c. May 1951
[Memphis]
July 1951
U-66A
[Sam Phillips]
Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats My Real Gone Rocket Chess 1469
[78 and 45 rpm]
c. July 1951
[Memphis]
October 1951
?
[Sam Phillips]
Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats Make My Love Come Down (Chess [J] 6027) c. June 1951
[Memphis]

U-7349
[Sam Phillips]
Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats
[vocal actually by Billy Love]
Juiced Chess 1472 c. June 1951
[Memphis]
July 1951
U-7350
[Sam Phillips]
Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats Independent Woman Chess 1472 c. June 1951
[Memphis]
July 1951
U-7351
[prob. Sam Phillips]
Evangelist Gospel Singers of Alabama Leaning on the Lord Chess 1473 mid-1951
[Memphis]
July or August 1951
U-7352
[prob. Sam Phillips]
Evangelist Gospel Singers of Alabama Lord Stop the War Chess 1473 mid-1951
[Memphis]
July or August 1951
U7365
[unidentified source]
Felix Gross and His Orchestra I Want You, I Need You Chess 1474 July 1951
[Los Angeles]
August 1951
U7366
[unidentified source]
Felix Gross and His Orchestra You Done Me Wrong Chess 1474 July 1951
[Los Angeles]
August 1951
U-80
[Sam Phillips]
Harmonica Frank Swamp Root Chess 1475-A summer 1951?
[Memphis]
August 1951
U-81
[Sam Phillips]
Harmonica Frank Going Away Walkin' Chess 1475-A
[sic; original flip]
summer 1951? [Memphis] August 1951
U-82
[Sam Phillips]
Harmonica Frank Step It Up and Go Chess 1475-A
[sic, later flip]
summer 1951? [Memphis] August 1952
U-701-A
[Robert Hill]
John Godfrey Trio Hey Little Girl Chess 1478
[Hilltop 701]
1951
[Cincinnati]
September 1951
U-702-B
[Robert Hill]
John Godfrey Trio Booging the Blues Chess 1478
[Hilltop 701]
1951
[Cincinnati]
September 1951
U-83
[Sam Phillips]
The Howlin' Wolf Moanin' at Midnight Chess 1479 May 14, 1951
[Memphis]
August 1951
U-84
[Sam Phillips]
The Howlin' Wolf How Many More Years Chess 1479 May 14, 1951
[Memphis]
August 1951
U-85
[Sam Phillips]
Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats Tuckered Out Chess 1469
[78 and 45 rpm]
Sepember 20, 1951
[Memphis]
October 1951
?
[prob. Sam Philips]
Jackie Brenston I Want to See My Baby (Chess [J] LP 6027) 1951 [Memphis]
?
[prob. Sam Philips]
Jackie Brenston My Baby Left Town (Chess [J] LP 6027) 1951 [Memphis]
?
[prob. Sam Philips]
Jackie Brenston Fat Meat Is Greasy (Chess [J] LP 6027) 1951 [Memphis]
?
[prob. Sam Philips]
Jackie Brenston Jackie's Chewing Gum (Chess [J] LP 6027) 1951 [Memphis]
U-7371
[Su 2142]
Al Hibbler I Love You Chess 1481
[Miracle M-515]
1948 November 1951
U-7372
[EB1003A]
Al Hibbler My Little Brown Book Chess 1481
[Sunrise 2001]
early 1947
[New York City]
November 1951
U-7373
[prob. Sam Phillips]
The Spiritual Stars I'll Search Heaven Chess 1485 August 1951?
[Memphis?]
December 1951
U-7374
[prob. Sam Phillips]
The Spiritual Stars Good Religion Chess 1485 August 1951?
[Memphis?]
December 1951
U-7375
[Sam Phillips]
Roscoe Gordon Booted Chess 1487
[78 and 45 rpm]
August 1951
[Memphis]
December 1951
U-7376
[Sam Phillips]
Roscoe Gordon
[vocal really by Gordon and Bobby "Blue" Bland]
Love You 'til the Day I Die Chess 1487
[78 and 45 rpm]
August 1951
[Memphis]
December 1951
U-7377
[prob. Sam Phillips]
Evangelist Gospel Singers of Alabama Never Grow Old Chess 1486 August 1951?
[Memphis?]
December 1951
U-7378
[prob. Sam Phillips]
Evangelist Gospel Singers of Alabama Walk in the Light Chess 1486 August 1951?
[Memphis?]
December 1951
U7393
[Sam Phillips]
L. J. Thomas and His Louisiana Playboys Baby Take a Chance with Me Chess 1493 1951
[Memphis]
January 1952
U7394
[Sam Phillips]
L. J. Thomas and His Louisiana Playboys Sam's Drag Chess 1493 1951
[Memphis]
January 1952
FI-210 [sic]
[Premium 903]
Memphis Slim and the House Rockers Tia Juana Chess 903 mid-1951
[Cleveland]
January 1952?
FI-213 [sic]
[Premium 903]
Memphis Slim and Terry Timmons I'm Crying Chess 903 mid-1951
[Cleveland]
January 1952?
U-7395
[Premium]
Memphis Slim and His House Rockers Walking Alone Chess 1491 mid-1951
[Cleveland]
January 1952
U-7396
[Premium]
Memphis Slim and His House Rockers Rocking the Pad Chess 1491 mid-1951
[Cleveland]
January 1952
U7397
[Sam Phillips]
Robert Bland Crying Chess 1489 August 1951
[Memphis]
December 1951
U7398
[Sam Phillips]
Robert Bland A Letter from a Trench in Korea Chess 1489 August 1951
[Memphis]
December 1951
U7399
[Sam Phillips]
Rufus Thomas No More Doggin' Around Chess 1492 October 1951
[Memphis]
January 1952
U7400
[Sam Phillips]
Rufus Thomas Crazy 'bout You Baby Chess 1492 October 1951
[Memphis]
January 1952
U-1006
(JB 1001-B in vinyl)
Floyd Jones and his Guitar Dark Road Chess 1498
[first version; from JOB 1001]
March 22, 1951 January 1952
U-1007
(JB 1001-A in vinyl)
Floyd Jones and his Guitar Big World Chess 1498
[first version; JOB 1001]
March 22, 1951 January 1952

As 1952 began, Leonard Chess had obviously made some commitments about musical direction. Now that the company had two of the top-selling down-home blues artists in its catalog (Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf) Chess continued its efforts in this genre. There was the inconvenience, however, of The Wolf's continuing to record for the Bihari brothers in Memphis as well as Sam Phillips; this was eventually resolved in a deal that committed the Wolf exclusively to Chess while the Biharis got Roscoe Gordon. Meanwhile, jazz was not getting much emphasis. Early in the year, Chess lost interest in Claude McLin when he left town for Los Angeles. The label would presumably have liked to record Gene Ammons, but he moved first to Decca and then to the company's new Chicago-based rival, United. The most significant jazz artist that Chess recorded in 1952 was Eddie Johnson; clearly the hope was that numbers like "Twin Rock" would appeal to the R&B-consuming public. And Sax Mallard recorded another session for the label, but this was definitely an R&B effort; in the future, he would be restricted to accompanying singers and doo-wop groups.


During January 1952, the company undertook no new recording. Apparently the Chess brothers were too busy digesting the remains of Premium—around this time they were affixing new matrix numbers to two sides by tenor saxophonist Lynn Hope and alto saxophonist Tab Smith.


Activity resumed at Universal on February 11, with a session split between Jimmy Rogers and Eddie Ware.


The company had expanded far enough to justify opening a subsidiary. (Disc jockeys, even when handsomely compensated for featuring the company's product, were reluctant to play too many items on the same label in a row.) The first releases on the Checker label, 750 and 751, were advertised in Cash Box on April 5, 1952, and reviewed in Billboard on April 26 (p. 27).


Arbee Stidham,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Checker 751 appears to have been Arbee Stidham's debut as a guitarist (he had been a regular on RCA Victor from 1947 to 1950, strictly as a singer). Stidham, who was born in DeValls Bluff, Arkansas, on February 9, 1917, was the son of Luddie Stidham, who played in Jimmie Lunceford's big band. Arbee had been a professional musician since he was 12 or 13 years old. He originally played the alto saxophone, but had to give up the instrument for health reasons. His singing voice was a strangely portentous, quavery baritone that made him seem much older than he really was. During his RCA years, when he enjoyed a big hit with "My Heart Belongs to You," Stidham often recorded with Sax Mallard. On his first session for Checker, he was accompanied by Andrew "Goon" Gardner (alto sax); Tommy "Mad Man" Jones (tenor sax); Eddie Ware (piano); Ransom Knowling (bass); and Judge Riley (drums). (Some sources put Willie Lacey on the guitar instead of the leader.) Goon Gardner would appear on another blues session or two for Chess, but the label unfortunately made no further use of Tommy Jones' bar-walking skills (frustrated by his lack of exposure on recordings, Jones would eventually launch his own Mad label). At least today's listeners can enjoy Jones' little explosion in the middle of "Mr. Commissioner," a plea to the Chicago police hierarchy to suspend their crackdown on "policy" (aka the numbers).


Arbee Stidham,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Rocky Fuller,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

The company had more studio time booked on March 13, for a down-home blues artist who at the time was calling himself Rocky Fuller. Born Iverson Minter in Bessemer, Alabama, on March 23, 1932, he had been orphaned at the age of five and was already an experienced performer on guitar, harmonica, and vocals when the Chess brothers decided to record him. The session produced a large number of takes, partly because "Fuller"'s tunes, like his occasional duet partner John Lee Hooker's, evolved as they were repeated. The company tried one release on Fuller: Checker 753 paired two typically dramatic blues sides. Retail sales eluded it, however, and it is a major collector's item today.


Rocky Fuller,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

The artist next showed up on a self-produced single for Fuller Records, made in Detroit in 1953; on that occasion, he went as Playboy Fuller. But when he cut a duet with John Lee Hooker, in Detroit later that same year, he'd metamorphosed into Rockin' Red. By 1960, he'd settled on the name Lousiana Red, by which he is still known today, making a single in New York for Atlas. He recorded prolifically in the 1960s, making singles for Glover and Laurie and LPs for Roulette and Atco, and continuing in the 1970s and 1980s for such labels as L & R and Tomato.


Big Boy Spires,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Stylistically quite different were the two other sides laid down that same day in March, by down-home blueman Arthur "Big Boy" Spires. Born in Natchez, Mississippi on February 25, 1912, Spires played guitar and sang with the deep sonority of Charlie Patton and Son House. But without help from accompanists, his time tended to wander. During this period he was working Chicago clubs with his Rocket Four, which included Eddie El on second guitar. On his Checker outing, which was his first appearance on record, he further benefited from the contributions of guitarist Earl Dranes. On "Murmur Low," a tribute to a "big fat mama, with meat shakin' on her bones," Willie Smith, who often played drums in Spires' working group, does the shaking on maracas. Both sides are considered classics today, but when released on Checker 752 they stirred little sales action, and the Chess brothers quickly dropped Spires from their roster.


Big Boy Spires,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Spires would record again under the joint auspices of JOB and Chance in January 1953 He would do another in December 1954 in Al Smith's basement for United (this was left unreleased till years later). Spires, who continued to play the clubs with the Rocket Four during the remainder of the 1950s, made an still largely unreleased session for Testament in 1965, subsequently being forced to give up the guitar by advancing arthritis; he died in Chicago on October 22, 1990.


At some point during March or April, the company recorded a veteran gospel singer, the Reverend W. M. Chambers, who had made records before World War II. The Reverend was accompanied on his only Chess release by a female vocal group, organ, and guitar. Chess 1511 appears to have been his last recording.


An artist who seems to have gotten away was one Bill Bailey, who, according to a brief item in Billboard (March 22, 1952) "will cut four sides, country style, for Chess Records next week" (p. 23). These tracks, if ever recorded, have disappeared without a trace. The Chess brothers would not really get involved in country music until 1954, when they started the Chess 4858 series in collaboration with Stan Lewis, their distributor in Shreveport, Louisiana.


Arthur Crudup,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

On a trip southward in May, Leonard Chess indulged in a little extracurricular recording, taping two sides by bluesman Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup in Jackson, Mississippi. Crudup was under contract to RCA Victor at the time, so, in a move that fooled no one, the two sides were attributed to one Percy Lee Crudup on release. Checker 754 remains a curiosity, as Chess wouldn't get another opportunity to record the durable bluesman.


Arthur Crudup,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

After an early string of musically interesting releases that all sold rather poorly and in some cases remain obscure today, Checker justified its separate status in August 1952, when Checker 758 (Little Walter's "Juke") was released. "Juke" grew into a tremendous hit, so quickly that Walter left Muddy Waters' band while it was still on the road in Louisiana, so he could to return to Chicago and organize his own combo.

"Juke" came out of a regular Muddy Waters session, which took place on May 12, 1952. To round out the session, Little Walter was asked to record an instrumental that he often performed with the band.


Calvin Bostick,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Calvin Bostick and his trio were still holding down their gig at the 411 Club when they returned for another session on May 27. This time just two tracks were laid down. "411 Boogie" is a gimmicky instrumental that moves a good way from the Nat King Cole mold with its addition of a second, sped-up piano line via overdubbing. The side was held till late in the year for a Christmas release, then, after Bostick was drafted into the army, was re-paired with its session-mate "Bang Bang Blues" for a mid-1954 issue, which would be the pianist's last for the company.


Fats Thomas ad in the Cleveland Call and Post, 1955
From the Cleveland Call and Post, 1955; courtesy of John Richmond.

Al Fats Thomas,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

A performer who managed to escape being swept up Checker's wave of success was Al Fats Thomas, whose only release for the company would appear on Checker 759. Allen Thomas was a showbiz personality from Cleveland, Ohio. He had been on the scene since at least 1935, in a number of roles. Thomas sang and acted as master of ceremonies. Occasionally he led a band. Thomas was even credited, once in a while, with playing an instrument: "congo drums," in an ad from 1950; trombone, in 1954. His axe in 1949, when he was a member of Smitty Al's trio, was a Victrola horn bent into the approximate shape of a tenor saxophone, with a kazoo for a mouthpiece (Tom Ehrbar, "A Nostalgic Glimpse at a Big Band Musician," Cleveland Call and Post, December 25, 1971, p. 17 A).

Thomas, who was sometimes billed as "the big man with the big voice," had a heavy bass/baritone equally well suited to shouting the blues and intoning lounge ballads. He recorded four sides for a small company called Lissen in 1947, backed the band of one Lee Norman; these were released on two singles (which were announced in the Chicago Defender, October 18, 1947, p. 18). In 1949, he cut four sides for National, leading to just one single. On National Thomas rated the services of a top-grade studio band (featuring such high-profile musicans as Lockjaw Davis on tenor sax and George Duvivier on bass). Both of these earlier outings took place in New York City.

In 1952, Thomas was tight with Alan Freed, who spun R&B platters at Cleveland's radio station WJW. When he was impressed by a vocal group called the Crazy Sounds that was performing at a club called the Loop, Thomas phoned Freed and let him listen to the group. Freed took the group under his wing and renamed them the Moonglows, after his on-the-air persona. Freed sponsored a massive "Moondog Maytime Ball" at the Cleveland Arena, with three shows on May 17 and 18, 1952; headlined by the Dominoes, the bill included H-Bomb Ferguson, Little Jimmy Scott, the bands of Todd Rhodes, Freddy Mitchell, and Morris Lane, and "Sensational Singing Entertainer" Fats Thomas. Not mentioned in the original Call and Post display advertisement, which ran on May 10, were "Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats direct from Memphis plus Arbee Stidham and his great orchestra direct from Chicago" (Call and Post, May 17, 1952, p. 5 D); obviously Freed had made some kind of last-minute deal with the Chess brothers to add them to the bill. "Big Fat" Thomas reappeared as the MC of the Dawn Dance at the Paradise on May 30, 1952 (Cleveland Call and Post, May 31, 1952, p. 3 D). In July he was featured with Live Mackay and The Three Naturals at Jack's Musical Bar (Cleveland Call and Post, July 26, 1952, p. 6 D)

Thomas's appearance on Checker is the first concrete indication that talent was being sent the Chess brothers' way by Alan Freed. (The Moonglows would end up recording for them, but not for another two years: first the group cut one single for a label run by Freed himself, then Freed arranged for them to sign with one of the Chess brothers' rivals, Chance, where they would remain until owner Art Sheridan decided to close the label. The Coronets, another group under Freed's sponsorship, would end up on Chess much sooner.)


Fats Thomas, Cleveland Call and Post, July 1954
From the Cleveland Call and Post, July 1954. Courtesy of Joe Mosbrook.

On June 13, 1952—or a little before if the date is for mastering—Fats Thomas cut his two sides for Checker. These were obviously made in Cleveland; there is no evidence Thomas ever performed in the Windy City. While Thomas got exclusive composer credit on both sides, it's not hard to figure out who the mastermind behind Moon Music was.

The single that resulted was, well, eccentric. "Baby Please No No" is a funereal ensemble chant begging forgiveness; only the rhythm section, with some help from Thomas on the "congo drums," plays on it. The flip is a jazz instrumental, titled "Dog Days" on account of the scheduled release date in August. Far from torpid or listless, it is a lively bop number played by an excellent sextet of trumpet, tenor sax, electric violin, piano, bass, and drums.

Thomas had been working, earlier in 1952, in a trio with trumpeter Herbie Francis. Pianist Maceo Owens, then playing in a group called the Four Tones, told the Cleveland Call and Post (August 9, 1952, p. 4 D), that he had played on this session. Owens later joined the Nation of Islam, changed his name to Sheikh Al-Hajj Hazziez, published The Book of Muslim Names in 1976, and eventually became the secretary of Muhammad's Mosque #7 in New York City. The bassist, who is addressed as "Baker" as he gets a well-deserved solo on "Dog Days," is in the league of Wilbur Ware and Charles Mingus. The violinist, whom Anthony Barnett has now identified as Jimmy Lane, had obviously heard of Stuff Smith.


Al Fats Thomas,
Not where you'd look for Cleveland beboppers laying down an instrumental... From the collection of Robert L. Campbell.

Thomas recorded just one more time that we know of, around a year later for a very small Cleveland-based label called Hawk, which was owned by another DJ. He did an uptempto blues ("Blowing My Horn") on Hawk 72053 and a lounge ballad ("I Thought I Found Love," also featuring Jimmy Lane) on Hawk 72054. These were explicitly credited to pianist Nate Spencer and his Orchestra with vocalist "Allen" Thomas. These sides were mentioned, with highly approximate titles, in an announcement for a New Year's Eve Show at the Cedar Gardens, where Thomas was appearing in a revue (Cleveland Call and Post, January 2, 1954, p. 7 B). The other two sides on these Hawk releases were credited to "Kitty Kaye and the Cats"; they appear to be the work of the Spencer crew at a different session backing a female vocalist.

On January 26, 1953, Thomas took up an engagement for a week at Club Ebony. The Call and Post referred to him as "local boy who made good when he made the 'Moondoggers' howl" (January 24, 1953, p. 6 B). On February 7, 1953, the Cleveland Call and Post (p. 6 B) ran an item about a charity event at the Pla Mor Ballroom featuring such performers as singer Terry Timmons, a group of boys called "The Hamboners" imitating a recent Red Saunders hit, and a band led by Fats Thomas. Thomas worked Club Congo in Cleveland in 1954, as part of a song and dance duo. After being involved in some amateur shows at Club Congo in the early months of 1955, he landed a gig as MC at the Flame Lounge (not related to the Chicago establishments with the same name). He remained active in the clubs through the end of the decade. In June 1958 he was the featured vocalist at the Lake Glen Country Club (Cleveland Call and Post, June 21, 1958, p. 7 C). In July 1958 he was back with his old song and dance partner, Merritt Stepp, for the Steppettess Social Club gathering at the Wheel Lounge (Cleveland Call and Post, August 2, 1948, p. 7 C). In March 1960 was hosting his own TV show, the Fats Thomas Revue, which ran on Saturday nights on local station WEWS (Cleveland Call and Post, March 12, 1960, p. 6 C).

Our thanks go to Anthony Barnett, Howard Rye, Joe Mosbrook, and John Richmond for tracking down Al Thomas, Nate Spencer, and Maceo Owens, to Barnett for identifying Jimmy Lane—and to George Paulus for locating Hawk 72054.


Memphis Minnie,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

On July 11, the company undertook a marathon blues session featuring Memphis Minnie and Blue Smitty. Born Lizzie Douglas in Algiers, Louisiana, in 1897, singer and guitarist Memphis Minnie was by this time a veteran of the blues recording industry; she had made her first records in 1929 and adopted Chicago as her home base in the early 1930s. As the Melrose combine faded, her long association with Columbia Records came to an end in 1949. She recorded for the short-lived Parkway label in 1950, but the company folded before any of her sides could be released and the remnants were snapped up by Regal. For her Checker session, she was joined by her husband and long-time duet partner, Ernest "Little Son Joe" Lawlars on second guitar, an unidentified drummer, and (on three of the four sides), Little Walter on harmonica.

The resulting peformances are highly valued by blues fans today, but the company was hesitant about their commercial potential. Checker 771 included a remake of her early 1940s hit "Me and My Chauffeur," and it didn't hit any shelves until nearly a year after the sides were recorded, when Little Walter had become red-hot commercially. Although it was re-pressed more than once (there are copies with the later, maroon Checker label as well as the original red) and the single was still in the company catalogue in the early 1960s, it is hard to find today.

When her contract was not renewed, Memphis Minnie moved on to JOB, laying down what turned out to be her last commercial session in October 1953. In the late 1950s, she and Little Son Joe returned to Memphis. She had to give up performing after suffering a stroke in the early 1960s, and died in Memphis in 1973.


Memphis Minnie,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

The remaining sides recorded that day were the work of Claude Smith, a guitarist who went in the clubs as Blue Smitty. Muddy Waters, who had worked with Smitty in the mid-1940s, acknowledged him as an influence, but Smitty kept his day job at a radio repair shop, and his session for Chess would be his only opportunity to record. Accompanied by pianist Malron Jett, drummer Ike Smith, and a bassist whose last name was Stewart, Smitty laid down two intense slow blues, which were pretty promptly released on Chess 1522. This, however, is much scarcer today than Memphis Minnie's single on Checker. The other two sides from the session—one of which, "Date Bait," is positively perky—would remain in the vaults until the early 1970s; an alternate take of "Crying" was also unearthed and released on LP. An unintended consequence: the fierce master take of "Crying" is much harder to find today, though it can be heard on a Top Notch CD titled More Ugly Guitar from the Kings of Distortion.


Blue Smitty,

The advent of Checker seems to have thrown some confusion into the matrix number series. Chess kept using the U7000 series from Universal Recording (though items not recorded at that venue were sometimes thrown into the series with no apparent consistency). Early in the year a 1000 series was opened for purchased material (most of it from the prolific Sam Phillips in Memphis); then the 1000s acquired a C prefix, and the series came to be used for material intended for the new Checker label—even though much of it was recorded back home at Universal in Chicago. (Adding to the overall messiness, the matrix numbers on both releases from the July 11 session were bumped up in error from the 1000s to the 1100s.) Finally, a U4300 ledger was opened at Universal for the freelance recording operations of Al Benson, who was reguarly dealing material to Chess during the second half of 1952. During the first half of 1953, many native Chess sessions would be given U4300 series matrix numbers...


A week later, the company brought Arbee Stidham back for four more sides. On the occasion, he was accompanied by tenor sax, piano, electric guitar, bass, and drums. The saxophonist has been identified as J. T. Brown, but the performer who can be heard on two of the tracks, though loud enough, is too crude and blowsy to be J. T. Brown. Sugarman Penigar is a better bet. The bassist hasn't been identified as Wille Dixon, but he was around at the time and t the work sounds like his. Two of the tunes were tried in versions with a male vocal group (which can now be heard) and versions without (which are still in the can). Apparently Leonard Chess was displeased with the day's output, with or without the doowoppers, for he would try again with Stidham, while nothing from this session would be released for many years. Just two tracks have appeared—on a bootleg LP, Doo Woppin' the Blues, that was clandestinely compiled from Aristocrat and Chess material.


Jimmy Rogers,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

On August 12, Jimmy Rogers dropped in for four tunes of his own. Unusually, he was not accompanied by Muddy Waters, who was on the road on the time. Rogers' combo consisted of Henry Gray (piano), Po' Bob Woodfork (guitar), Willie Dixon (bass), and A. J. Gladney (drums). "The Last Time" and "Out on the Road" were promptly released on Chess 1519. (Fancourt and McGrath claim that Muddy provided backing vocals on "The Last Time," but the company was merely experimenting with vocal overdubs. Joe Williams' infamously double-tracked vocal on "Every Day I Have the Blues," covered below under Purchased Sessions, had been cut at Universal Recording in July.)


Jimmy Rogers,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

The next month was uncharacteristially slack, producing four unreleased gospel sides by one Reverend Green and another four pop or jazz sides by an artist who remains unidentified.

In early September, the company tried two sides by Eddie Johnson, but they were deemed unsatisfactory. Nothing has since been heard of them.


Dick Good,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Next, the Chess brothers made a most unusual early foray into comedy. Dickie Goodman (abbreviating his name to Dick Good) recorded two versions of a monologue in which he deconstructed "Bo Peep." In Part I, he spoke posh; Part II consisted of the same material done in a heavy Yiddish accent. Both monologues appear to have been recorded in the studio, with canned laughter spliced in to create the illusion of an audience. The resulting release on Chess 1524, though funny, apparently didn't sell at all and was forgotten for many years; a copy turned up at an auction in 2009. In company files, the comedian's first name turned into "Deck" and the titles were rendered as "Bo Beep (English)" and "Bo Beep (Jewish)." Chess would not return to comedy until the company was regularly releasing LPs. In 1956, Dickie Goodman teamed up with comedian Bill Buchanan and record impresario George Goldner, starting the New York-based Luniverse label, in operation from 1956 to 1958. Their first release, "The Flying Saucer," full of clips from current rock and roll and R&B hits, including a couple lifted from Chess sides by Chuck Berry and Bobby Charles, was a commercial access.

Chess got back on track with the Eddie Johnson session of September 12, which produced one of the greatest jukebox jazz singles, a coupling the boogie "Tiptoe" with the swinger "Twin Rock" on Chess 1544.


Dick Good,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

The company promptly followed with another classic Muddy Waters session, which took place on September 17. Little Walter was off leading his own band, so the red-hot amplified harmonica on these sides belongs to Amos "Junior" Wells, who was now working for Muddy even though he wouldn't turn 18 until December. Jimmy Rogers remained on second guitar, and Elga Edmonds on the drum stool. After four numbers had been concluded, Muddy turned over the lead guitar and vocal duties to Floyd Jones: note the close similarity between Floyd's "You Can't Live Long" and Muddy's "Standing Around Crying," both impassioned blues that creep at a funereal pace.

While Muddy's first release from the session (Chess 1526, on 78 and 45) was a hit, and Chess used a third side later on, sales of Floyd's release were disappointing (Chess 1527, a 78-only, is much harder to find today than Chess 1498) and the company quickly dropped him from its roster. He would return to his former label, JOB, in January 1953, moving to Vee-Jay in 1954.


The Bayou Boys,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Later in September, the Chess brothers tried a vocal group called the Bayou Boys, about whom we still know little. Two of the sides were released on Checker 765, both 78 and 45; the other two are still languishing. From the four-tune entry, we're inferring that the Bayou Boys were recorded in Chicago at Universal; the publisher identifications on the labels give us no further clue, as both sides of Checker 765 were standards.


The Bayou Boys,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Eddie Boyd,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

On October 10, Eddie Boyd returned to Chess after his excursion to JOB and a single outing for Al Benson (the latter is listed below, under Purchased Sessions). On this occasion, the songwriter-pianist was accompanied by Robert "Little Sax" Crowder (tenor sax), Robert Jr. Lockwood (guitar), Willie Dixon (bass), and Percy Walker (drums). "24 Hours," a classic complaint, and the ebullient instrumental "The Tickler" were coupled on Chess 1533, to considerable commercial success on both 78 and 45.


Eddie Boyd,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Morris Pejoe,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Next up was a 2-tune outing by Morris Pejoe. Checker issued a second single on him, on 78 and 45 rpm, but Checker 766 did not sell well, and it would be his last for the Chess brothers.


Morris Pejoe,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Fresh off a tour with his new band, Little Walter was brought back for the first session that he would do on his own.


Calvin Bostick,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

The company seems to have taken an extended holiday from Universal Recording at the end of the year. Calvin Bostick had joined forces with McKie Fitzhugh, the DJ, putting together a Christmas song. This was probably committed to tape in November, accompanied by strings; apparently it had no session mates. When released it was paired with a tune from his previous session.


McKie Fitzhugh and Calvin Bostick, Jet, January 1, 1953
From Jet, January 1, 1953; courtesy of Simon Evans.

Bostick's association with Chess would end when he was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1953. He served two years in the Special Services Branch in Korea. Returning to Chicago, Bostick began a long residency at the 411 Club, which ran from October 1955 through much of 1957. He was now largely accompanying himself on organ. In June 1957, Bostick completed his formal music education, getting a degree from the Chicago Conservatory of Music. On June 12, 1958, he posted an indefinite contract at the Nocturne. He continued to perform throughout the Midwest, and reportedly recorded for Fraternity, RCA, and "Canadian" (probably Canadian-American) Records. He composed songs for Sammy Davis Jr. and his old inspiration Nat King Cole, among others. Beginning in 1963, Bostick began an 11-year career as a lounge act for the Holiday Inn circuit. Around 1970, he settled in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he died on April 9, 1974.

Sources on Calvin Bostick: “Calvin Cuts 2 New Sides,” Chicago Defender, 14 October 1950; “Calvin T. Bostick, 45, Musican, Songwriter,” Erie Times, 11 April 1974; Chicago Public Library's Musician Death Files.


The Chess brothers also tried a session with guitarist and singer Danny Overbea, which must not have turned out well, as nothing from it has ever surfaced. They would have better luck in the future.


Although Chess continued to keep its issue numbers in reasonably good order, the company dropped the ball in November 1952, when it put out two different 1525s. (It was long believed that there was no Chess 1524, but this turns out to have been the comedy record by Dick Good.) One Chess 1525 was a country recording by Guy Blakeman and His Blue Grass Serenaders (recorded in Shreveport, Louisiana, most likely a couple of years earlier); the other was a jazz recording (one side reissued from 1949; the other in the vault since 1950) by Gene Ammons.

In all, there are 106 known sides newly recorded for Chess in 1952 (if we count known alternate takes, but do not include some unexplained gaps in the series, such as U7452 through U7456 and U7472 through U7475). Three sides were cut in Jackson, Mississippi, where Leonard Chess made a clandestine session with Big Boy Crudup (C1022 and C1023 plus an alternate; in a move that fooled no one, these were attributed to "Percy Lee" Crudup). With the likely exception of the two Fats Thomas sides, the rest all seem to be from Universal Recording in Chicago.


Sides newly recorded for Chess in 1952

Matrix Artist Title Release Number Recording Date Release Date
U7419 through U7422 See Purchased Material
U-7423 Eddie Johnson and his Orchestra At Last Chess 1503
[78 and 45 rpm]
early February 1952 April 1952
U-7424 Jimmy Rogers and His Rocking Four Back Door Friend Chess 1506 February 11, 1952 April 1952
U-7425 Eddie Ware and His Band Jealous Women Chess 1507 February 11, 1952 April 1952

Eddie Ware and His Band Failure Is My Destiny
February 11, 1952

Eddie Ware and His Band Lonesome and Forgotten
February 11, 1952

Eddie Ware and His Band Unlucky Gambler
February 11, 1952

Jimmy Rogers and His Rocking Four Crying Shame (Chess 2ACMB207) February 11, 1952
C-1016 "Big Boy" Spires and His Guitar One of These Days Checker 752 March 13, 1952 June 1952
C-1017 "Big Boy" Spires and His Guitar Murmur Low Checker 752 March 13, 1952 June 1952
C-1018 Arbee Stidham and His Orchestra Some to Tell My Troubles To Checker 751 March 13, 1952 April 1952
C-1019 Arbee Stidham and His Orchestra Mr. Commissioner Checker 751 March 13, 1952 April 1952
C-1019 [alt.] Arbee Stidham Mr. Commissioner (Chess CHD4-9340) March 13, 1952

Arbee Stidham Knob on the Door
March 13, 1952

Arbee Stidham Love You Give to Me
March 13, 1952
C-1020 Rocky Fuller and His Guitar Soon One Morning Checker 753 March 13, 1952 June 1952
C-1020 [alt.] Rocky Fuller Funeral Hearse at My Door (P-Vine Special Chess [J] PLP-6032) March 13, 1952
C-1021 Rocky Fuller and His Guitar Come On Baby, Now Checker 753 March 13, 1952 June 1952
C-1021 [alt.] Rocky Fuller Rock Me Baby (P-Vine Special Chess [J] PLP-6032) March 13, 1952

Rocky Fuller Under a Neon Sign (P-Vine Special Chess [J] PLP-6032) March 13, 1952

Rocky Fuller Catch Me a Freight Train (P-Vine Special Chess [J] PLP-6032) March 13, 1952

Rocky Fuller Looking for the Mail Man (P-Vine Special Chess [J] PLP-6032) March 13, 1952

Rocky Fuller Gonna Leave This Town (P-Vine Special Chess [J] PLP-6032) March 13, 1952

Rocky Fuller The Moon Won't Go Down (P-Vine Special Chess [J] PLP-6032) March 13, 1952

Rocky Fuller Raining and Storming (P-Vine Special Chess [J] PLP-6032) March 13, 1952
U7426 and U7427 See Purchased Material
U7428 Rev. Chambers It's Praying Time Chess 1511 March or April, 1952 May 1952
U7429 Rev. Chambers Me and the Devil Chess 1511 March or April, 1952 May 1952
U-7430 Eddie Johnson and His Orchestra This Love of Mine Chess 1512
[78 and 45 rpm]
c. April 1952 May 1952
7431 Eddie Johnson featuring Edna McRaney Back-Up Chess 1512
[78 and 45 rpm]
c. April 1952 May 1952
7432 and 7433 See Purchased Material
U-7434 Sax Mallard and His Orchestra I'm Yours Checker 755 May 12, 1952 July 1952
U-7435 Sax Mallard and His Orchestra Teen Town Strut! Checker 755 May 12, 1952 July 1952
U7436 Sax Mallard and His Orchestra Left Alone
May 12, 1952
7437 Little Walter and His Night Cats Juke Checker 758
[78 and 45 rpm]
May 12, 1952 August 1952
U7347 [alt.] Little Walter and His Night Cats Juke (Chess CHD-9330) May 12, 1952
7438 Little Walter and his Night Cats Can't Hold On Much Longer Checker 758
[78 and 45 rpm]
May 12, 1952 August 1952
U7438 [alt.] Little Walter and His Night Cats Can't Hold Out Much Longer (Chess CHD2-9357) May 12, 1952
7439 Muddy Waters and his Guitar Please Have Mercy Chess 1514 May 12, 1952 June 1952
C-1022 Percy Lee [Arthur "Big Boy"] Crudup Open Your Book (Daddy Wants to Read with You) Checker 754 May 11, 1952
[Jackson, MS]
June 1952
C-1023 Percy Lee Crudup Tears in My Eyes Checker 754 May 11, 1952
[Jackson, MS]
June 1952
C-1023 [alt.] Percy Lee Crudup Tears in My Eyes (Genesis 2) May 11, 1952
[Jackson]

7440
U-7440
Calvin Bostick
Calvin Bostick on Piano
Four Eleven Boogie Chess 1530
[78 and 45 rpm]
Chess 1572
[78 and 45 rpm]
May 27, 1952 December 1952
prob. May 1954
U-7440-A Calvin Bostick on Piano Bang Bang Blues Chess 1572
[78 and 45 rpm]
May 27, 1952 prob. May 1954
7442 Al Fats Thomas and Orchestra Baby Please No No Checker 759 June 13, 1952
[Cleveland]
August 1952
7443 Al Fats Thomas and Orchestra Dog Days Checker 759 June 13, 1952
[Cleveland]
August 1952
1024 Memphis Minnie with Little Joe and his Band Broken Heart Checker 771
[78 and 45 rpm]
July 11, 1952 May 1953
C1024 [alt.] Memphis Minnie with Little Joe and his Band Broken Heart [alt.] (Chess CHD4-9340) July 11, 1952
C1025 Memphis Minnie with Little Joe and his Band Conjur Man (Chess CHD4-9340) July 11, 1952
C1026 Memphis Minnie with Little Joe and his Band Lake Michigan (Chess CHD-9330) July 11, 1952
1027 Memphis Minnie with Little Joe and his Band Me and My Chauffeur Checker 771
[78 and 45 rpm]
July 11, 1952 May 1953
1027 [alt.] Memphis Minnie with Little Joe and his Band Me and My Chauffeur (MCA CD 380 596) July 11, 1952
C1028
[U-1128]
Blue Smitty and his String Men Crying Chess 1522 July 11, 1952 October 1952
C1028 [alt.] Blue Smitty and his String Men Crying (Chess LP 411) July 11, 1952
C1029
[U-1129]
Blue Smitty and his String Men Sad Story Chess 1522 July 11, 1952 October 1952
C1030 Blue Smitty and his String Men Elgin Movements (Chess [Br] 6641 174) July 11, 1952
C1031 Blue Smitty and his String Men Date Bait (Chess [Br] 6641 174) July 11, 1952

Arbee Stidham Blues unissued July 18, 1952

Arbee Stidham Baby Stop the Clock (Rarin' LP 777) July 18, 1952

Arbee Stidham Baby Stop the Clock unissued July 18, 1952

Arbee Stidham Blues, Why Do You Pick on Me (Rarin' LP 777) July 18, 1952

Arbee Stidham Blues, Why Do You Pick on Me unissued July 18, 1952

Arbee Stidham Same Old Story unissued July 18, 1952
U7444 Jimmy Rogers Mistreated Baby (Chess [Br] 6641 174) August 12, 1952
7445 Jimmy Rogers and His Rocking Four The Last Time Chess 1519 August 12, 1952 October 1952
U7446 Jimmy Rogers What's the Matter (Chess [Br] 6641 174) August 12, 1952
7447 Jimmy Rogers and His Rocking Four Out on the Road Chess 1519 August 12, 1952 October 1952
U7448 Rev. Green unidentified title
August 1952
U7449 Rev. Green unidentified title
August 1952
U7450 Rev. Green unidentified title
August 1952
U7451 Rev. Green unidentified title
August 1952
U7452




U7453




U7454




U7455




U7456




U7457 unidentified artist Hole in the Jug
c. August 1952
U7458 unidentified artist Air Mail
c. August 1952
U7459 unidentified artist Uncle Bill
c. August 1952
U7460 unidentified artist Caravan
c. August 1952
U7461




U7462 and U7463 See Purchased Material
U7464 Eddie Johnson and his Orchestra Night and Day
early September 1952
U7465 Eddie Johnson and his Orchestra unidentified title
early September 1952
U-7466 Dick Good It's in the Book Part I Chess 1524 early September 1952
U-7467 Dick Good It's in the Book Part II Chess 1524 early September 1952
U-7468 Eddie Johnson and his Orchestra Twin Rock Chess 1544
[78 and 45 rpm]
September 12, 1952 July 1953
U-7469 Eddie Johnson and his Orchestra I'm Just a Lucky So and So (Chess CHV-415) September 12, 1952
U-7470 Eddie Johnson and his Orchestra Tiptoe Chess 1544
[78 and 45 rpm]
September 12, 1952 July 1953
U-7470 [alt.] Eddie Johnson and his Orchestra Eddie's Boogie (Chess CHV-415) September 12, 1952
U-7471 Eddie Johnson and his Orchestra Cool Down Daddy
September 12, 1952
U7472




U7473




U7474




U7475




U-7476 Muddy Waters and his Guitar Who's Gonna Be Your Sweet Man Chess 1542
[78 and 45 rpm]
September 17, 1952 May 1953
7477 Muddy Waters and his Guitar Standing Around Crying Chess 1526
[78 and 45 rpm]
September 17, 1952 November 1952
7478 Muddy Waters and his Guitar Gone to Main St. Chess 1526
[78 and 45 rpm]
September 17, 1952 November 1952
U7479 Muddy Waters Iodine in My Coffee (Chess [Br] 6641174) September 17, 1952
U7480 Floyd Jones You Can't Live Long Chess 1527 September 17, 1952 November or December 1952
U7481 Floyd Jones Early Morning Chess 1527 September 17, 1952 November or December 1952
U7482 The Bayou Boys September Song
September 1952
U7483 The Bayou Boys Sweetheart
September 1952
U-7484 The Bayou Boys Bambalaya Checker 765
[78 and 45 rpm]
September 1952 December 1952
U-7485 The Bayou Boys Dinah Checker 765
[78 and 45 rpm]
September 1952 December 1952
U-7486 Eddie Boyd 24 Hours Chess 1533
[78 and 45 rpm]
October 10, 1952 February 1953
U7487 Eddie Boyd Hard Time Gettin' Started (Chess CHD4-9340) October 10, 1952
U7488 Eddie Boyd Best I Could (Chess [J] PLP 6019) October 10, 1952
U-7489 Eddie Boyd The Tickler Chess 1533
[78 and 45 rpm]
October 10, 1952
[78 and 45 rpm]
February 1953
U7489 [alt.] Eddie Boyd The Tickler (Chess [J] PLP 6019) October 10, 1952
U-7490 Morris Pejoe and his Band Tired of Crying over You Checker 766
[78 and 45 rpm]
October 1952 March 1953
U-7491 Morris Pejoe and his Band Gonna Buy Me a Telephone Checker 766
[78 and 45 rpm]
October 1952 March 1953
1050 [alt.] Little Walter Blue Midnight (Le Roi du Blues LP 2017) October 1952
1050
[10208*]
Little Walter Slow Blues
[Blue Midnight*]
Checker 955* October 1952 1960
1051 Little Walter Boogie (Genesis 3) October 1952
U-1052 Little Walter and his Night Caps [sic] Mean Old World Checker 764
[78 and 45 rpm]
October 1952 November 1952
U-1053 Little Walter and his Night Caps Sad Hours Checker 764
[78 and 45 rpm]
October 1952 November 1952
7492 Calvin Bostick Christmas Won't Be Christmas (With Out You) Chess 1530 October or November 1952 December 1952
7493 Danny Overbea Walkin' with Danny
c. December 1952
7494 Danny Overbea Flight of Danny
c. December 1952
7495 Danny Overbea? unidentified title
c. December 1952
7496 Danny Overbea Early One Morning
c. December 1952
7497 Danny Overbea Do Right
c. December 1952


Leonard and Phil Chess continued to hedge their bets by obtaining a substantial portion of their material from other labels. A total of 85 sides are known to have been purchased in 1952. (We won't try to incorporate everything that was acquired from Premium but not released on Chess, because most of the masters the Chess brothers acquired in the deal they had no near-term interest in using. See ourPremium page for details.)

Again the biggest single source was Sam Phillips in Memphis, who provided 37 tracks, many of them by Howlin' Wolf. Although there was considerable tension between Phillips and Leonard Chess in 1952, Phillips quickly pulled back from his attempt to run a Sun label (which was not relaunched until 1953). Like it or not, he still needed Chess and Checker as outlets for many of the sides that he was cutting.


Joe Hill Louis,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Joe Hill Louis played guitar, harmonica, and drums in a one-man band format. His first outing had been for Columbia in 1949, when he cut four sides in New York. He began recording heavily in Memphis in 1950, when he was responsible for a release on the ephemeral It's the Phillips label, then a whole slew of sides for Modern. In 1952, he returned to Sam Phillips, who dealt two of his sides to the Chess brothers. A session on March 31, 1952 featuring just his guitar (and Nolan Hall on drums) yielded "When I Am Gone." The original master ran longer than the 3 minutes deemed reasonable for a single, so it was cut, producing an abrupt ending on the single. A follow-up on July 18, 1952, on which Louis recorded with a real combo of Walter Horton (harmonica), Jack Kelly (piano), and Willie Nix (drums), produced the powerful boogie "Dorothy Mae." Good as his Checker single was, the raw West Memphis guitar and rough sonics may not have appealed to record buyers, and the Chess brothers did not seek more of his services in the future. Joe Hill Louis continued to record for Phillips in 1952, producing a release on Sun. In 1953, he moved to Lester Bihari's Meteor label, adopting the peculiar pseudonym "Chicago Sunny Boy." After a final session for Sun that went unreleased at the time, he recorded for several small Memphis-area companies through 1957.


Joe Hill Louis,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Not all of the Memphis-based artists recorded by Phillips turned out to have the Wolf's commercial appeal. The most extreme case was bluesman Woodrow Adams, who made just two sides for Phillips in May 1952. His release on Checker 757 is so rare that just one copy is known to survive. Adams would have better luck in 1955, when he recorded for Lester Bihari's Meteor label, producing a single that actually sold a little here and there.

Al Benson's freelance activities in Chicago generated 12 more sides. He may also have been involved in some sessions with artists who were under contract to the Chess brothers; meanwhile his Parrot operation, still prenatal in 1952, would do joint releases with Checker until June 1953.


Joe Williams,
The original Checker 78; note the composition credit to Joe Williams, who didn't write the song.

Benson's first session under the new arrangement featured singer Joe Williams with the King Kolax combo including Bennie Green (trombone), Dick Davis (tenor sax), Prentice McCarey (piano), Ike Perkins (guitar), "Cowboy" Martin (bass), and Kansas Fields (drums). The July outing produced a hit version of "Every Day I Have the Blues." This would remain a signature tune for Williams after he joined the Count Basie Band at the end of 1954 and finally gained national prominence. Checker 762 was still in the company's active catalogue 10 years later. The other two sides from the session are not listed here because they were never used by Chess and the tapes didn't remain in the company's possesion; when Benson sold his Parrot label at the beginning of 1956, he unloaded all four to Herman Lubinsky, who wanted Joe Williams material for his Regent and Savoy labels.


Joe Williams,
The original 78 pressing, from 1952.

A new matrix series, the U4300s, was opened at Universal for the Benson productions. However, it was reserved for this purpose only till the end of 1952. During the first half of 1953, several regular Chess sessions would be slotted into it.


Willie Mabon,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

In October, Benson hit again, with a session featuring pianist Willie Mabon. Mabon got the idea of taking a Cripple Clarence Lofton number (recorded back in 1943 for Session) and modernizing it. "I Don't Know" became a huge hit. Benson tried to launch his Parrot label with it, but copies of Parrot 1050 are extremely rare and probably never circulated outside of Chicago (see our Parrot page for an example). The Chess brothers rebranded some left-over Parrots as Checker 1050, but it was their release on Chess 1531 that got national distribution. Chess 1531 (attributed to someone called "Little Mahon") was first mentioned in "This Week's Territorial Best Sellers to Watch" in Billboard, November 22, 1952, p. 41.


Willie Mabon,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Memphis Slim,
From the collection of Tony Berci

In December 1951, Chess acquired upwards of 50 masters from the now-shuttered Premium operation; 14 were used at the time. In three cases that we can document (the 78-rpm issue of Lynn Hope on Chess 851, its counterpart on Chess 861, and the Memphis Slim on Chess 860), Chess simply stuck its own labels onto unsold copies of the Premium pressings. Another possible relabel job is Chess 868, a reissue of Premium 868 by the Reverend Robert Anderson (we have not been able to examine a copy to determine whether the Chess 78 still has a Premium-style trail-off area). In another case, the Chess brothers decided to re-pair two gospel sides by Robert Anderson: Chess 858 thus consisted of one side from Premium 858 and one from Premium 859 (Premium 858 and 859 had, in their turn, been reissues of singles from the Miracle label).


Memphis Slim,
From the collection of Tony Berci

Premium did not put out 45s, so the one 45-rpm release from Premium stock that we have encountered (Chess 45-851) has to have been newly pressed for the Chess brothers.

Other Premiums could easily have been rebranded; previous discographies have suggested that this happened to Memphis Slim on Premium 850 (though we will keep questioning the purported release number on Chess—840—until we see a copy of this 78 with Chess labels on it). When Chess labels were merely applied to unsold 78-rpm pressings, we will in some cases be talking about low-volume releases. More investigation is called for.


Lynn Hope,
From the collection of Billy Vera

Meanwhile, there were three releases of previously unissued Premium material: Chess 1491 by Memphis Slim, Chess 1499 by Lynn Hope, and Chess 1501 by Tab Smith. Each sported new matrix numbers in the U7000 series, but there were giveaways as to provenance.

For instance, the Tab Smith release, which paired his effort at crooning (the song was titled "Love Is a Wonderful Thing" when he redid it for United) with a booting instrumental for his tenor sax, shows a scratched out matrix number (WB-51-196) in the trail-off vinyl on the "Love" side. (Why the WB? Apparently, because United Broadcasting Studio had once been World Broadcasting.) Both tunes show Premium Music Co. as their publisher. Despite the opportune titling of the instrumental side with the aim of drawing plays from a powerful disk jockey (originally called "Slow and Easy," it was called "Easy, Mr. Benson" on the first 78 rpm pressing), Chess 1501 (released on 45 as well as 78) didn't move enough disks to motivate further dipping into Smith's Premium sides. Smith rerecorded "Love Is a Wonderful Thing" for United in October 1951; the new version was released on United 113 in April 1952, which could not have helped sales on the Chess version. Smith would then remain securely under contract to United until the label folded at the end of1957. In 1958 the Chess brothers were finally able to sign him, but his new tracks were given a fairly dreadful middle of the road production, and it soon became apparent that his popularity had faded.


The Clefs,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Two doowop sides by The Clefs came over from Lillian Claiborne's DC Records. The vocal group consisted of Scotty Mansfield (lead tenor), Pavel Bess (tenor), Frank Newman (2nd tenor), Fred Council (baritone), and Leroy Flack (bass). They usually worked with a guitarist named Leo Carter, but on this occasion the group was accompanied by Frank Motley's combo. Motley was an established bandleader in the Washington, DC, area, having recorded twice for the Gotham label in Philadelphia the previous year. In 1952, he cut two band sessions for DC, one of which was dealt to Specialty (apparently DC's distribution never grew beyond the regional). The date of the Clefs' session is not known with precision, but Motley made records under his own name for DC Records in May and June of 1952.

Motley is hard to miss, as he liked to play two trumpets at once, often in the upper register; note his fanfare at the beginning of "Ride On," and the extra blare he brings to the riffing later in the tune. However, it was the band's two excellent tenor saxophonists who got the instrumental solo space on Chess 1521. One of them was probably Herbert Whittaker, a long-time associate of Motley's. The likely lineup for the rhythm section: James Crawford (piano), Jimmy Harris (guitar), Leonard "Heavy" Swain (bass), and the redoubtably named TNT Tribble (drums). The accompaniment is vigorous and the overall sound on the record is OK, although Mrs. Claiborne liked to lay on more studio echo than Leonard Chess would have thought prudent with this kind of ensemble.


The Clefs,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

The Clefs would make one more session, for Peacock around the end of 1954. Motley continued to lead bands for a number of years. From 1953 through 1955 he cut variously for DC and two other local labels, Gem and Big Town, and in 1956 he recorded for Hollywood and Grand Prix.


The Clefs in 1952 with Frank Motley
The Clefs in 1952; these doowoppers from Washington DC were one of the few vocal groups on Chess at the time. Frank Motley is in the back, playing two trumpets at once. From the collection of Billy Vera.


Bobby Lewis,
From the collection of Tony Berci

Bobby Lewis was a significant artist for Chess, despite the limited extent of his contributions (just the two sides of Chess 1518). Born in Indianapolis on February 17, 1933, he was orphaned at an early age. He learned to play the piano at age 6. When he was 12, a couple from Detroit adopted him and he was able to leave the orphanage. At 16, Bobby Lewis was working as a disk jockey in Detroit, and soon after that, he was touring. "Mumbles Blues," the 19-year-old Lewis's first recording, was cut in New York City in August, with a band led by Leroy Kirkland that included Alfred Cobbs on trombone, Sam the Man Taylor on tenor sax, Dave McRae on baritone sax, Fletcher Smith at the piano, James Cannady on guitar, plus an unidentified bassist and drummer. Some of the vocal licks were later appropriated by Screamin' Jay Hawkins (for "Little Demon").

Before Chess had released the record, Paul Bascomb's band recorded another rendition of "Mumbles Blues," in Chicago for States on August 25. Then, for reasons that are now obscure, Leonard Allen dealt "Mumbles Blues" and a Bascomb instrumental to Mercury, which promptly released them. Since in 1952 Bobby Lewis and Paul Bascomb were both based in Detroit, we figure someone heard a live performance there and took immediate action.

Lewis stayed in Detroit for the rest of decade, working on a local TV series with comedian Soupy Sales. Moving to New York, he scored a #1 hit in 1961 with "Tossin' and Turnin'." He followed up with his only other chart hit, "One Track Mind," later that year. Bobby Lewis is one of a handful of early Chess artists still alive in 2016.


Bobby Lewis,
From the collection of Tony Berci

Another 8 sides apparently derived from a label in the New York area (a special subseries, in the U6980s, was crafted for this batch). The sides by the vocal group The Encores were backed by tenor sax, piano, guitar, bass, and drums; we have no idea who the musicians were. Also purchased (we suspect from the same source) were the sides by Bobby Lewis and the jubilee-style gospel group The Southern Stars. The Tommy Trent sides, probably the second pairing to be recorded in Shreveport, Louisiana, then brought to the company by Stan Lewis, are among the very few country releases from the early Chess years.


Southern Stars,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell


Southern Stars,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

A 13-side session by John Lee Hooker that had taken place in Detroit was immediately sold to Chess, very likely by Bernie Besman; 1 more apparently Besmanian side was acquired a little later.


Sessions purchased for release in 1952

Matrix Artist Title Release Number Recording Date Release Date
1504-A
[Sam Phillips]
Harmonica Frank Howlin' Tomcat Chess 1494 1951 [Memphis] January 1952
1504-B
[Sam Phillips]
Harmonica Frank She's Done Moved Chess 1494 1951 [Memphis] January 1952
F-1002
[Sam Phillips]
Bob Price How Can It Be? Chess 1495 1951
[Memphis]
January 1952
F-1003
[Sam Phillips]
Bob Price Sticks and Stones Chess 1495 1951
[Memphis]
January 1952
F-1004
[Sam Phillips]
The Howlin' Wolf The Wolf Is at Your Door Chess 1497 December 18, 1951
[Memphis]
January 1952
F-1005
[Sam Phillips]
The Howlin' Wolf Howlin' Wolf Boogie Chess 1497 December 18, 1951
[Memphis]
January 1952
?
[Sam Phillips]
The Howlin' Wolf Look-a-Here Baby (Chess CHD2-9349) December 18, 1951 [Memphis]
?
[Sam Phillips]
The Howlin' Wolf California Blues #1 (Chess CHD2-9349) December 18, 1951 [Memphis]
50-226, 5026
[UB50-226, Premium]
Lynn Hope Quintet Song of the Wanderer Chess 851
[78 and 45 rpm]
[Premium 851]
March 1950 January 1952?
50-227, 5027
[UB50-227, Premium]
Lynn Hope Quintet Tenderly Chess 851
[78 and 45 rpm]
[Premium 851]
March 1950 January 1952?
UB50-825
[Premium]
Lynn Hope Quintet Poinciana Chess 861
[Premium 861]
c. August 1950 January 1952?
UB50-826
[Premium]
Lynn Hope Quintet Star Dust Chess 861
[Premium 861]
c. August 1950 January 1952?
PR-71
[UB50-40, Miracle]
Robert Anderson Do You Know Him Chess 858
[Premium 859, Miracle 154]
January 1950 January 1952?
PR-73
[91139, Miracle]
Robert Anderson My Friend Jesus Chess 858
[Premium 858, Miracle 147]
August 1949 January 1952?
50-607
[UB50-607, Premium]
Robert Anderson Prayer Changes Things Chess 868
[Premium 868]
June 1950 January 1952?
50-1065
[UB50-38 tk. 2, Miracle]
Robert Anderson God Answers Prayers Chess 858
[Premium 868]
January 1950 January 1952?
PR-80
[UB50-219, Premium]
Memphis Slim and the House Rockers Slim's Blues Chess 860
[Premium 860]
March 1950 January 1952?
PR-81
[UB50-220, Premium]
Memphis Slim and the House Rockers Havin' Fun Chess 860
[Premium 860]
March 1950 January 1952?
U-7419
[UB50-228, Premium]
Lynn Hope Quintet Star Dust Chess 1499
[78 and 45 rpm]
March 1950 March 1952
U-7420
[UB50-229?, Premium]
Lynn Hope Quintet More Bounce to the Ounce Chess 1499
[78 and 45 rpm]
March 1950 March 1952
U-7421
[UB51-196, Premium]
Tab Smith and His Orchestra Love Chess 1501
[78 and 45 rpm]
April 1951 March 1952
U-7422
[UB51-199?, Premium]
Tab Smith and His Orchestra Easy, Mr. Benson [on an early 78 pressing]
Slow and Easy [on all other copies]
Chess 1501
[78 and 45 rpm]
April 1951 March 1952
F1008
[Sam Phillips]
Brewsteraires Where Shall I Be When That First Trumpet Sounds Chess 1502 1951 or 1952
[Memphis]
April 1952
F1009
[Sam Phillips]
Brewsteraires (The Lord Gave Me) Wings for My Soul Chess 1502 1951 or 1952
[Memphis]
April 1952
F-1012
[Sam Phillips]
Doctor Ross and his Jump and Jive Boys Country Clown Chess 1504 November 29, 1951
[Memphis]
March 1952
F-1013
[Sam Phillips]
Doctor Ross and His Jump and Jive Boys Doctor Ross Boogie Chess 1504 November 29, 1951
[Memphis]
March 1952
1014
[Sam Phillips]
Billy "Red" Love and his Orchestra Drop Top Chess 1508 July 31, 1951
[Memphis]
April 1952
1015
[Sam Phillips]
Billly "Red" Love and his Orchestra You're Gonna Cry Chess 1508 July 31, 1951
[Memphis]
April 1952
U-7426
[Sam Phillips]
The Howlin' Wolf Gettin' Old and Grey Chess 1510 January 23, 1952
[Memphis]
April 1952
U-7427
[Sam Phillips]
The Howlin' Wolf Mr. Highway Man Chess 1510 January 23, 1952
[Memphis]
April 1952
1029
[Sam Phillips]
The Howlin' Wolf Worried All the Time Chess 1515 prob. January 23, 1952
[Memphis]
July 1952
?
[alt.; prob. Bernie Besman]
John Lee Hooker Walkin' the Boogie (Chess LP 8203) April 24, 1952
[Detroit]

7432
[prob. Bernie Besman]
John Lee Hooker Walking the Boogie Chess 1513 April 24, 1952
[Detroit with overdubs in Chicago]
June 1952
7433
[prob. Bernie Besman]
John Lee Hooker Sugar Mama Chess 1513 April 24, 1952
[Detroit]
June 1952
?
[prob. Bernie Besman]
John Lee Hooker Please Don't Go (Chess LP 1454) April 24, 1952 [Detroit]
?
[prob. Bernie Besman]
John Lee Hooker I Don't Want Your Money (Chess LP 1454) April 24, 1952 [Detroit]
?
[prob. Bernie Besman]
John Lee Hooker Hey Baby (Chess LP 1454) April 24, 1952 [Detroit]
?
[prob. Bernie Besman]
John Lee Hooker Bluebird (Chess LP 1454) April 24, 1952
[Detroit]

?
[prob. Bernie Besman]
John Lee Hooker Love Blues (Chess LP 1438) April 24, 1952
[Detroit]

?
[prob. Bernie Besman]
John Lee Hooker Lonely Boy Boogie (New Boogie) (Chess LP 1454) April 24, 1952
[Detroit]

?
[prob. Bernie Besman]
John Lee Hooker Apologize (Chess LP 1454) April 24, 1952
[Detroit]

?
[prob. Bernie Besman]
John Lee Hooker The Journey (Chess LP 1454) April 24, 1952
[Detroit]

?
[prob. Bernie Besman]
John Lee Hooker Worried Life Blues (Chess LP 1454) April 24, 1952
[Detroit]

?
[prob. Bernie Besman]
John Lee Hooker Down at the Landing (Chess LP 1438) April 24, 1952
[Detroit]

?
[prob. Bernie Besman]
John Lee Hooker You Have Two Hearts (Chess CHD2-9391) 1952
[Detroit]

1024
[Sam Phillips]
Rufus Thomas, Jr. Juanita Chess 1517 April 11, 1952
[Memphis]
September 1952
1025
[Sam Phillips]
Rufus Thomas, Jr. Decorate the Counter Chess 1517 April 11, 1952
[Memphis]
September 1952
1026
[Sam Phillips]
Willie Nix Truckin' Little Woman Checker 756 April 25, 1952
[Memphis]
July 1952
1027
[Sam Phillips]
Willie Nix Just One Mistake Checker 756 April 25, 1952
[Memphis]
July 1952
1028
[18753]
[Sam Phillips]
The Howlin' Wolf Saddle My Pony (Gonna Find My Baby out in the World Somewhere) Chess 1515 April 17, 1952
[Memphis]
July 1952
?
[Sam Phillips]
The Howlin' Wolf Bluebird (Chess CHD3-9332) April 17, 1952
[Memphis]

?
[Sam Phillips]
The Howlin' Wolf (Well) That's All Right (Chess CHD3-9332) April 17, 1952
[Memphis]

?
[Sam Phillips]
The Howlin' Wolf Everbody's in the Mood (Chess CHD2-9349) April 17, 1952
[Memphis]

?
[Sam Phillips]
The Howlin' Wolf Color and Kind (Rounder LP 28) April 17, 1952
[Memphis]

?
[Sam Phillips]
The Howlin' Wolf Dorothy Mae (Chess CHD2-9349) April 17, 1952
[Memphis]

?
[Sam Phillips]
The Howlin' Wolf Sweet Woman (Chess CHD2-9349) April 17, 1952
[Memphis]

?
[Sam Phillips]
The Howlin' Wolf Decoration Day (Chess CHD2-9349) April 17, 1952
[Memphis]

C1030
[Sam Phillips]
Woodrow Adams and the Three B's Pretty Baby Blues Checker 757 May 24, 1952
[Memphis]
July 1952
C1031
[Sam Phillips]
Woodrow Adams and the Three B's She's Done Come and Gone Checker 757 May 24, 1952
[Memphis]
July 1952
1033
[Sam Phillips]
Billy (Red) Love My Teddy Bear Baby Chess 1516 May 28, 1952
[Memphis]
August 1952
1034
[Sam Phillips]
Billy "Red" Love Poor Man Chess 1516 June 10, 1952
[Memphis]
August 1952
6980
[source unidentified]
Encores When I Look at You Checker 760
[78 and 45]
1952
[Baltimore?]
September 1952
6981
[source unidentified]
Encores Young Girls, Young Girls Checker 760
[78 and 45]
1952
[Baltimore?]
September 1952
6982
[source unidentified]
Bobby Lewis | Leroy Kirkland Orchestra Mumbles Blues Chess 1518
[78 and 45]
August 6, 1952
[New York City]
September 1952
6983
[source unidentified]
Bobby Lewis | Leroy Kirkland Orchestra Travlin' Days [78]
Travelin' Days [45]
Chess 1518
[78 and 45]
August 6, 1952
[New York City]
September 1952
6984
[source unidentified]
Southern Stars Surely God Is Able [sic]
[This World's In a Bad Condition]
Chess 1520 ?
[New York City]
September 1952
6985
[source unidentified]
Southern Stars Don't Give Up Chess 1520 ?
[New York City]
September 1952
6986
[Stan Lewis]
Tommy Trent Paper Boy Boogie Checker 761 1952
[Shreveport]
September 1952
6987
[Stan Lewis]
Tommy Trent Sweetheart I Am Missing You Checker 761 1952
[Shreveport]
September 1952
4301
[Al Benson]
Joe Williams | King Kolax and his Orchestra Every Day I Have the Blues Checker 762
[78 and 45]
c. July 1952 September 1952
4305
[Al Benson]
Joe Williams | King Kolax and his Orchestra They Didn't Believe Me Checker 762
[78 and 45]
c. July 1952 September 1952
7462
[DC]
The Clefs with Frank Motley and Crew We Three Chess 1521 prob. May or June 1952
[Washington DC]
October 1952
7463
[DC]
The Clefs with Frank Motley and Crew Ride On Chess 1521 prob. May or June 1952
[Washington DC]
October 1952
U 4310
[Al Benson]
Eddie Boyd and His Chess Men Blues for Baby (Chess [G] 6.24810
Chess [J] PLP 6019)
c. August 1952
U-4311
[Al Benson]
Eddie Boyd Cool Kind Treatment Chess 1523 c. August 1952 October 1952
U 4312
[Al Benson]
Eddie Boyd untitled instrumental
c. August 1952
U-4313
[Al Benson]
Eddie Boyd Rosalee Swing Chess 1523 c. August 1952 October 1952
1035-A
[Sam Phillips]
Joe Hill Louis Dorothy Mae Checker 763
[78 and 45 rpm]
July 18, 1952
[Memphis]
November 1952
1036-A
[Sam Phillips]
Joe Hill Louis When I Am Gone Checker 763
[78 and 45 rpm]
March 31, 1952
[Memphis]
November 1952
1037-3
[Sam Phillips]
Howlin' Wolf Oh, Red!! Chess 1528
[78 and 45 rpm]
October 7, 1952
[Memphis]
January 1953
1038-2
[Sam Phillips]
Howlin' Wolf My Last Affair Chess 1528
[78 and 45 rpm]
October 7, 1952
[Memphis]
January 1953
U-4314
[Al Benson]
Willie Mabon and his Combo Worry Blues Chess 1531
[78 and 45 rpm]
(Parrot 1050)
(Checker 1050)
c. October 1952 November 1952
U-4315
[Al Benson]
Willie Mabon and his Combo I Don't Know Chess 1531
[78 and 45 rpm]
(Parrot 1050)
(Checker 1050)
c. October 1952 November 1952
U4315A
[Al Benson]
Willie Mabon and his Combo See Me Cry unissued c. October 1952
U4315B
[Al Benson]
Willie Mabon and his Combo L.A. unissued c. October 1952
1041
[Sam Phillips]
Walter Horton Walter's Boogie Chess 1529 (withdrawn) September 15, 1952
[Memphis]
November 1952
1042
[Sam Phillips]
Walter Horton West Winds Are Blowing Chess 1529 (withdrawn) September 15, 1952
[Memphis]
November 1952
U-4316
[Al Benson]
Danny Overbea and his Combo Train, Train, Train Checker 768
[78 and 45 rpm]
c. December 1952 January 1953
U-4317
[Al Benson]
Danny Overbea and his Combo I'll Wait Checker 768
[78 and 45 rpm]
c. December 1952 January 1953

Willie Nix,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

By the end of 1952, Chess Records was expanding significantly. Even so, the company's total recording activity in Chicago hadn't climbed all the way back to the mark that Aristocrat had set in 1947. Perhaps Leonard Chess remembered how dangerous it was for a small company to record and master 135 sides in a year when there was no assurance that most of them would ever bring in revenue.


We are indebted to Michel Ruppli's Discography of the Chess Label for our basic listing. We have supplemented this with Les Fancourt's Chess Blues Discography and many other sources. Our thanks to Mike Kredinac for supplying label information and dubs of the rare Chess 1430. Bill Daniels supplied further details concerning Howlin' Wolf's sessions with Sam Phillips during this period, and a list of issues of Billboard in which 1953 and 1954 releases were first mentioned. Alex Podlecki corrected our release date for one of the two Chess 1525s; the Chess 1525 by Gene Ammons was first reviewed in the trade papers on August 30, 1952.

Special kudos go to Dave Sax and Colin Escott for sorting out the 1951 and 1952 John Lee Hooker recordings (see their notes to the 1998 2-CD package John Lee Hooker: The Complete '50s Chess Recordings, Chess CHD2-9391). Dave Sax also provided some corrections to our Eddie Boyd listings (email communication, September 7, 2006). Blues with a Feeling: The Little Walter Story, by Tony Glover, Scott Dirks, and Ward Gaines (New York: Routledge, 2002), is a valuable discographical source on the many sessions on which Little Walter participated. Robert Javors turned up a previously unknown Premium 78 rebranded with the Chess label: Chess 861 by Lynn Hope. Tony Berci turned up Chess 860 by Memphis Slim. There may still be a couple more of these.

We strongly recommend Nadine Cohodas' book on the Chess brothers and the Aristocrat/Chess label: Spinning Blues into Gold: The Chess Brothers and the Legendary Chess Records, published in May 2000. (For more about the book see http://www.bluestogold.com.) This is not just one of the best books ever written about the Chicago scene, it may be the best book ever written about the record business. Among other things, it is our source for the April 1951 Chess Records catalog and the launch date for the Checker label.


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