The Chess Label Part II (1953-1955)

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


Last revised: November 21, 2014


Revision note.We will be gradually adding information—very gradually, because there is so much to add—about 45 rpm releases on Chess, Checker, and affiliated labels. Because most releases, from the beginning of 1953, were on 78 and 45 rpm, on this page we will be separately tagging those that were 78 rpm only. We will also be adding information about the Reverend Utah Smith, who recorded Checker 785 (like most of the Chess brothers' gospel output during this period, his was not a 45 rpm release).

In 1953, the Chess brothers continued to make their sessions at Universal Recording in Chicago. Bu after moving from 4858 South Cottage Grove to 4750, Leonard and Phil Chess would open a small studio in the back of their new offices. Announced in a Billboard article on June 19, 1954, this was mostly used for demos. Any recordings made there and then chosen for release had to be done on the sly. While every effort was made to ensure that it wouldn't, the makeshift studio did eventually come up on the radar screen at Local 208 of the Musicians Union. And the sound quality attainable there fell well short of Universal's standards.


Edna McRaney,
One of the earlier recordings in the U4300 series. From the collection of Armin Bütner.

From some point in January through early May 1953, everything that Chess laid down at Universal was placed in the U4300 series. This had originally been opened in the ledger for Al Benson's freelance sessions. Over these four months, the matrix numbers ran from 4318 up through 4404; 4405 through 4410 were picked up in November and December 1953, and the remaining items, through 4418, were afterthoughts in 1954. There is no evidence that the U4300s past U4317 (with a few exceptions that were released on Benson's own Parrot label) involved performers under contract to him. It of course possible that Benson supervised some sessions with artists who were under contract to Chess. In any event, the customary U7000 series was interrupted during this period.

Before we started these pages, the U4300 system had never been fully charted. Many items with U4300 matrix numbers were missing from Michel Ruppli's Chess discography.

Overall, the company recorded 170 new tracks in Chicago (the total includes documented alternate takes but not gaps in the matrix series that may not actually have been filled). For the very first time, the Chess brothers recorded more new material than Aristocrat had laid down in 1947. They had finally scored enough hits to feel comfortable making the investment.


Buddy Moreno,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Buddy Moreno,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Probably in January, the Chess brothers recorded pop singles on two White bandleaders, both active in Chicago at the time. Buddy Moreno had led a big band until 1950; he had subsequently been compelled to downsize his group, but continued to work regularly in Chicago nightspots. Moreno was recorded with a studio orchestra consisting of 2 clarinets and a bass clarinet (doubling two alto saxes and a tenor), 4 violins, guitar, bass, and drums. The illusion of a Hollywood big band is created without the brass section... or the payroll. Moreno has a pleasant vocal quality, and the clarinetists are good, but instead of swinging, the ork is deliberately producing the sappy rhythm that would become commonplace on Seymour Schwartz's Heartbeat label a few years later. The Chess brothers expected some sales, because they released Chess 1535 on both 78 and 45 rpm.


Buddy Moreno,
More, er, interesting activity with the composer credits... From the collection of Robert L. Campbell.

Buddy Moreno,

From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Tommy Nichols was also active in the Loop and on the North Side during this period. We have yet to hear his sides, so can say nothing about the accompaniment. Chess 1536, a 78-only release, is much scarcer today than Chess 1535. The Moreno and Nichols sessions, which may well have been conjoined, were given matrix numbers in the U7000 series, which then went on hiatus for four months. In fact, the first master from May had to be given the number U7501A because U7501 had—oops—already been allocated to one of Nichols' entries.

Neither Moreno nor Nichols sold enough records to motivate a follow-up from the company. The Chess brothers would not get involved in White pop recordings again until they launched their Marterry label in December 1955.


What might have been the first session of the new year (we aren't sure, because of the switch from the U7000 series to the U4300s) featured Little Walter, now firmly ensconced as the first hitmaker for Checker. Scott Dirks has informed us that the original session log for 4318 through 4320, filled out by Bill Putnam at Universal Recording, reads "January '53." Our thanks to Dirks for providing take numbers and the correct track identification for 4319. No title for 4318 was supplied on the session tapes, but Putnam wrote down "fast boogie" in the log; 4319 was left completely untitled until the track was issued in the early 1990s ("Don't Need No Horse" is a rather dismissive reference to the clop, clop being produced by the Fred Below). Amazingly, nothing from the session was released. Perhaps the Chess brothers weren't interested in putting out a remake of Charles Brown's "Driftin'"—meanwhile, less than six months after "Juke" had become a hit, Walter and his band were cranking out top-quality instrumentals much faster than B sides of singles were becoming available.


Muddy Waters,
Further wheeling and dealing are evident in the composer credits... From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

In a session usually vaguely attributed to the month of January, Muddy Waters returned to the studio for another four sides. Junior Wells had been drafted into the army, and his replacement, for a time, was "Big" Walter Horton. Horton's presence argues for January 9, when the company is known to have recorded him with Gus Jenkins. Although Horton played brilliantly on the session, and would do the same on some others for the company, this particular experiment would not be repeated. The band was rounded out with Jimmy Rogers on second guitar and an an assertive drummer, whose cymbal crashes dominate "She's All Right." Willie Nix, also known to have been on hand for the Jenkins outing, is the likely candidate. From Muddy's next session all the way to May 1955 (when Junior Wells cut a single number with him), his studio outings would inevitably be scheduled when Little Water was in town and available. "She's All Right" (a breathless jump that picks up where the last verse of "Still A Fool" left off) and "Sad, Sad Day" were quickly paired on Chess 1537. "My Life Is Ruined," a lilting slow blues that made a considerable impact when finally released in the 1960s, was left in the can, as was the mournful "Flood."


Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell.

Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

A sign of improved cash flow was the Chess brothers' increasing willingness to leave sides unissued. This was already apparent with the Little Walter session that started off the year. And just two tracks have ever been released from the get-together on January 9 that featured guitarist Honeyboy Edwards and pianist Gus Jenkins: "Drop Down Mama" (which had to wait 17 years) and "Eight Ball" (which had to wait a couple more). While "Drop Down Mama" is a respectable performance, and the band (just Edwards' guitar, Jenkins' piano, probably Willie Nix on drums) stays together throughout, there is a collective lurch from barline to barline, gently informing the listener that everyone on the session was drunk. It is unlikely that anything will ever happen with the other sides; indeed, the last two Edwards tracks are said to be incomplete. On his own four sides, Jenkins was joined by Nix and "Big" Walter Horton on harmonica, to little avail.

Both Edwards and Jenkins would get much better results in the future. Gus Jenkins moved to the West Coast, where he recorded for the Flash label in the late 1950s.

David Edwards was born in Shaw, Mississippi, on June 28, 1915; "Honeyboy" was a childhood nickname. His mother played guitar; his father played guitar and fiddle. HIs father bought him a guitar for $8; in 1929, hearing Tommy Johnson inspired him to learn how to play the blues. In the 1930s, Edwards played with Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson; he recorded for the Library of Congress in 1942. He made no commercial recordings until he settled in Chicago, in the early 1950s; the messed-up Chess session was apparently his first. He recorded on rare occasions until 1969, when he appeared on the Fleetwood Mac Blues Jam in Chicago LPs. In 1972, he began an association with Michael Frank, who would serve as his manager, booking agent, and harmonica player for the rest of his career. In his later years, Edwards typically played 100 concerts a year—until he gave up touring at the age of 93. He recorded frequently, and published his autobiography, The World Don't Owe Me Nothing, in 1997. He played his last gig at a festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in April 2011, and died at his Chicago home on August 29, 2011. (See Bill Friskics-Warren, "David Honeyboy Edwards, Delta Bluesman, Dies at 96," New York Times, August 29, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/arts/music/david-honeyboy-edwards-delta-bluesman-dies-at-96.html?_r=2&emc=eta1; Caryn Rousseau, "Bluesman David 'Honey Boy' Edwards Dead at 96," Associated Press, August 29, 2011, http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gchxCWrQLlu02pVulvGf8e4pMZ-A?docId=672ac529d2024cb18089ab22077a6c86.


Elmore James,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Elmore James,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

On January 17, the great bluesman Elmore James and his working band of J. T. Brown (tenor sax), Johnny Jones (piano), Ransom Knowling (bass), and Odie Payne Jr. (drums) paid a visit to Universal Recording. James and the Broomdusters, as they were usually billed, had been together since June 1952. They had recorded in Bill Putnam's studio in November 1952 and would be back there in April and August 1953, under the aegis of various lablels run by the Bihari brothers, such as Meteor and Flair. Since Elmore James was under contract to Joe Bihari in January 1953, the outing for the Chess brothers was, well, irregular. But no effort was made to hide his identity when Checker 777 was released in July. Apparently, Leonard Chess had resolved to steal the bluesman, whose first releases had had a major impact on the market, away from a rival firm. Lester Bihari went so far as to accuse him of opening Lester's mail at Plastic Products, the Memphis pressing plant that Chess, Sun, RPM/Flair/Modern, and Meteor all used.

Elmore James was born in Richland, Mississippi, on January 27, 1918, the son of a farmhand named Leola Brooks. He began playing the guitar as a boy. He met Robert Johnson and assimilated some of Johnson's repertoire while working juke joints during his teens. Around 1940 he began working with harmonica player Aleck Miller, then known by such handles as "Little Boy Blue," but later billed as Sonny Boy Williamson. After service in the Naval Reserve from 1943 to 1945, James returned to Mississippi where he was active on the local musical scene. He was slowed, however, by a serious heart condition that was first diagnosed in 1947. In 1951, he began recording as a sideman for Trumpet Records, a label based in Jackson, and in August of that year, he was prevailed on to cut a version of "Dust My Broom" at the end of a Sonny Boy Williamson session. The one and only side he made for Trumpet became a hit, but when he resumed recording as a leader it was for Joe Bihari's Modern label, in 1952.

Five sides were laid down at the James session. The mood is a little subdued by comparison with some of the sides he made for the Biharis, but all five tracks were strong performances. Two were selected for Checker 777, which was released in the summer. "She Just Won't Do Right" was rather brazenly worded as a sequel to James' Trumpet release. Checker 777 was withdrawn after the Bihari brothers found out about it and threatened legal action, but Chess was in no big hurry to pull it back from the distributors. The single is nowhere close to the rarest that Checker put out, though the 45s are encountered less frequently than the 78s. The rest of the titles stayed in the vault until they saw release on an LP in 1969. As sometimes happened with Chess reissues during that period, the titles of the two released sides had been completely forgotten, so new ones were substituted.


Elmore James,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Elmore James,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

James stayed with Modern until 1956, when, faced with declining sales on all of their blues artists except B. B. King, the company dropped him. After a brief affiliation with Mel London's Chief label (1957), James struck up an alliance with Bobby Robinson's Fire, Fury, and Enjoy operation that lasted from 1959 until his death. In 1960, however, he snuck in a second session for the Chess brothers. After his health worsened, Elmore James suffered a fatal heart attack in Chicago on May 24, 1963.


Edna McRaney,
From the collection of Armin Büttner

Next up (approximately, anyway, because the U4300 matrix number series was being handled casually; the January 9 sessions don't seem to have been entered into the master book until late February) were two sides by R&B shouter Edna McRaney, who had previously done a vocal duet with Jackie Brenston and another one with Eddie Johnson. She was backed by an unidentified combo of tenor sax, piano, bass, and drums. "Yes, I Know" was an obvious answer record, trying to benefit from the company's ongoing hit "I Don't Know." The tenor sax work is prominent and first-rate on both sides; since McRaney had already cut a duet with Johnson, and he was presumably still in good health when the session was cut, he is an obvious candidate. And maybe someone knows who contributed the excellent piano work? But McRaney's only record as a solo artist, Chess 1534, appears to have been a 78-only release, suggesting less than scintillating sales.


Willie Mabon,
From the collection of Billy Vera

On February 5, Willie Mabon, now under contract to Chess, returned to Universal Recording for a follow-up to his breakthrough session. On this occasion, the pianist was accompanied by Fred Clark (tenor saxophone), Joseph "Cool Breeze" Bell (bass), and Steve Boswell (drums). "I'm Mad" successfully picked up where "I Don't Know" had left off; it was coupled on Chess 1538 with "Night Latch," a sort-of instrumental on which Mabon wordlessly sang part of the theme. The other two sides had to wait for years to see release. (Cool Breeze, who had been on the scene since the late 1940s, got regular club bookings on the South Side for his combo, which often featured his own blues singing. But only Mayo Williams, proprietor of a boutique label called Ebony, and Bell himself ever showed an interest in recording them.)


Willie Mabon,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Little Walter,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Little Walter,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Little Walter and his Jukes made a return visit to Universal in early March of 1953. The company initially slated "Don't Want to Hurt No More" (misrendered as "Don't Want to Hunt"—since it was an instrumental, the misspelling wasn't self-evident) and "Tonight with a Fool" for release, on Checker 767. The instrumental side was one of Walter's best, but "Tonight with a Fool" (a phrase not to be found in the lyrics) was a run-of-the-mill downtempo number, with words apparently made up in the studio.

Plans were hastily changed—super-hastily, as 767 had already been advertised—and the company went instead with Checker 770. The replacement single coupled a virtuoso instrumental, "Off the Wall," with "Tell Me Mama," a snappier piece with catchier lyrics. Both sides of 770 are now considered classics. (The hasty abandonment of 767 would cause confusion later. Checker 767 was actually released for the first time in the mid-1960s, in a series of Checker 45s that the producers thought were all reissues.)


Little Walter,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Little Walter,

From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

On the same day, the Chess brothers brought in John Brim to perform with the Jukes, just as they had previously recorded Floyd Jones at the end of a couple of Muddy Waters sessions. According to Glover, Dirks, and Gaines, Little Walter was responsible for bringing Brim to the label. Leonard Chess had made noises about signing him, but seemed to be interested only in Grace Brim as a singer. But at Walter's insistence it was John who recorded. Though the group was billed as the "Gary Kings," "Rattlesnake" and "It Was a Dream" were backed by Walter himself, playing as brilliantly as he ever did on his own sides, along with Louis and Dave Myers, guitars, Fred Below, drums, and Willie Dixon, discreetly added on string bass. In fact, "Rattlesnake" makes excellent use of the same rim clopping that Below had previously essayed on "Don't Need No Horse."

Through some terrible luck, Checker 769 was shelved shortly after it was announced. After holding back for months on Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog," Don Robey of Peacock had been prevailed on to release it and was now suddenly enjoying a hit with it. He sued Sam Phillips over Rufus Thomas's "Bearcat: The Answer to Hound Dog," also recorded in early March. Sun Records did not withdraw the single; the company just took the subtitle and other references to "Hound Dog" off the label. But Leonard and Phil Chess were obviously afraid that Robey would go after "Rattlesnake" as well. So "Rattlesnake" and "It Was a Dream" would unfortunately have to wait till the late 1960s, when they finally came out on a British LP.


Elder Beck,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Around this same date—the matrix numbers are actually sandwiched in among those from Little Walter's session, though we will not read them literally—Chess began recording the prolific gospel sermonizer, Elder Beck. Charles Beck was a veteran preacher in the Church of God in Christ. He played trumpet, organ, vibes, bongos, probably several other instruments, and had been recording his "religion in rhythm" off and on since 1930. His most recent record company affiliations had been with Gotham (1948-1950) and King (1950). A title like "Wine Head Willie Put That Bottle Down" told the listener exactly what to expect. The Elder played the organ; his fire and brimstone were otherwise given a sparse accompaniment of electric guitar, piano, bass, and drums. And someone took the hapless Willie's speaking role ("Oh Lord, here come the Reverend"). "I'm Gonna Tell God" is an R and B ballad about all the wrongs someone did to the singer; only the tale's intended audience is different. Since the Chess brothers did not expect gospel buyers to own the latest equipment, and placement on jukeboxes was not widely expected, Chess 1539 was released on 78 only.


Elder Beck,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

While the Chess brothers were continuing some degree of collaboration with Al Benson, it looks as though coordinated releases may have been planned, with Checker releases and releases on Benson's fledging Parrot label sharing the same number. However, so far as we've been able to determine, the coordinated releases did not actually take place. Benson recorded two sides by a vocal group that he had named the Parrots, after his new label. But contrary to past reports, Parrot 772 was not joined by a Checker 772 (though Leonard and Phil Chess had left a space for it in their release series). We mention them here because there apparently was once a plan to put them out on Checker and they belong to the U4300 matrix series. For more, we refer readers to our a href="http://myweb.clemson.edu/~campber/parrot.html">Parrot page.


Mitzi Mars,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

On March 29, Mitzi Mars cut two sides for Checker. Ms. Mars was a brassy nightclub singer, who often made her appearances wearing a blond wig. She had been on the South Side club scene since at least 1951, when she made an extremely obscure record for JOB with Henry Palmer and his Boys. Unfortunately, the songs she was given to sing on that occasion were incredibly inane and dated. An answer song to "I'm Mad" was much better suited to her, and the company obviously wanted to try again after Edna McRaney's commercially unsuccessful effort. The flip, "Let It Roll" (on which Ms. Mars employs an Eartha Kitt-like device, stretching "roll" out into "rolllll-a"), builds up some considerable momentum. Expert backing was supplied by Sax Mallard (playing tenor sax on this R&B date) and his quartet.


The Chess brothers had recorded Jackie Brenston in Chicago in December 1951, in a session that led to the release of two singles. After Chess 1532 came out in December 1952, with less than gratifying results at the cash register, they decided to give him one more try. The session of April 17, 1953, with unidentified tenor sax, piano, guitar, bass, and drums, produced 8 sides—not one of them deemed suitable for release. Only two have ever seen the light of day, on a Japanese LP issued many years later. The Chess brothers were fed up with Brenston, whose entire career fruitlessly kept trying to live up to the one hit record that had launched it.


Danny Overbea,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

During what was shaping up to be a busy month, Danny Overbea returned to the studio. Although his first session had been recorded for Al Benson, he was now under contract to Checker. Overbea recorded four sides with accompaniment, once again, by King Kolax and his band. Checker 774 paired an uptempo blues with a catchy hook and lots of guitar soloing ("40 Cups of Coffee") with a pretty good ballad ("I'll Follow You"), on which Overbea managed to keep his penchant for sappiness in check. Besides Overbea's guitar, the instrumental lineup consisted of King K's trumpet, Dick Davis's tenor sax, plus a rhythm section of Prentice McCarey (piano), Mentho "Cowboy" Martin (bass), and "Little Gates" (drums). As typically happened with Overbea's efforts for the company, the other two sides were left in the can.


Danny Overbea,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Arbee Stidham,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Next, Arbee Stidham returned to Checker for his third and last session. On this occasion, the quavery-voiced baritone was accompanied by J. T. Brown's tenor sax and Odie Payne's drums, along with a still-uncredited trumpet player, second saxophonist, pianist, and bassist. Two sides were released on Checker 778, pressed on both 78 and 45. The record was reviewed in Billboard (July 18, 1953, p. 57), but copies are far from plentiful today. Another two tracks have never been released; some sources, in fact, have credited them to Danny Overbea. We'll go with Stidham here, but it sure seems as though some further vault research is needed (we hope it's still possible).

Like the other older blues performers that the company had been trying out for the last couple of years, Arbee Stidham was not invited back after this session. He next surfaced on Joe Brown and Eli Toscano's Abco label, releasing two singles in 1956. In 1957, he was responsible for a strong outing with an Al Smith band that proved to be the swan song for States. As audience interest declined during the late 1950s, there was a three-year period of no recording. When Stidham made his comeback in 1960, with an LP for Bluesville, he was featured on the guitar. Two LP sessions for Folkways (both featuring Memphis Slim) followed in 1960 and 1961. His last session was done for Sam Phillips in Memphis in 1965; nothing was released off it till years later, though in the early 1970s, still actively performing, he was featured in a short film.


Arbee Stidham,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

The Southern Stars,

Next, if we take the matrix numbers literally, the Southern Stars cut two more gospel numbers, which were released on Chess 1540. Hayes and Laughton opine that these two sides were recorded back in 1952 and came from the same session that produced Chess 1520. Since Chess purchased at least the former two sides from another company, we have very little to go on here (and while we admit that a jubilee-style gospel group accompanied only by some acoustic guitar won't sound terribly different recording in a different venue, we haven't heard the sides). Like most of the company's gospel releases, Chess 1540 was 78-only; today it is also much scarcer than Chess 1520.


Eddie Boyd,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Willie Mabon,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Eddie Boyd,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

A session in May brought Eddie Boyd and his group into the studio for four tracks. "Third Degree," Eddie's tale of woe based on the traditional "got me 'cused of forgin'" theme, and a solid instrumental, "Back Beat," promptly formed Chess 1541, released on both 78 and 45. The other two sides were also released. "That's When I Miss You" didn't have to wait too long, for Chess 1552. But "Four Leaf Clover," a euphoric tribute to his girlfriend's good-luck properties, was held back until 1956. Boyd was backed by Robert "Little Sax" Crowder (on the tenor instrument), Echford "Lee" Cooper (guitar), and Percy Walker (drums), plus a man who was beginning to be omnipresent—Willie Dixon on bass.


Eddie Boyd,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Willie Mabon,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Eddie Boyd,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Another memorable session with multiple leaders took place on May 4, when Muddy Waters cut two sides ("Turn the Lamp Down Low" was the title originally used for the A side, but everyone else knows it as "Baby Please Don't Go"). By now, Henry "Pot" Strong was Muddy's regular harmonica player, but the company still preferred to use Little Walter on his recording sessions. "Turn the Lamp Down Low" was released right away, on Chess 1542 (78 and 45), while "Loving Man" (which should have been titled "Lover Man" in the interest of accuracy) was held for use as a B side, eventually appearing more than a year later on Chess 1585.


Muddy Waters,
Did Muddy Waters collaborate with himself on this composition? From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Jimmy Rogers,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Jimmy Rogers followed suit with "Act like You Love Me" and "Left Me with a Broken Heart," both promptly released. "Broken Heart" was a Memphis Minnie composition that she had already recorded for Checker. Then John Brim finished the session with two of his own. Since Little Walter was in the studio on this occasion to accompany Muddy, the melancholy "Lifetime Baby" and the amiably salacious "Ice Cream Man" put Brim in with Walter, Jimmy Rogers (not Eddie Taylor as suggested in some discographies), and Muddy's regular drummer, Elga Edmonds. Willie Dixon, whose string bass is often barely audible on sessions from this period, was definitely on the Jimmy Rogers sides. The Muddy and Rogers sides would soon reach the store shelves. But for some reason (lingering soreness over having to withdraw "Rattlesnake"? a reference to pineapple ice cream that Leonard Chess thought was silly?), the Chess brothers passed on "Ice Cream Man," which had to wait 15 years for release. Brim would make his next session for Al Benson's Parrot label; only after "Tough Times" was a hit for Benson would he be able to return to Chess—and actually get his recordings released.


Jimmy Rogers,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

On May 11, Morris Pejoe returned for a second session, cutting four sides that did not please the Chess brothers. At least that is our inference, because nothing was released from the session at the time, and nothing has been since then. (Since Pejoe would later record for United a slow, plaintive blues addressed to a woman with the fairly implausible name of "May Bea," we suspect that it was one of the titles made on this occasion.) If the unreleased track U7633, from April 1954, is really Pejoe's the company gave him one more try before dropping him from the roster.

At the end of the session, Pejoe's pianist Henry Gray cut two vocal numbers of his own, which eventually saw release in the early 1970s; an alternate take had to wait till 1984. Solid blues performances, these are of further interest to today's listeners because they are the only surviving studio recordings featuring Henry "Pot" Strong's harmonica; the remaining personnel were Pejoe on guitar and Earl Phillips at the drums. But Gray was much more highly valued as a session pianist than as a leader or a singer. The same thing, unfortunately, would happen to him when he cut for Parrot/Blue Lake in 1955.


Next in the matrix number series were two sides that Al Benson recorded on Herbie Fields, a jazz musician who played alto, tenor, and baritone saxes and led a strong sextet. Discographical controversies have raged over these for years, and not all of the questions have been resolved, but Fields and his combo appear to have recorded in April 1953. The first release from the session, pairing two tributes to Johnny Hodges, "Harlem Nocturne" and "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," was intended as as anoterh joint project of Checker and Parrot. However, while copies of Parrot 775 (which sold well enough to chart) aren't too hard to find today, we have yet to encounter a Doppelgänger on Checker—the only indication of the one-time plans is the gap in the release series where this single was supposed to go. (The second release from the session is not listed here, because it came out in 1954, after Parrot and Checker had gone their separate ways and Benson had adopted a new matrix series.)


Silver Stars,

Two sides by an all-male gospel group called the Silver Stars were done next. Hardly anything is known about them, and Checker 776 (78 rpm only) is a very rare record today. A group by the same name had recorded one single for Hi-Lo a year earlier, and two singles on the Ebenezer label would be likewise credited. Probably in 1954, a group billed as "Silver Star" recorded at Universal for the tiny Chicago-based C. H. Brewer label; could this have been the same ensemble? Obviously, more research is needed...


Big Bill Broonzy,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Big Bill Broonzy,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

They'd tried Memphis Minnie the previous year. Now the Chess brothers turned to two other veteran blues performers who had been regulars with the Melrose combine, and had since been displaced by the company's down home blues acts. During a couple of sessions in May 1953, the company cut four sides by Big Bill Broonzy and no less than ten by Washboard Sam. Just one single was released on each of these artists, however.


Big Bill the folk singer, Down Beat, May 5, 1950
Big Bill Broonzy sets out on the folk-singing circuit. Down Beat, May 5, 1950. Courtesy of Ken Perkins.

Big Bill Broonzy was not originally named William—or Broonzy. In fact, he appears to have made up his last name. He also claimed to have been born in Mississippi, and, in the manner of Jelly Roll Morton or Bunk Johnson, to be as many as 10 years older than he really was. The bluesman was born Lee Conley Bradley, in Arkansas, in 1903; his origin there was not the best-kept secret, since well into the 1950s he was visiting relatives in North Little Rock every year or two. Big Bill's recording career began in Chicago in 1926, leading to a prolific output on several labels in a variety of styles. In 1953, Big Bill had recently worked through a brief career slump (for a while he was in Iowa City, on a day job as a janitor at the University of Iowa) and successfully rebranded himself as a folk singer. In that new capacity, he had already made two tours of Europe and recorded a 10-inch LP in Paris. He had also recorded for Mercury, in 1951 and 1952, with an R&B audience in mind.

On his Chess sides, he was accompanied by Lee Cooper (electric guitar), Ernest "Big" Crawford (bass), and Washboard Sam. Despite the sparse instrumentation, Broonzy made an effort to update his sound, aiming "Little City Woman" and "Lonesome" squarely at Chess's down-home clientele. They were, in fact, chosen for release on Chess 1546.

Washboard Sam (who was born Robert Brown in Jackson, Tennessee, on July 15, 1903) cut four sides with Big Bill and Lee Cooper (guitars) and Big Crawford (bass). "Shirt Tail" is a tour de force of washboard technique (yes, there is such a thing); Sam's instrument was recorded with unusual fidelity throughout these sessions. The last five sides were made with Memphis Slim (piano), Big Bill, and Big Crawford. Sam's release on Chess 1545 paired an ominous slow blues, "Bright Eyes," with a remake of his hit "Diggin' My Potatoes." Sam was less interested in updating, however; his rendition of Broonzy's "By Myself" (on which Big Bill contributes the backing vocal) keeps the old Bluebird beat.

Enough material was laid down to fill an album. It was with the 1961 release of all but one of the sides on Chess LP 1468 that these tracks really found a home.

The lack of sales on his Chess single made little difference to Big Bill Broonzy, who continued to perform and record extensively, in the USA and abroad, until he became ill in 1957. Broonzy died of throat cancer in Chicago, on August 14, 1958. Meanwhile, Washboard Sam would prove less resilient as a performer. His career already in decline, Sam shows some vocal fatigue on such numbers as "Diggin' My Potatoes." He recorded hardly anything after his Chess session. Washboard Sam died in Chicago on November 13, 1966.


Browley Guy,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Browley Guy,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

A session usually dated June 10 marked the final collaboration with Parrot, which Al Benson was about to take independent. Baritone crooner Browley Guy, a 1936 graduate of Wendell Phillips High School, had recorded for Miracle and States. By 1953 his lugubrious manner at slow tempos and the harmonies of his vocal group, the Skyscrapers, had become dated. As always, Guy and Scrapers were much better when not doing ballads, so the near work song, "Watermelon Man," is the side of Checker 779 that could still interest listeners today. We know of no Parrot 779—another joint release may have been intended—but the tapes remained in Al Benson's possession and tracks from the session (including the two left unissued on Checker) have appeared on Parrot reissue compilations. The Skyscrapers would cut one last session, for Mercury in January 1956, before passing into history.


Browley Guy,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Browley Guy,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

The company was sufficiently encouraged by "I'm Glad" to bring Mitzi Mars in for a second outing. But none of the four tunes have ever been released. Ms. Mars continued to perform locally for the remainder of the decade; what she did after that is unknown to us.



In June 1953, Willie Mabon laid down two more tunes, including the rollicking "Monday Woman." The band for this occasion included Milt Larkin (trombone), Charles Ferguson (tenor sax), Ted Sturgis (bass), and unidentified musicians on trumpet, alto and baritone sax, and drums. The involvement of Sturgis, who did a lot of session work in New York, and Larkin (who had once led the big band that brought Tom Archia to Chicago, and later led R&B combos that recorded for Sunrise and Savoy) fuels suspicions that the session was recorded in the Apple while Mabon was on tour. What's more, the composer credit on the flip, "You're a Fool," goes to Joel Turnero, a New York-based producer and arranger. Just over a year later, Turnero would be brought to Chicago to supervise a session by the vocal group the Spaniels for Vee-Jay.


Coronets,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

In June, Cleveland DJ Alan Freed brought a second act to the label, a vocal group called the Coronets. The group was formed by second tenor Sam Griggs, who recruited his brother William to sing bass and two former classmates from Thomas Edison High, first tenor Lester Russaw and baritone George Lewis; the group was completed by Charles Carruthers, who sang lead, and guitarist Tony King. The group started hitting the clubs in Cleveland early in 1953; after making a demo of two songs at a Cleveland studio, the Coronets were successful in getting Freed to listen to it, and he signed the group to a management contract. Unlike the Skyscrapers, the Coronets were a doowop group, and the single that resulted, on Chess 1549, was a solid contribution to the genre.

Accompaniment was provided by Sax Mallard's quartet; the leader lays out on the ballad side, "Nadine," but his tenor sax can be heard to advantage on the jump side, "I'm All Alone." Both songs were in the group's initial (very limited) repertoire, previously appearing on the demo they'd made for Alan Freed. The Coronets did not see eye-to-eye musically with Mallard and his musicians, and were dissatisfied with the results; however, the conflicts are not apparent to today's listener, and "Nadine" spent 10 weeks on the Billboard R&B charts, peaking at #3.

Freed did not endear himself to the group's members by appropriating composer credits. The theft was more serious in the case of "Nadine," which was Carruthers' song. "I'm All Alone" had already been filched from B. B. King's "Woke Up This Morning," released in March 1953 when the group was getting started.


Coronets,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

The matrix numbering of the company's July sessions is confusing, to say the least: sessions seem to wrap around sessions that seem to wrap around... There may have been a trial run of two sides by Little Walter, then a longer session (or sessions) from which releasable results were obtained.


Morris Pejoe,
Morris Pejoe contributes one of the later U4300s. From the colletion of Robert L. Campbell.

To keep things manageable, we'll start with the four sides that Morris Pejoe laid down at some point during July, on his third session for the label. This time, the Chess brothers were pleased with the Louisiana bluesman's output, selecting "Can't Get Along" and "It'll Plumb Get It" for release on Checker 781 (available on 78 and 45). Maybe they liked "It'll Plumb Get It" a little too much... Philip Chess claimed to have composed it. The guitarist was accompanied by Henry Gray on piano, plus unidentified musicians playing tenor sax, bass and drums. Checker 781 is a hard-driving blues release, quite listenable today, but it must not have met the sales targets that had been set for it. Pejoe would cut just one more side for the Chess brothers, early in 1954, and they didn't release it. He next showed up at the end of that year, recording for United in a session held in Al Smith's basement. In May 1955, Pejoe made one single for Vee-Jay; a year later, in May 1956, he did one for Abco.


Morris Pejoe,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Little Walter,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Little Walter,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

And while there may be some doubt about the exact recording dates, there is no doubt about the quantity or the quality of Little Walter's contributions. The harmonica-playing leader was absolutely on fire, cutting 11 sides in less than a month. What he needed was an LP: Walter and the Jukes were turning out instrumentals much faster than the Chess brothers' release schedule could ever hope to absorb them. The sessions gave rise next two singles, Checker 780 and 786. So strong a vocal number as "Too Late" had to wait two years for release, on Checker 825, and some of the instrumentals would spend 40 years in the vaults.


Little Walter,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Little Walter,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Little Walter,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Rev. Utah Smith,

The Reverend Utah Smith, who recorded for Checker in August, was a traveling evangelist and a minister in the Church of God in Christ (his home church was located in New Orleans). Rev. Smith was known for his wild guitar playing—and for the cardboard wings he wore while walking up and down the aisles. His signature number, "Two Wings," was first done for Regis in 1944 (subsequently reissued on the Manor and Arco labels); in all, he would be responsible for six different versions of it. The remake on Checker 785 is one of his best performances: the Reverend's singing and shouting, his guitaristics, and the responses from the congregation were all vividly recorded. But the sales must just not have been there. According to Big Joe Louis, no more than 20 copies of Checker 785 (issued only on 78 rpm) are in the hands of today's collectors. The rest of the Rev. Smith's session has never been released and we can only pray that it hasn't been lost.


Danny Overbea,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

In early September, Danny Overbea committed another four tunes to tape, with backing from King Kolax and his combo. "I Could But I Won't" (a credible R&B performance) and "Sorrento" (more indicative of the direction Overbea was moving in) were used on Checker 784.


Danny Overbea,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

September 24 was a busy day for the company. Muddy Waters and his band cut two sides for their next single, Chess 1550. This was the first session to include his regular pianist, Otis Spann. "Blow Wind, Blow" and "Mad Love" (reissues have called it "I Want You to Love Me") are both considered blues classics today.


Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Eddie Boyd,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

The same day, Eddie Boyd returned for four tunes. "Tortured Soul" was promptly used on Chess 1552; two other tracks were showed up on Chess 1573 and 1576; and the fourth side wasn't picked up till 1956, for Chess 1634. Boyd's style hadn't changed in the interim, so record buyers had no idea that such material wasn't brand new.


Eddie Boyd,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Coronets,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Coronets,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

On October 11, the company brought the Coronets back to cut three numbers. A truce must have been declared, because the vocal group once again recorded with Sax Mallard's quartet, which even got credit on the label. And Charles Carruthers only had to share composer credit with Alan Freed.

Although both sides of Chess 1553 were strong performances (and, as a bonus, "Baby's Coming Home" featured Sax Mallard's best recorded tenor sax solo), the record didn't sell. Later in the fall, Carruthers was drafted into the military, and in March 1954 the group would lose Lester Russaw the same way.


Coronets,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Coronets,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Sugar Boy,
An audition recording from New Orleans. From the collection of Tom Kelly.

Meanwhile, Leonard Chess had shown sporadic interest in the music that was coming out of New Orleans in the 1950s; various independent labels were recording R&B there, but apart from Imperial, which had grabbed up Fats Domino, none of them was really dominating the local scene. (He may have picked the Rev. Utah Smith during a swing through New Orleans, but Smith was on the road so much that he could just as easily have heard him in Chicago.) While visiting in September 1953, Leonard heard Sugar Boy Crawford and his band rehearsing, and asked them to make an audition tape. He was so pleased with the results that he had Universal master the two numbers, which appeared on Checker 783. The sonics on "I Don't Know What I'll Do" and "Overboard" are the worst to be heard on any of the company's releases—substantially more rugged than on Sam Phillips' early efforts, worse even than the sides that Howlin' Wolf made in Lester Bihari's establishment—and the horns aren't always in tune either. It's clear, though, that the spirited performance on "Overboard" prompted Leonard Chess's decision. Chess had thick competition for New Orleans talent, not just with Imperial, but also with Specialty, Atlantic, Mercury, and Savoy, and many of the best artists were signed by other companies. Chess and Checker would nonetheless score a few successes.


Sugar Boy,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Sugar Boy Crawfordwas born James Crawford Jr., on October 12, 1934 in New Orleans. He sang in church and learned to play piano and trombone. A band that he formed in high school got a spot on WMRY, where DJ Vernon "Dr. Daddy-O" Winslow became the group's manager. They made their first recordings for Aladdin in November 1952 as the Sha-weez, but Crawford had strained his vocal cords and couldn't sing on the session. The band that auditioned for Checker consisted of Crawford (vocals and piano), Edgar "Big Boy" Miles (trombone), David Lastie (tenor sax), and Eric "Skee-Za" Warner (drums), all of them together since high school.

A studio session followed in November. Besides the vastly improved sonics, Crawford's audition band benefited from the addition of Alfred Bernard (tenor sax), Snooks Eaglin (guitar), Frank Fields (bass), and Sylvester "Slim" Sanders (backing vocals). Of the two sides that resulted, "Jock-o-Mo" (so reads the phonetic spelling for a Mardi Gras Indian chant, whose actual meaning and language of origin both remain elusive) became a New Orleans classic.


Slim Saunders,
From the collection of George Paulus

The other two sides featured Slim Saunders (as Chess chose to spell his name) as the lead singer. Born George Sanders Le Blanc, Slim often worked with Crawford's band during this period. He later moved to the West Coast, recording a single for Cavalier in San Francisco (1956), one for Lamp in Los Angeles (1956), and, sometime in the late 1950s, a final single for U-M in Los Angeles. On other records, he was variously billed as Sanders Le Blanc, Slim Sanders, and even Skinny Dynamo (when Aladdin reissued his Lamp single).


In November, Willie Mabon returned to Universal Recording, apparently for just three tunes. He was accompanied by an ensemble of Paul King (trumpet), Herbert Robinson (tenor sax), Andrew "Goon" Gardner (alto and baritone saxes), Bill Anderson (bass), and Oliver Coleman (drums). While discographies have credited Gardner with alto sax only, he can be heard taking a baritone solo on "I Got to Go." The leader's next single consisted of "I Got to Go" and an instrumental; the sardonically reflective "Life Could Be Miserable" was inexplicably left in the can. The contributions of Oliver Coleman, a veteran Swing drummer who had previously anchored Marl Young's house band for the Sunbeam label, to the success of Willie Mabon's recordings are rarely cited. He would anchor most of Mabon's subsequent recordings for Chess.


Eddie Boyd,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Eddie Boyd must have been writing a lot of songs, as he was back on November 9 for another four tunes. Two were picked for release on Chess 1561 and another appeared on Chess 1573.


Eddie Boyd,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Eddie Boyd,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Valaida Snow,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Valaida Snow,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

The year's final session featured another fading performer, though in this case not a blues singer. Valaida Snow, the "Queen of the Trumpet." was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on June 2, 1904; she first arrived in New York City in 1922. She had been highly successful in Europe, where she made most of her recordings. Failing to heed the war clouds, she got trapped in Denmark during World War II, then ended up in prison while that country was under Nazi occupation; after diplomats arranged her return to the United States in 1942, with her health in decline, she struggled to recapture her old popularity. She appeared at the Rhumboogie Café in the fall of 1943. Snow continued to record sporadically for small labels, such as Bel-Tone, after World War II. The Chess brothers brought her into Universal Recording in mid November, during a gig at the Crown Propeller Lounge. A Red Saunders unit accompanied her, with Leon Washington on tenor sax, Mac Easton on the baritone, probably Ike Perkins on guitar, Earl Washington at the piano bench, Jimmy Richardson on bass, and the leader at the drums. Valaida, still in good voice in 1953 though her range was now noticeably lower, probably brought her trumpet to the session, but she didn't play it on either of the released sides. The record appears to have been rushed out while she was in town; it sold poorly on both 78 and 45 rpm. The Chess session would be her last; Valaida Snow died in New York City on May 30, 1956.


Valaida Snow,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Valaida Snow,

We continue our practice of marking matrix numbers in bold when we have been able to verify them from the actual releases.


Sessions newly recorded for Chess in 1953

Matrix Artist Title Release Number Recording Date Release Date
U-7498 Buddy Moreno and his Orchestra One Dozen Roses Chess 1535 c. January 1953 February 1953
U-7499 Buddy Moreno and his Orchestra Let's Go Down to the Tavern Chess 1535 c. January 1953 February 1953
7500 Tommy Nichols Banshee Chess 1536
[78 rpm only]
c. January 1953 March 1953
7501 Tommy Nichols Wail of the Wind Chess 1536
[78 rpm only]
c. January 1953 March 1953
4318 tk. 11 Little Walter Fast Boogie (Chess CHD2-9357 [CD]) early January 1953
4318 tk. 12 Little Walter Fast Boogie (Chess CHD4-9340 [CD]) early January 1953
4318 alt. 2 Little Walter Fast Boogie (Hip-O Select B001RLD6AM [CD]) early January 1953
4318 alt. 3 Little Walter Fast Boogie (Hip-O Select B001RLD6AM [CD]) early January 1953
4319 Little Walter Don't Need No Horse (Chess CD2-9342) early January 1953
4320 tk. 2 Little Walter Driftin' (Chess CHD2-9357) early January 1953
4320 alt. Little Walter Driftin' (Hip-O Select B001RLD6AM [CD]) early January 1953
U4332 Muddy Waters Flood (Chess [Br] LP 6641 174) January 9, 1953
U4333 Muddy Waters My Life Is Ruined
[Landlady]
(Chess LP 1511) January 9, 1953
U-4334 Muddy Waters and his Guitar She's All Right Chess 1537 January 9, 1953 April 1953
U4334 [alt.] Muddy Waters She's All Right (Chess LP 1511) January 9, 1953
U-4335 Muddy Waters and his Guitar Sad, Sad Day Chess 1537 January 9, 1953 April 1953
U-4335 [alt.] Muddy Waters Sad, Sad Day (Chess CHD2-9393) January 9, 1953
U4336 Gus Jenkins Cold Love unissued January 9, 1953
U4337 Gus Jenkins Mean and Evil unissued January 9, 1953
U4338 Gus Jenkins Eight Ball (Chess [Br] LP 6641 174) January 9, 1953
4339 Honeyboy Edwards Drop Down Mama (Chess LP 411) January 9, 1953
4340 Honeyboy Edwards Sweet Home Chicago unissued January 9, 1953
4341 Honeyboy Edwards Santa Fe unissued January 9, 1953
4342 Honeyboy Edwards Frisco Line unissued January 9, 1953
U-4321 Elmore James Country Boogie
[Tool Bag Boogie]
Checker 777 January 17, 1953 July 1953
U4322 Elmore James My Best Friend (Chess LP 1537) January 17, 1953
U4323 Elmore James I See My Baby (Chess LP 1537) January 17, 1953
U-4324 Elmore James She Just Won't Do Right
[Dust My Broom]
Checker 777 January 17, 1953 July 1953
U4325 Elmore James Whose Muddy Shoes (Chess LP 1537) January 17, 1953
U-4326 Edna McRaney and Orchestra Yes I Know Chess 1534
[78 rpm only]
c. January 1953 March 1953
U-4327 Edna McRaney and Orchestra Edna's Boogie Chess 1534
[78 rpm only]
c. January 1953 March 1953
U-4328 Willie Mabon and his Combo I'm Mad Chess 1538 February 5, 1953 April 1953
U4329 Willie Mabon and His Combo Got to Have It (Charly CD BM44) February 5, 1953
U4330 Willie Mabon and His Combo Beggar or Bandit (Chess [G] 6.24806AG) February 5, 1953
U-4331 Willie Mabon and His Combo Night Latch Chess 1538 February 5, 1953 April 1953
U4343 Little Walter Don't Have to Hurt No More Checker 767
[cancelled]
March 1953
U4344 Little Walter Crazy Legs Checker 986 March 1953 c. 1960
U4345 Little Walter Tonight with a Fool Checker 767
[cancelled]
March 1953
U-4346 Elder Beck Wine Head Willie Put That Bottle Down Chess 1539
[78 rpm only]
March 1953 April 1953
U-4347 Elder Beck I'm Gonna Tell God Chess 1539
[78 rpm only]
March 1953 April 1953
4348 Little Walter and His Jukes Off the Wall Checker 770 March 1953 April 1953
U4348 [alt.] Little Walter Off the Wall (Argo LP 4034) March 1953
4349 Little Walter and His Jukes Tell Me Mama Checker 770 March 1953 April 1953
U4350 John Brim and His Gary Kings Rattlesnake Checker 769
[canceled]
March 1953
U4351 John Brim and His Gary Kings It Was a Dream Checker 769
[canceled]
March 1953
4352 The Parrots Please Don't Leave Me Parrot 772 March 1953 May 1953
4353 The Parrots Weep Weep Weep Parrot 772 March 1953 May 1953
4354 Mitzi Mars with Sax Mallard and Orchestra I'm Glad Checker 773 March 29, 1953 May 1953
4355 Mitzi Mars with Sax Mallard and Orchestra Roll 'em Checker 773 March 29, 1953 May 1953
4356 Jackie Brenston Don't Laugh unissued April 17, 1953
4357 Jackie Brenston Blues Here to Stay unissued April 17, 1953
4358 Jackie Brenston Information unissued April 17, 1953
4359 Jackie Brenston Adam unissued April 17, 1953
4360 Jackie Brenston True Love (Chess [J] LP 6027) April 17, 1953
4361 Jackie Brenston Don't Leave Me unissued April 17, 1953
4362 Jackie Brenston Mule (Chess [J] LP 6027) April 17, 1953
U-4363 Danny Overbea with King Kolax and his Orchestra 40 Cups of Coffee Checker 774 April 1953 May 1953
U-4364 Danny Overbea with King Kolax and his Orchestra I'll Follow You Checker 774 April 1953 May 1953
4365 Danny Overbea Walkin' Blues unissued April 1953
4366 Danny Overbea Woman Woman unissued April 1953
U4367 Arbee Stedham [sic] & Orch. Don't Set Your Cap for Me Checker 778 April 1953 July 1953
U4368 Arbee Stedham & Orch. I Don't Play Checker 778 April 1953 July 1953
4369 Arbee Stidham 9 out of 10 unissued April 1953
4370 Arbee Stidham Night Life unissued April 1953
U-4371 The Southern Stars Prodigal Son Chess 1540 c. April 1953 [?] May 1953
U-4372 The Southern Stars I Saw the Light Chess 1540 c. April 1953 [?] May 1953
U-4373 Eddie Boyd and Chess Men That's When I Miss You So Chess 1552 May 1953 October 1953
U-4374 Eddie Boyd and his Chess Men Third Degree Chess 1541 May 1953 June 1953
4375 Eddie Boyd and his Chess Men Four Leaf Clover Chess 1634 May 1953 1956
U-4376 Eddie Boyd and his Chess Men Back Beat Chess 1541 May 1953 June 1953
4377 Morris Pejoe Nobody Loves Me unissued May 11, 1953
4378 Morris Pejoe Maybe [May Bea?] Blues unissued May 11, 1953
4379 Morris Pejoe Got a Little Girl unissued May 11, 1953
4380 Morris Pejoe You Look Good to Me unissued May 11, 1953
U-4381-2 Little Henry [Henry Gray] I Declare That Ain't Right (Genesis 3) May 11, 1953
U-4381-4 Henry Gray I Declare That Ain't Right (P-Vine Special [J] PLP-6022) May 11, 1953
U4382 Little Henry [Henry Gray] Matchbox Blues (Genesis 3) May 11, 1953
U-4383 Herbie Fields and Orchestra Harlem Nocturne Parrot 775 April 1953? July 1953
U-4384 Herbie Fields and Orchestra Things Ain't What They Used to Be Parrot 775 April 1953? July 1953
U-7501-A Muddy Waters and his Guitar Turn the Lamp Down Low Chess 1542 May 4, 1953 late May 1953
7502 Muddy Waters and his Guitar Loving Man Chess 1585 May 4, 1953 December 1954
U7503 Jimmy Rogers Left Me with a Broken Heart Chess 1543 May 4, 1953 July 1953
U7504 Jimmy Rogers Act like You Love Me Chess 1543 May 4, 1953 July 1953
7505 John Brim Ice Cream Man (Blue Horizon LP 7-63204) May 4, 1953
7506 John Brim Lifetime Baby (Blue Horizon LP 7-63204) May 4, 1953
U-7507 [sic] The Silver Stars Take It to the Lord Checker 776 May 1953 prob. July 1953
U-7508 on label
7508A in vinyl
The Silver Stars 12 Years Old Checker 776 May 1953 prob. July 1953
U7507 Big Bill [Broonzy] Jacqueline (Chess LP 1468) May 1953
U-7508 Big Bill and his Guitar Little City Woman Chess 1546 May 1953 July 1953
U-7509 Big Bill and his Guitar Lonesome Chess 1546 May 1953 July 1953
U7510 Big Bill Romance without Finance (Chess LP 1468) May 1953
U7511 Washboard Sam Never, Never (Chess LP 1468) May 1953
U-7512 Washboard Sam Bright Eyes Chess 1545 May 1953 July 1953
U-7513 Washboard Sam
Little Walter [sic]*
Diggin' My Potatoes Chess 1545
Checker 1071*
May 1953 July 1953
1962*
U7514 Washboard Sam Diggin' My Potatoes (Chess LP 1468) May 1953
U7515 Washboard Sam By Myself (Chess LP 1468) May 1953
U7516 Washboard Sam Shirt Tail (Chess LP 1468) May 1953
U7517 Washboard Sam Blues unissued May 1953
U7518 Washboard Sam Minding My Own Business (Chess LP 1468) May 1953
U7519 Washboard Sam Horseshoe over My Door (Chess LP 1468) May 1953
U7520 Washboard Sam I'm a Lonely Man (Chess LP 1468) May 1953
7521




7522 and 7523 See Purchased Material
U-4385 tk. 2 Browley Guy and the Skyscrapers Watermelon Man Checker 779 June 10, 1953 July 1953
U-4386 tk. 4 Browley Guy and the Skyscrapers You Look Good to Me Checker 779 June 10, 1953 July 1953
U4387? tk. 7 Browley Guy and the Skyscrapers Blow Joe (Relic LP 7027) June 10, 1953
U4388? tk. 4 Browley Guy and the Skyscrapers I'll Be Seeing You (Relic LP 7027) June 10, 1953
4389




7524 Mitzi Mars My Little Doggie unissued June 1953
7525 Mitzi Mars All in the Game unissued June 1953
7526 Mitzi Mars You Got to Know unissued June 1953
7527 Mitzi Mars Let's Face It Baby unissued June 1953
7528 Willie Mabon and his Combo You're a Fool Chess 1548 June 1953 September 1953
7529 Willie Mabon and his Combo Monday Woman Chess 1548
[78 and 45 rpm]
June 1953 September 1953
U-7530 The Coronets I'm All Alone Chess 1549
[78 and 45 rpm]
June 1953 August 1953
U-7531 The Coronets I Want You to Know (Power Vine 6082 [CD]) June 1953
U-7532 The Coronets Nadine Chess 1549
[78 and 45 rpm]
June 1953 August 1953
U-7533 The Coronets G. I. Missing unissued June 1953
7534




4390? Little Walter That's It unissued c. June 1953
4391 Little Walter Blues with a Feeling [alt.] (Chess CHD2-9357) c. June 1953
U-4392 Morris Pejoe and his Band Can't Get Along Checker 781 c. July 1953 August 1953
4393 Morris Pejoe Call It Gone unissued c. July 1953
U-4394 Little Walter and his Jukes Blues with a Feeling Checker 780
[78 and 45 rpm]
July 23, 1953 September 1953
4395 Morris Pejoe Go On Baby unissued c. July 1953
U-4396 Morris Pejoe and his Band It'll Plumb Get It Checker 781 c. July 1953 August 1953
U4397 Little Walter That's It (Chess CHD2-9357 [CD]) July 23, 1953
U-4398 Little Walter and his Jukes Quarter to Twelve
[78 and 45 rpm]
Checker 780 c. July 1953 September 1953
U4399 Little Walter Last Boogie (Genesis 3) July 23, 1953
4400 Little Walter and His Jukes Too Late Checker 825
[78 and 45 rpm]
July 23, 1953 September 1955
U4401 Little Walter Fast Boogie (Genesis 3) July 23, 1953
U-4402 Little Walter and his Jukes Lights Out Checker 786
[78 and 45 rpm]
July 23, 1953 December 1953
U4403 Little Walter Fast Large One (Le Roi du Blues LP 2007) July 23, 1953
U-4404 Little Walter and his Jukes You're So Fine Checker 786
[78 and 45 rpm]
July 23, 1953 December 1953

Little Walter and His Jukes My Kind of Baby (Le Roi du Blues LP 207) July 23, 1953
7535 Alberta Adams and Orchestra Messin' Around with the Blues Chess 1551 July 16, 1953
[Detroit]
c. October 1953
7536 Alberta Adams and Orchestra This Morning Chess 1551 July 16, 1953
[Detroit]
c. October 1953
7537 Alberta Adams and Orchestra Remember (Chess CHD4-9340 [CD]) July 16, 1953
[Detroit]

7538 Alberta Adams and Orchestra No Good Man unissued July 16, 1953
[Detroit]

U-7539 Rev. Utah Smith Two Wings Checker 785
[78 rpm only]
c. August 1953 prob. November 1953
U-7540 Rev. Utah Smith God Is Worried unissued c. August 1953
U7541 Rev. Utah Smith Glory to Jesus unissued c. August 1953
U7542 Rev. Utah Smith Sermon unissued c. August 1953
U-7543 Rev. Utah Smith Take a Trip Checker 785
[78 rpm only]
c. August 1953 prob. November 1953
U7544 Rev. Utah Smith Good Religion unissued c. August 1953
U7545 Rev. Utah Smith Sermon unissued c. August 1953
U7546 Rev. Utah Smith Heaven Is Mine unissued c. August 1953
U7547 and U7548 See Purchased Sessions
7549 Danny Overbea with King Kolax & Orch. I Could, But I Won't Checker 784 September 1953 prob. November 1953
7550 Danny Overbea with King Kolax & Orch. Sorrento Checker 784 September 1953 prob. November 1953

Danny Overbea with King Kolax & Orch. Too Deep Blues unissued September 1953

Danny Overbea with King Kolax & Orch. Tell Me How unissued September 1953
U7551 Muddy Waters Blow Wind, Blow Chess 1550 September 24, 1953 October 1953
U7552 Muddy Waters Mad Love Chess 1550 September 24, 1953 October 1953
7553




7554 Sugar Boy and his Cane Cutters I Don't Know What I'll Do Checker 783 September 1953 [New Orleans] October 1953
7555 Sugar Boy and his Cane Cutters Overboard Checker 783 September 1953 [New Orleans] October 1953
U7556 and U7557 See Purchased Sessions
U-7558 Eddie Boyd and Chess Men Tortured Soul Chess 1552 September 24, 1953 October 1953
U7559 Eddie Boyd and his Chess Men Rattin' and Running Around Chess 1576 September 24, 1953 August 1954
7560 Eddie Boyd and his Chess Men Just a Fool Chess 1634 September 24, 1953 1956
7561 Eddie Boyd and his Chess Men Hush Baby, Don't You Cry Chess 1573 September 24, 1953 June 1954
U-7562 The Coronets with Sax Mallard and Combo It Would Be Heavenly Chess 1553 October 11, 1953 November 1953
U-7563 The Coronets with Sax Mallard and Combo Should I (Chess CHD4-9352 [CD]) October 11, 1953
U-7564 The Coronets with Sax Mallard and Combo Baby's Coming Home Chess 1553 October 11, 1953 November 1953
U7565 and U7566 See Purchased Sessions
7567 Ray Reed All Night Long unissued November 2, 1953
7568 Ray Reed Gonna Murder My Baby unissued November 2, 1953
7569 Ray Reed How the Teardrops Fall unissued November 2, 1953
7570 Ray Reed Raindrops Falling unissued November 2, 1953
U7571 Willie Mabon and Orchestra I Got to Go Chess 1554 November 1953 December 1953
U7572 Willie Mabon and Orchestra Cruisin' Chess 1554 November 1953 December 1953

Willie Mabon Life Could Be Miserable (Chess CHD2-9385 [CD]) November 1953
U-7573 The Southern Stars Tired of the Devil Chess 1556 November 1953 January 1954
U-7574 The Southern Stars I Remember I Heard My Mother Pray Chess 1556 November 1953 January 1954
U7575 Eddie Boyd Sad Feeling unissued November 9, 1953
7576 Eddie Boyd and his Chess Men Came Home This Morning Chess 1573 November 9, 1953 June 1954
7577 Eddie Boyd and the Chess Men Picture in the Frame Chess 1561 November 9, 1953 January 1954
7578 Eddie Boyd and the Chess Men Nothing but Trouble Chess 1561 November 9, 1953 January 1954
7579
(9371)
Slim Saunders Let's Have Some Fun Chess 1563 November 1953 [New Orleans] March 1954
7580
(9372)
Slim Saunders Get Away Chess 1563 November 1953 [New Orleans] March 1954
U7581
(9420)
Sugar Boy and His Cane Cutters Jock-a-mo Checker 787 November 1953 [New Orleans] c. January 1954
U7582
(9421)
Sugar Boy and His Cane Cutters You, You, You Checker 787 November 1953 [New Orleans] c. January 1954
U-4405 Valaida Snow I Ain't Gonna Tell Chess 1555 November 1953 late November 1953
U-4406 Valaida Snow L & N unissued November 1953
U-4407 Valaida Snow If You Don't Mean It Chess 1555 November 1953 late November 1953
U-4408 Valaida Snow Does You Do unissued November 1953

Sessions Purchased for Release on Chess in 1953


Howlin' Wolf,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

Meanwhile the Chess brothers were relying a whole lot less on purchased sessions in 1953—just 18 items that we know of.

Mainly this was because their arrangement with Sam Phillips in Memphis had wound down. The last items they would get from him were two sides by the Four Cruisers. According to Nadine Cohodas' book, Leonard Chess and Sam Phillips had a falling out about who was to pay for a promotional tour by Jackie Brenston and other artists. Although this appears to be true, the Chess-Philllips relationship had been subject to multiple strains, and it is not clear to us what which was the final one. In 1953, Sam Phillips was concentrating in earnest on hisSun label. One downstream consequence: Chess never got an opportunity to release anything by Elvis Presley. That has to be of the bigger might-have-beens in the history of the music business...

The remaining 14 items that came out of Memphis were by Howlin' Wolf. These used to be attributed to Phillips, but the lack of cooperation between Chess and Phillips in the second half of 1953, the rugged recording quality (Phillips was getting much better sound by then), and some latter-day comments to Dave Sax indicate that the wayward Bihari brother, Lester, was in fact the responsible party. Bihari's Meteor label was on temporary hiatus at the time, and the less-than-cutting-edge recording equipment in his studio probably needed kicking (not to mention the removal of mud dauber nests, to avoid injuries to the personnel during sessions) to get it going. But Chess was still working on the Wolf to relocate to Chicago, so this was the best deal that could be managed at the time.


Howlin' Wolf,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

Two items, by a doowop group called the Blue Jays, seem to have come from Lillian Claiborne, who ran DC Records.

Matrix Artist Title Release Number Recording Date Release Date
7522
[Sam Phillips]
The Four Cruisers Beale St. Shuffle Chess 1547 June 3, 1953
[Memphis]
July 1953
7523
[Sam Phillips]
Joseph Dubbin and The Four Cruisers On Account of You Chess 1547 June 3, 1953
[Memphis]
July 1953
U7547
[poss. Lillian Claiborne]
The Blue Jays White Cliffs of Dover Checker 782 1953
[Washington, DC?]
October 1953
U7548
[poss. Lillian Claiborne]
The Blue Jays Hey Pappa Checker 782 1953
[Washington, DC?]
October 1953
U7556
[Lester Bihari]
Howlin' Wolf I've Got a Woman (Chess LP 1512) poss. September 24, 1953
[Memphis]

U7557
[Lester Bihari]
Howlin' Wolf Just My Kind (Chess LP 1512) poss. September 24, 1953
[Memphis]

?
[Lester Bihari]
Howlin' Wolf Hold Your Money (Blues Ball 2001) poss. September 24, 1953
[Memphis]

?
[Lester Bihari]
Howlin' Wolf I'm Not Joking (Chess CHD2-9349) poss. September 24, 1953
[Memphis]

?
[Lester Bihari]
Howlin' Wolf Mama Died and Left Me (Chess CHD3-9332) poss. September 24, 1953
[Memphis]

?
[Lester Bihari]
Howlin' Wolf Work for Your Money (Chess LP 1512) poss. September 24, 1953
[Memphis]

U-7565
[Lester Bihari]
The Howlin' Wolf All Night Boogie Chess 1557 poss. October 28, 1953
[Memphis]
December 1953
U-7566
[Lester Bihari]
The Howlin' Wolf I Love My Baby Chess 1557 poss. October 28, 1953
[Memphis]
December 1953
? [Lester Bihari] Howlin' Wolf Highway My Friend (Blues Ball 2001) poss. October 28, 1953
[Memphis]

? [Lester Bihari] Howlin' Wolf Hold Your Money (Blues Ball 2001) poss. October 28, 1953
[Memphis]

? [Lester Bihari] Howlin' Wolf Streamline Woman (Blues Ball 2001) October 28, 1953
[Memphis]

?
[Lester Bihari]
Howlin' Wolf California Blues #2 (Blues Ball 2001) October 28, 1953
[Memphis]

?
[Lester Bihari]
Howlin' Wolf Stay Here 'til My Baby Comes Back Home (Blues Ball 2001) poss. October 28, 1953
[Memphis]

?
[Lester Bihari]
Howlin' Wolf Crazy 'bout You Baby (Blues Ball 2001) poss. October 28, 1953
[Memphis]


Sessions newly recorded for Chess in 1954


Eddie Boyd,
A test pressing for an unissued Eddie Boyd track. From the collection of Tom Kelly.

Activity in the Chicago (and, once in a while, New Orleans or Dallas) studios was slightly less frantic in 1954: the Chess brothers were responsible for 150 known sides (again, we are counting alternates but not blanks in the matrix number series). Nearly everything was still being done at Universal Recording.


Eddie Boyd,
The other side of this test pressing was issued on a Chess 78. From the collection of Tom Kelly.

However, when the company moved to more capacious quarters at 4750 South Cottage Grove, a back room was set up to record demos. Once in a while, a demo recording would be brought to Universal and the engineers there would have to spruce up the sound as best they could so it could be readied for release. Or so we are told in Nadine Cohodas's book. At one point Leonard Chess was called in front of the Board of Musicians Union Local 208 and asked whether he was doing any recording in the back room; he claimed he wasn't (otherwise he would have had to pay the musicians Union scale for the sessions). We know of at least one demo session that produced material used for release—the Muddy Waters session from November 1954 features notably muffled sonics that could never have come out of Universal.


Danny Overbea,
From the collection of Armin Büttner

Danny Overbea led off the year with his last session to use King Kolax's group. Tenor man Dick Davis had taken ill (he would die later in January from pneumonia) and was replaced by Harold Ousley. In the future the guitarist would be accompanied by studio bands recruited by Willie Dixon.


Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Next, on January 7, came a classic session by Muddy Waters and his band, with Muddy featured on two sides and Jimmy Rogers on two more. The two by Muddy saw immediate release on Chess 1560. Although the key adjective has long been spelled "Hoochie Coochie," the Chess brothers first tried "Hoochie Kooche" (on the earliest 78 rpm pressing) then settled on "Hoochie Cooche" (for the 45s and the subsequent 78s). However they chose to spell it, it was a hit.


Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Jimmy Rogers,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

One of the Jimmies was held for Chess 1574, later in the year; the other would have to wait two full years to make the flip side of his biggest hit, Chess 1616.


Jimmy Rogers,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth


On January 16, Leon D. Tarver and his vocal group The Chordones recorded for Checker. Tarver, who originally hailed from Baltimore, was apparently given the name Leander at birth but had variously gone as Lance and Leon. Willie Dixon, who was now firmly in charge of vocal group sessions for the Chess brothers, played bass and directed. Tarver played his own piano. Guitarist and drummer remain unidentified, but the tenor saxophonist who makes a guest appearance on just one track, "I'm a Young Rooster," appears to be Lucius Washington, in what was probably his first studio recording. The two sides that were left unreleased are both blues featuring the group's vocal harmonies.


Just over a month later, on February 17, a Willie Dixon-led studio group (identified as such on the label, for the first and only time) accompanied a vocal group then known as the El Rays. "Christine" and "Darling I Know" were released on Checker 794. The El Rays (Marvin Junior, Johnny Funches, Verne Allison, Chuck Blackwell, Lucius McGill, and Michael McGill) showed that they weren't quite ready for prime time; they didn't always harmonize their parts correctly. A more experienced group would resurface in 1955 at Vee-Jay; now known as The Dells, they went on to enjoy commercial success. As usual with Willie Dixon groups, we know that Dixon is on bass; otherwise, the pianist, guitarist, and drummer remain unidentified. However, both of the El Rays' sides include recognizable tenor sax solos by Lucius Washington (heretofore, discographies have pencilled in Harold Ashby, who enjoyed a run of Dixon-led sessions from 1954 through 1956).

The two other sides from the session, which featured Willie Dixon's vocals, were left on the shelf. One is the very first version of "Wang Dang Doodle," which became a blues classic some years later, when Howlin' Wolf recorded it in June 1960. The band rocks and the song is already formed, though the lyrics occasionally diverge from the words that the Wolf sang ("Legion Hall" instead of "Union Hall," "Lightning Pete" instead of "Pistol Pete"). Lucius Washington gets a tenor sax solo. The band member who screams during the refrain remains unidentified. The other Dixon number—a ballad titled "So Long"—is accompanied mainly by the guitarist and Little Wash, with the piano and drums way back there; the El Rays also do some humming in the background. Neither got a legitimate release until 1995, when they appeared on a Chess CD of miscellaneous Willie Dixon items titled The Original Wang Dang Doodle.


Shortly after the El Rays wrapped up, Little Walter was in for a session that produced two vocal numbers and two instrumentals. "Oh Baby" and "Rocker" were picked for issue on Checker 793. "I Love You So" was released in the 1960s, by someone at Chess who mixed up the master numbers and thought it was "Oh Baby"; the other instrumental has never emerged and may have been lost.



Eugene Fox,
The Chess brothers' last field recording from Mississippi. From the collection of Robert L. Campbell.

On February 22, the brothers made an isolated field recording—four sides cut in the heart of the Delta, in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Two members of Ike Turner's band were featured (Turner was no longer available via Sam Phillips' operation, but he was happy to cooperate with just about any record company that showed interest).

Eugene Fox, who usually played tenor sax, had a comically gravelly voice. On "Stay at Home," he turned in a solid blues performance, with backing from Bobby Fields (tenor sax), Dennis Binder (piano), Ike Turner (guitar), Jesse Knight, Jr. (bass), and either Willie Sims or Robert Prindell (drums). The recording is listenable but would never be confused with anything out of Universal; the tenor sax seems somewhere down the hall. The outstanding side was "Sinner's Dream," a melodrama about none other than Eugene Fox's soul being led off to hell. Fox, Binder, and Annie Mae Wilson's voices and the ghostly special effects attributed to one C. V. Veal were accompanied by nothing but Ike Turner's wild, tremulous, distorted electric guitar. Chuck Berry's "Downbound Train" is innocuous by comparison, and the Stone Guest scene in Don Giovanni not nearly so rough around the edges.

Fox's discography as front man is slender. Checker 792 was his debut; he would redo "The Dream" the next month as a two-sided production for RPM (a label that would be making much more use of Ike Turner's services in the future). Later that same year, he contributed another three sides in front of Turner's band to a small label called Spark.

The Chess brothers were also experimenting with a new label design for Checker, which incorporated "Record Co." prominently into the logo. However, after trying it out on Checker 792 and 793, they reverted to the old design for a little while. With Checker 801, new design would take over for good.


Eugene Fox,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Jesse Knight,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Jesse Knight, whose discography is even more abbreviated, played bass in Turner's band at the time. He was credited as the leader on two more sides. The rest of the band should be familiar: Eugene Fox and Raymond Fields (tenor saxes), Dennis Binder (piano), Ike Turner (guitar), and Willie Sims (drums). Knight actually just sang "Nothing but Money"; its flip on Checker 797, "Nobody Seems to Want Me," was entrusted to Ike Turner (who might have still been under contract to somebody). Entered into the ledger on May 24, 1954 (which is almost certainly the mastering date at Universal and not the recording date), this would be Knight's only outing as a leader.


Jesse Knight,
Really by Ike Turner, still under contract to somebody.


Willie Mabon and his combo also returned to Universal in February. On this occasion the company released two vocal numbers, "Would You Baby?" and "Late Again," on Chess 1564. A third vocal item would be left unreleased. Mabon's usual front line of Paul King (trumpet) and Herbert Robinson (tenor sax) was reinforced by the great tenor saxophonist Harold Ashby, who takes a prominent solo on "Late Again." Bill Anderson (bass) and Oliver Coleman (drums) provided the customary rhythm support.



The Chess brothers, after two or more years of wheedling and negotiating, had finally persuaded Howlin' Wolf to move to Chicago. They celebrated with a session at Universal, followed by a prompt release on Chess 1566. The other two tracks had to wait more than a decade, but were eventually included on a Real Folk Blues series LP.



Elder Beck,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

At some point in March, Elder Beck was invited back for a couple more musical sermons. On this occasion, the Elder was accompanied by piano and organ on "When" (just organ on "I'm Walking with Jesus at My Side"), plus guitar and drums. Chess dropped him after his second release, on Chess 1567 (like most gospel releases, this was still 78-only). His next appearance on record would come two years later, when he made the famous two-part "Rock and Roll Sermon" for Chart (it's hard not to like a sermon against rock and roll when the reverend's electric guitarist keeps breaking into ... rock and roll). Elder Beck's final recordings were made later that same year at a church in Buffalo, New York, where he broadcast a weekly show; they were eventually released on a Folkways LP.


Elder Beck,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

The Chess brothers brought Leon Tarver and the Chordones back on April 20. On this occasion two vocal group tracks were laid down ("All My Fault" adds a female vocalist, who offers several retorts to Leon's plaints, and joins in on the final vocal chorus). But the company lost interest in Tarver after putting out Checker 791, and the sides would have to wait something like 30 years to see release—on a bootleg LP. The other two tracks, still in the can after 55 years, were instrumentals. Again, Tarver seems to have played the bluesy piano heard on the session, and Willie Dixon was probably on the string bass. Guitarist and drummer remain unidentified. The tenor saxophonist, who appears on both of the vocal sides, play on the gritty side and is definitely not Lucius Washingon. Our guess is Harold Ashby, who was becoming a regular on Dixon-led studio sessions.


Danny Overbea,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Danny Overbeareturned to the studio in April to record for Checker. From here on out, the guitarist's sessions would no longer feature the King Kolax band that had accompanied him so ably on "Train, Train, Train" and "40 Cups of Coffee." Instead, there was a studio ensemble of tenor and baritone saxes, piano, bass, and drums. No telling who these musicians were, except Willie Dixon on bass. The Chess brothers left a lot of Overbea sides in the can, but on this occasion they used two tracks right away on Checker 796. A third side showed up about a year later, on Checker 816. While "Roamin' Man" is a rather gloomy blues effectively sung by Overbea, "You're Mine" features sentimental balladeering in an overripe baritone—not a favorable pointer regarding Overbea's future artistic direction.


Danny Overbea,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

The Chess brothers must have been mightily impressed with the commercial potential of Sugar Boy Crawford, because they brought him into the studio again in May 1954, this time for the regulation four tunes. On this solid session, he was accompanied by Alfred Bernard and David Lastie on tenor saxes, Frank Fields on the string bass, and Eric Warner on drums. Two cuts saw release on Checker 795, but his third single apparently didn't do as well as either of the first two. It turned out to be Crawford's last for Checker.


Sugar Boy Crawford on Classics 5143
A collection of all of Sugar Boy Crawford's Checker material, plus two Chess sides by Slim Sanders.

Yet the company brought his band in for another session at which at least 7 tunes were cut. On them Crawford's May 1954 lineup was joined by an unidentified trumpet player, Big Boy Miles on trombone, and Snooks Eaglin on electric guitar. Slim Saunders sang duets with Crawford on two of the cuts. And still another 6-tune outing ensued a little later in the year; this was done by the same forces minus Saunders. We can't assign precise dates to either session, because no matrix numbers were assigned to any of the items at the time. But in the spring of 1959, consecutive series were allocated in the 9300s and 9400s, as would be done in preparation for mastering and releasing an LP. Still, nothing materialized until well after the brothers had sold the company to GRT; it was only in 1975, after the remains of the company had in turn been acquired from GRT by All Platinum, that nearly the entire batch of Sugar Boy Crawford studio sides was packaged into a double LP. Some of the cuts featured sloppy instrumental work or whiny vocalizing from Crawford, who was not cut out to sing ballads. But it remains a mystery why, a year and a half before the company began to release LPs, Checker recorded so much of Crawford's band.

Sugar Boy Crawford next signed with Imperial, cutting four singles with Dave Bartholomew's band at three sessions in 1956 and 1957. Singles followed on Louisiana-based labels like Montel (1959) and Ace (1961). Crawford's career unfortunately came to an end one night in 1963, when his Cadillac was pulled over by a state trooper in Monroe, Louisiana. The Smokey expressed his dissatisfaction with African American men in expensive cars by severely pistol-whipping the driver. Crawford's band had to do a scheduled recording session for Peacock without him. After two years of recovery, Crawford realized that he was never going to be able to play piano professionally again. He became a locksmith and a building engineer, confining his musical activities to singing in church.


On May 22, Little Walter was back for two sides of his own, which the company curiously neglected (they had to work hard to get enough vocals that they liked, while piling up instrumental tracks there was no room for on singles). As strong a vocal performance as "I Got to Find My Baby" had to wait 6 years for release on a Checker single, while an acceptable one on "Big Leg Mama" had to be bootlegged on a 1970s LP. On the other two sides, the company experimented with using Walter's band to back The Coronets. Although the results were listenable, the Chess brothers weren't happy with the slow sales on Chess 1553 and passed on releasing another by the group; they also quit using blues bands behind doowoppers. Even the compilers of the 4-CD Hip-O Select box, which included practically every scrap by Little Walter, left out the vocal group tracks—which seems narrow-minded of them.



Then on May 25, Howlin' Wolf returned for his second Chicago session. This was devoted the two tracks needed for his next single, which got quick release as Chess 1575. If anything else was atempted that day, it was rejected so long ago as to leave no trace.



Jimmy Witherspoon
From the collection of Billy Vera

Jimmy Witherspoon,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

As their resources continued to expand, the Chess brothers started picking up established R&B artists from other parts of the country. Jimmy Witherspoon was born in Gurdon, Arkansas, on August 18, 1921, where he did his first singing in a local Baptist church choir. He served in the Merchant Marine from 1941 to 1943, getting an opportunity to perform in Calcutta with Teddy Weatherford's band. In 1944 he joined Jay McShann's band. In 1947, he recorded four sessions for the Los Angeles-based Supreme label during that year's frantic last quarter; his new rendition of "Ain't Nobody's Business," on his fourth Supreme single, turned into a big hit. Witherspoon left McShann in 1948 to recruit his own combo, recording for Down Beat (1948), Modern (1949-1953), and Federal (1952-1953). His fortunes declined, however, and in 1953 he declared bankruptcy. The Chess brothers saw an opportunity to pick him up as he was rebuilding his career. The urbane blues shouter's first date for Checker took place on June 10. A studio band of Eddie Chamblee (tenor sax), Lafayette Leake (piano), Echford "Lee" Cooper (guitar), Willie Dixon (bass), and Fred Below (drums) accompanied him on four sides. "When the Lights Go Out" and "Big Daddy," both tunes credited to Willie Dixon, were promptly shipped to retailers on Checker 798.


Jimmy Witherspoon,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Earl Brown,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Alto saxophonist and singer Earl Brown started his recording career on the West Coast, with a version of "Dust My Broom" for Swing Time in 1951; the band reportedly included Lowell Fulson on guitar and Lloyd Glenn on piano. A second session for Swing Time, possibly done when the company was in terminal decline, went unreleased for many years. On August 26, 1954 Brown cut four sides for the Chess brothers; Fancourt and McGrath give the location as Chicago. We feel entitled to some skepticism on that score, as they note the presence of a tenor saxophone, piano, bass, and drums, and miss the fierce guitar soloist who dominates both sides of Checker 802 (which was released in both formats). However, Dan Kochakian's interview with Earl Brown in Blues & Rhythm 249 indicates that Brown was in Chicago during the second half of 1954, going on tour with the Muddy Waters band in October and November of that year. Whose band was it? Where did the material come from? From the recording date that's come down to us (which may not be reliable) and the position in the matrix number series, we formerly inferred some connection with Paul Gayten. But there are only two saxes on the date, no baritone, no brass, the balance is very different, and guitarist isn't Ernest McLean. A connection with Lowell Fulson is more likely, as Brown had played with him on the West Coast and would be included in both of the guitarist's 1955 sessions for Checker. But Fulson's first session for the Chess brothers, cut in Dallas on September 27, 1954 (see below), features a much larger horn section (5 in all) nothing else about the band resembles the one that was assembled for Brown's. Checker 802 coupled "Shake Your Shimmy," which Brown partly talks and partly sings, with an instrumental called "The Cat's Wiggle." "Wiggle" is not a feature for the alto saxophonist, though he is prominent in the ensemble riffing; it's for the guitarist, a virtuoso vehicle in fact. On "Shake Your Shimmy" (a number that Brown also cut for the Music City label) the guitarist again dominates the ensemble, and saxes are not heard during Brown's talking and singing, though, with the alto in the lead, they take the piece out.

The guitarist who made "Cat's Wiggle" is way too good to remain anonymous. If he was Lowell Fulson, as some have thought, where and when was the session made? If he was Lee Cooper (a candidate that's been proposed by several expert listeners), exactly when was Brown in Chicago (Cooper is not known to have ever recorded anywhere else) and who else might have been involved?

Although "Wiggle" as released carries U7688 as its matrix number, "Untitled Instrumental" on U7687(which is known only from a Universal Recording lacquer that came up for sale on ebay a decade ago) is either the released version of "Wiggle" or an alternate take. Yet U7688 is an unrelated performance (by an unaccompanied gospel quartet). If the Earl Brown session and the gospel material was obtained from another label, which one? When?

Earl Brown released two more sides on Checker in 1957. As Earl "Good Rocking" Brown he recorded a single for Kappa in San Francisco (1958), returned to the Chess brothers in 1959 (enough sides to make an album, but nothing was released at the time). then re-emerged for the last time in San Francisco, doing a single for Shirley (1961).


Earl Brown,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Muddy Waters was back for another classic session on September 13. Willie Dixon provided "I'm Ready" as a follow-up to "Hoochie Coochie Man" and "Just Make Love to Me."


Because Detroit was not nearly the recording center that Chicago was, the company made periodic forays there, or brought Detroit-based artists to Universal Recording. In September Sax Kari made his first appearance on Checker.

Sax Kari (who, despite his moniker, also played guitar and piano) was born Isaac Saxton Kari Toombs February 6, 1920, in Chicago. He was raised in New Orleans, and went to high school in Gary, Indiana. In his late teens, he formed his first combo to play the strip joints of Calumet City, Illinois, and during the 1940s toured the South. At one point he inherited the musicians from the famed Carolina Cotton Pickers, and recorded with them in New York on Apollo. He also played in a variety of big bands, notably those of Coleman Hawkins, Tiny Bradshaw, and the house band at the Rhumboogie in Chicago (probably in the club's waning days, when Floyd Campbell was the leader). In the late 1940s he became one of the Hi De Ho Boys at the Club DeLisa, working alongside Lefty Bates.

During the 1950s Kari was based mainly in Detroit. He recorded there for States (two sessions in 1953). "Daughter (That's Your Red Wagon)," with vocals by Gloria Irving, became a national R&B hit. His second single for States went nowhere, however, so he moved on to record for a much smaller operation called Great Lakes (1953, also done in Detroit). When he came to Chess, Kari was taking another shot at the big time. "Mama Took the Baby," featuring Lena Gordon's vocal, was one of a several "answer records" back at the infamous "Work with Me Annie" and "Annie Had a Baby" by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters ("Annie's Answer," by Hazel McCollum with Al Smith's band, was a competitor on Vee-Jay). "Disc Jockey Jamboree" was a novelty with a clever conceit, imagining a hit R&B record being auditioned by an assembly of DJs, an impressive number of whom are referred to by name. Kari chants the vocal, with some help from the other band members. Obviously Kari was familiar with the extracurricular habits of the individuals he was referring to, because in the story he tells Al Benson is the first DJ to sing along with the record. The band on the record features a prominent, jazzy trombonist, whose name no one seems to remember, Fletcher Barnett on tenor sax, Jimmy somebody on guitar, Johnny Vincent on bass, and an unidentified but prominent drummer. Kari played piano on the date.


Danny Overbea,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

On September 27, Danny Overbea was back with a studio band. Two of his sides were released on Checker 808. He continued to trend toward pop material. His Latin number, "My Love," is kind of overripe, but much more interesting than the schmaltzy "Toast to Lovers," where the accompaninment includes organ and violins.


Danny Overbea,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Lowell Fulson
From the collection of Billy Vera

With Lowell Fulson, an established artist since 1946, with a slew of recordings for other labels, the company established a policy of recording in other cities. The first two Fulson sides were cut in Dallas on September 27, 1954, with several members of Ray Charles' band accompanying (the company seems to have been waiting for Fulson's last contract with Swing Time to expire, even though the company had declared bankruptcy nearly a year earlier and had quite releasing records in the spring of 1954). These were rushed into release on Checker 804. "Reconsider Baby" and "I'll Believe I'll Give It Up" gave Fulson's career with the Chess brothers a powerful launch.


Moonglows,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

October 1954 turned out to be an extremely busy month in the studio. On October 5, Little Walter cut two of his best sides, "Last Night" and "Mellow Down Easy" (a Willie Dixon song that would have sounded dire coming from anyone else). Unusually, both featured vocals. They were given prompt release on Checker 805. A third, instrumental track was left in the vault.

Sax Kari came right back after Checker 803 with a single on Chess featuring his Latin alter ego, Ron Rico. This one is much harder to find than his Checker, neither was the breakthrough hit that they were after, and the Chess brothers dropped him.

Kari would return to the Chicago scene one last time in 1959, when he cut another sort of "answer record." Like many others during that period, it was inspired by "The Purple People Eater." "Goldie the Green Eyed Octopus" was done for JOB. We got our biographical details from Dan Kochakian's exhaustively detailed story, "The Sax Kari Story Part One: 'I Should Have Been Born In New Orleans,'" which appeared in Blues & Rhythm 161 (August 2001).

The Moonglows had been recording for Chance, with excellent artistic results but disappointing sales; now Art Sheridan was winding the label down. DJ Alan Freed, who had been sponsoring the doowop group, contacted Leonard Chess, who needed no arm-twisting to sign them. Chess paid Sheridan $500 for what was left on the Moonglows' contract and took them into the studio almost immediately. At this point, the Moonglows consisted of Bobby Lester (lead and tenor), Harvey Fuqua (lead and baritone), Pete Graves (tenor), and Prentiss Barnes (bass). The accompaniment consisted of tenor sax (sounds to us like Lucius Washington), piano, guitar, bass (Willie Dixon, of course), and drums. Of the 5 sides at Universal Recording, two were released under the group's name on Chess 1581; another two were issued on Checker 806 with a credit to Bobby Lester and the Moonlighters. (The Moonlighters releases were framed as vocal duets between Bobby Lester and Harvey Fuqua, but this was a bit of a pretense, as the whole group can be heard on "Shoo Doo — Be Doo.") Getting the group's records on two labels at once was expected to increase the overall rate of play by DJs.


Moonglows,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Bobby Lester,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

When Chess 1581 came out toward the end of the month, "Sincerely" built up into a national hit, reaching all the way to #1 and staying on the R and B charts for 20 weeks. Its flip, "Tempting," used still-fashionable mambo rhythms. Both "Sincerely" and "Tempting" were credited to Fuqua and Freed, but Freed's actual contributions consisted of an occasional tweak to the lyrics. "Shoo Doo—Be Doo" by the Moonlighters was released in November and garnered strong regional sales.


Bobby Lester,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Willie Dixon would step up his studio supervision in 1955, and turn away from using Lucius Washington. Over the next year Dixon relied most on Eddie Chamblee and Harold Ashby to handle the tenor sax chores. Washington wouldn't become a studio regular until Al Smith picked him up in 1956 for work at Vee-Jay and occasionally at other companies.


Willie Mabon,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Willie Mabon was back in October for his third session of the year. This time the company was in a hurry to get two sides out. "Say Man" (a stop-time number which featured a compositional contribution by drummer Odie Payne) and "Poison Ivy" (written for Mabon by Mel London) made for a strong release on Chess 1580; "Poison Ivy" would be Mabon's last top-10 R&B chart hit. The combo on this occasion consisted of the faithful Paul King (trumpet), Goon Gardner (alto and baritone saxes), and Herbert Robinson (tenor sax), with Bill Anderson (bass). But the drummer on the session sounds like Odie himself, making a guest appearance.


Willie Mabon,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Indeed, the two Mabon tunes were followed (we suspect immediately) by a lengthy session featuring Odie Payne and his combo. Payne, best known for his work in blues bands, such as Elmore James and the Broomdusters, was leading a Latin ensemble at the time. The company apparently saw no commercial promise in the results, which remain unreleased after 60 years.


Otis Spann,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

On October 25, 1954, the company split a session between Otis Spann (who had not previously recorded as a leader) and Howlin' Wolf. Jody Williams recalled B. B. King, who knew The Wolf from his Memphis days, dropping by.


Otis Spann,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Spann's debut featured his piano and vocals, with George "Harmonica" Smith (on "It Must Have Been the Devil"), Jody Williams and surprise guest B. B. King on guitar, the omnipresent Willie Dixon at the bass, and Earl Phillips on drums. Both Spann's idiosyncratically upbeat approach to "It Must Have Been the Devil" and the instrumental side, "Five Spot," were successful performances, but Spann lacked name recognition at this point in his career, and his debut release on Checker 807 is a rarity today. Spann would record two more sides in 1956, but they were not released until years later. Otis Spann began enjoying more success as a recording artist in 1960, when he recorded an LP for British Decca and one for Candid (when fully mined, the session would generate a couple more for reissue labels such as Barnaby and Mosaic). Although he stayed in the Muddy Waters band during most of this period, Spann continued to record regularly until shortly before his death in 1970.


Howlin' Wolf,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

The session continued with the Wolf (vocals and harmonica), Spann at the piano, Jody Williams and Hubert Sumlin (guitars), Willie Dixon and Earl Phillips. The Wolf's malevolent remake of Roosevelt Sykes' "Forty Four" and the even creepier "I'll Be Around" (which seems to be promising a visit from his ghost) made a classic blues single when released in January 1955 on Chess 1584. It sold well enough to show up on the Cash Box regional charts for Memphis and New Orleans.


Howlin' Wolf,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Another significant step in the company's evolution took place in October 1954, when the Chess brothers annnounced the signing of the Griffin Brothers band and Lowell Fulson. Both were established artists. And the moves were announced in the October 30 issue of Billboardbefore the Griffins had cut anything: Buddy Griffin and Claudia Swann would record on November 8. In the past, signings were rarely announced until all of the artists had already recorded. At last the Chess brothers were well enough established in the business that they could afford to be less fearful of pre-emptive moves by the competition.


Jimmy Witherspoon,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

In November, the company brought Jimmy Witherspoon back to Universal Recording for another four sides. On this occasion, the singer was accompanied by Lee Cooper (guitar), Willie Dixon (bass), and Fred Below (drums). But Eddie Chamblee had gone on the road with Lionel Hampton. He was replaced by Harold Ashby on tenor sax, as is easily judged from the solo on "Time Brings About a Change." A baritone saxophonist was also added. Two of the four sides were promptly released. Although the pianist on this date has been listed as Lafayette Leake, both sides of Checker 810, which (ahem!) draw a good deal of their inspiration from "The Things I Used to Do," are credited to "Dixon-Fleming." One wonders whether King Fleming might have had something to do with this... We still aren't sure, but the Dixon responsible for "Time Brings About a Change" was Floyd Dixon, who had recorded it for Specialty in 1953 (his version was left in the can for years).


Jimmy Witherspoon,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Buddy Griffin
From the collection of Billy Vera

Buddy and Claudia,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Based in Washington, DC, the Griffin Brothers band had been a premiere R&B ensemble since it began recording for Dot in September 1950. Around the beginning of 1954, trombonist Jimmy Griffin left to form his own band. Edward "Buddy" Griffin made one more session for Dot in January or February 1954. Buddy Griffin played piano and a female vocalist named Claudia Swanson made her recorded debut. Landing the Buddy Griffin Orchestra was a fair coup for Chess. At their first session at Universal, on November 8, 1954, Buddy Griffin and Claudia Swann, as she was now known, sang "I Wanna Hug Ya, Kiss Ya, Squeeze Ya," a catchy love duet; it was released on Chess 1586. The lovelorn flip, "Please Come Back to Me" was entrusted to Claudia Swann with uncredited help from the Moonglows. The other members of the band on this occasion were "Silly Willie" Wilson (trombone), Chuck Reeves (alto and baritone saxes), Earl Swanson (tenor sax), Lawrence Burgan (bass), and Courtney Brooks (drums).


Buddy and Claudia,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Muddy Waters' final session of the year, in November, took place in the back room at the Chess offices. The sound on "Natural Born Lover" is on the murky side, and on "Ooh Wee" (which waited a long time for release) the microphones are placed so close that Muddy's vocal breathes down the listener's neck. But Leonard Chess liked the performances and shipped the tapes to Universal to prepare the material for release.

Local 208 of the Musicians Union would eventually catch up with this off-the-books activity, which involved no union contracts and no union scale for the musicians. On February 16, 1956

Mr. Leonard Chess of the Chess Record Corporation appeared before the Board as notified to explain certain phases of his recording activity [...]
The Board questioned Mr. Chess at length regarding the use of his studio in his office. He stated that the studio is used for rehearsals and auditions but that he never used the tapes for masters. After the group got their tunes together the session was made at Universal. Under further questioning he stated that he never made a tape for rehearsals unless requested to do so by the orchestra leader. He further explained that his studio is not fully sound proof and it would be impossible for him to produce a tape good enough to be sold. He also advised that he did not employ a technician and that he usually sat at the controls himself and he was far from being perfect.
Mr. Chess was told that he was in violation when he made an audition tape as this procedure was not permitted by the National office. He advised that he was not familiar with this ruling and stated that most of the rehearsals and auditions were with vocal groups where no accompaniment was required. [...]
The matter was discussed at length with Mr. Chess and he was told in no uncertain terms that unless he complied fully with the rules and regulations of the Local and the Federation that his recording license would be in jeopardy. To this, Mr. Chess replied that he had worked too hard to build his business to jeopardize it by entering into collusion with any member in order to save a few dollars. He stated that several years ago this may have happened because he was not in a position at all times to meet his financial obligations. (Local 208 Board meeting minutes, pp. 1-2)

We may be reasonably sure that there was no more recording for release in the back room studio after February 1956, when Leonard Chess was threatened with the revocation of his recording license.


Matrix Artist Title Release Number Recording Date Release Date
7583 Danny Overbea with King Kolax & Orch. The Pain unissued January 1954
7584 Danny Overbea with King Kolax & Orch. Stomp and Whistle Checker 788 January 1954 March 1954
7585 Danny Overbea with King Kolax & Orch. Ooh unissued January 1954
7586 Danny Overbea with King Kolax & Orch. Ebony Chant Checker 788 January 1954 March 1954
U7587 Jimmy Binkley and his Combo Boogie on the Hour Checker 789 January 1954 March 1954
U7588 Jimmy Binkley and his Combo Wine, Wine, Wine Checker 789 January 1954 March 1954
U7589 Muddy Waters I'm Your Hoochie Kooche Man
[1st 78 pressing]
I'm Your Hoochie Cooche Man
[all other pressings]
Chess 1560 January 7, 1954 late January 1954
U7590 Muddy Waters She's So Pretty Chess 1560 January 7, 1954 late January 1954
7591 Jimmie [sic] Rogers and His Rocking Four Blues All Day Long Chess 1616 January 7, 1954 1956
7592 Jimmy Rogers and his Rocking Four Chicago Bound Chess 1574 January 7, 1954 June 1954
7593 Leon D. Tarver and The Chordones Ooh-Wee What's Wrong with Me? Checker 791 January 16, 1954 March 1954
7594 Leon D. Tarver and The Chordones I'm a Young Rooster Checker 791 January 16, 1954 March 1954
U7595 Leon D. Tarver and The Chordones Why Do I Love You So? (Rarin' LP 777) January 16, 1954
U7596 Leon D. Tarver and The Chordones Baby Come Back to Me (Rarin' LP 777) January 16, 1954
U7597 and U7598 See Purchased Sessions
U7599 El Rays with Willie Dixon and Orchestra Darling I Know Checker 794 February 17, 1954 May 1954
U7599 [alt.] El Rays with Willie Dixon and Orchestra Darling I Know (Chess 2CH 50030) February 17, 1954
U7600 Willie Dixon and Orchestra Wang Dang Doodle (Chess CHD 9353) Feburary 17, 1954
U7601 Willie Dixon and Orchestra So Long (Power Vine CD 7093
Chess CHD 9353)
February 17, 1954
U7602 El Rays with Willie Dixon and Orchestra Christine Checker 794 c. February 1954 May 1954
U7603 Little Walter Come Back Baby (Chess [G] 6.24805AG) February 22, 1954
U7604 Little Walter and His Jukes Rocker Checker 793 February 22, 1954 March 1954
U7605 Little Walter I Love You So
(Oh Baby*)
Checker 793*
(some later presses)
Le Roi Du Blues LP 2012
February 22, 1954 1960s
U7608 Little Walter and His Jukes Oh Baby Checker 793 February 22, 1954 March 1954
U7609 Little Walter Blue Light unissued February 22, 1954
7606 Eugene Fox Stay at Home Checker 792 February 22, 1954
[Clarksdale, MS]
March 1954
7607 Eugene Fox Sinner's Dream Checker 792 February 22, 1954
[Clarksdale MS]
March 1954
U-7655 Jessie [sic] Knight and his Combo Nobody Seems to Want Me Checker 797 prob. February 22, 1954
[Clarksdale MS]
prob. June 1954
U-7656 Jessie Knight and his Combo Nothing but Money Checker 797 prob. February 22, 1954
[Clarksdale MS]
prob. June 1954
U7610 Willie Mabon I'm Tired (Chess [G] 6.28406AG) February 1954
U-7611 Willie Mabon Would You Baby? Chess 1564 February 1954 March 1954
U-7612 Willie Mabon Late Again Chess 1564 February 1954 March 1954
U7614 and U7615 See Purchased Sessions
7616




7617




U-7618 The Howlin' Wolf No Place to Go Chess 1566 March 1954 May 1954
U7618 [alt.] Howlin' Wolf You Gonna Wreck My Life Chess 1744 March 1954 1958
U7619 Howlin' Wolf Neighbors (Chess LP 1512) March 1954
U7620 Howlin' Wolf I'm the Wolf (Chess [G] 6.24804AG) March 1954
U-7621 The Howlin' Wolf Rockin' Daddy Chess 1566 March 1954 May 1954
U-7622 Elder Charles Beck When Chess 1567
[78 rpm only]
c. March 1954 May 1954
U-7623 Elder Charles Beck I'm Walking with Jesus at My Side Chess 1567
[78 rpm only]
c. March 1954 May 1954
U7624 The Southern Stars of Richmond Weep Little Children Chess 1568
[78 rpm only]
c. March 1954 May 1954
U7625 The Southern Stars of Richmond Jesus Will Be Waiting Chess 1568
[78 rpm only]
c. March 1954 May 1954
7626 and 7627 See Purchased Material
U7628 and U7629 See Purchased Material
U7630 Muddy Waters Just Make Love to Me Chess 1571 April 13, 1954 May 1954
U7631 Muddy Waters Oh! Yeh Chess 1571 April 13, 1954 May 1954
7632 Jimmy Rogers and his Rocking Four Sloppy Drunk Chess 1574 April 13, 1954 June 1954
U7633 Morris Pejoe Ain't It Lonesome unissued April 1954
7634 through 7636 See Purchased Material
7637 Leon D. Tarver and The Chordones Soup Line (Rarin' LP 777) April 20, 1954
7638 Leon D. Tarver and The Chordones All My Fault (Rarin' LP 777) April 20, 1954
7639 Leon Tarver untitled fast instrumental unissued April 20, 1954
7640 Leon Tarver untitled slow instrumental unissued April 20, 1954
U-7641 Danny Overbea Roamin' Man Checker 796 April 1954 June 1954
U7642 Danny Overbea I'm a Fool unissued April 1954
7643 Danny Overbea Hey Pancho Checker 816 April 1954 prob. May 1955
U-7644 Danny Overbea You're Mine Checker 796 April 1954 June 1954
U-7645 Sugar Boy I Bowed on My Knees Checker 795 May 1954
[New Orleans]
c. June 1954
U7646
(9370)
Wandering Baby Sugar Boy Crawford (Chess 2ACMB 209) May 1954
[New Orleans]

U-7647 Sugar Boy No More Heartaches Checker 795 May 1954
[New Orleans]
c. June 1954
U7648 Sugar Boy Crawford What's Wrong (Chess 2ACMB 209) May 1954
[New Orleans]
7649 and 7650 See Purchased Material
U7651 The Coronets Corbella (Le Roi du Blues LP 2012) May 22, 1954
U7652 The Coronets Beggin' and Pleadin' (Le Roi du Blues LP 2012) May 22, 1954
U7653 Little Walter I Got to Find My Baby Checker 1013 May 22, 1954 1960
U7653 [alt.] Little Walter I Got to Find My Baby (Chess CHD4-9340) May 22, 1954
U7654 Little Walter Big Leg Mama (Le Roi du Blues LP 2007) May 22, 1954
U7655 and U7656 See Above at U7607
U-7657 The Howlin' Wolf Baby How Long? Chess 1575 May 25, 1954 July 1954
U-7658 The Howlin' Wolf Evil Is Goin' On Chess 1575 May 25, 1954 July 1954
7659 and 7660 See Purchased Material
9365 Sugar Boy Crawford Please Believe Me (Chess 2ACMB 209) 1954 [New Orleans]
9366 Sugar Boy Crawford Long Lost Stranger (Chess 2ACMB 209) 1954 [New Orleans]
9367 Sugar Boy Crawford Rollin' unissued 1954 [New Orleans]
9368 Sugar Boy Crawford Night Rider (Chess 2ACMB 209) 1954 [New Orleans]
9369 Sugar Boy Crawford For Me (Chess 2ACMB 209) 1954 [New Orleans]
9370 Sugar Boy Crawford Wondering (Chess 2ACMB 209) 1954 [New Orleans]
9373 Sugar Boy Crawford You Know I Love You (Chess 2ACMB 209) 1954 [New Orleans]
9374 Sugar Boy Crawford Stop (Chess 2ACMB 209) 1954 [New Orleans]
9375 Sugar Boy Crawford Watch Her, Whip Her (Chess 2ACMB 209) 1954 [New Orleans]
9365 Sugar Boy Crawford Oh-No unissued 1954 [New Orleans]
?
[18795]
Jimmy Witherspoon I Can Make Love to You (Chess CHV-412) June 10, 1954
U7661 Jimmy Witherspoon and his Orchestra When the Lights Go Out Checker 798 June 10, 1954 prob. August 1954
U7662 Jimmy Witherspoon Danger (Chess LP 93003) June 10, 1954
U7663 Jimmy Witherspoon Live So Easy (Chess LP 93003) June 10, 1954
U7664 Jimmy Witherspoon and his Orchestra Big Daddy Checker 798 June 10, 1954 prob. August 1954
7665 Eddie Boyd and His Chessmen The Nightmare Is Over Chess 1595 May 28, 1954 April 1955
7666 Eddie Boyd I Got the Blues Chess 1674 May 28, 1954 1957
U7667 Eddie Boyd and his Chess Men Drifting Chess 1576 May 28, 1954 August 1954
U7668 Eddie Boyd untitled instrumental unissued May 28, 1954
U7669 Little Walter Mercy Babe (My Babe) (Chess [Can] 60003) July 1, 1954
U7670 Little Walter Last Night (Argo LP 4042) July 1, 1954
7671 and 7672 See Purchased Sessions
U7673 Little Walter and His Jukes You'd Better Watch Yourself Checker 799 July 14, 1954 August 1954
U7674 Little Walter and His Jukes Blue Light Checker 799 July 14, 1954 August 1954
7675 and 7676 See Purchased Sessions
7677 Willie Mabon Heartbroken Blues unissued August 1954
7678 Willie Mabon Come on Baby Chess 1592 August 1954 March 1955
U7679 Willie Mabon Lonely Blues (Chess [G] 6.24806AG) August 1954
7680 Willie Mabon Willie's Blue (Willie's Blues) (Chess [G] 6.24806AG) August 1954
7681 and 7682 See Purchased Sessions
7683 Earl Brown Sweet Man unissued August 26, 1954
7684 Earl Brown John Henry unissued August 26, 1954
7685 Earl Brown And His Band Shake Your Shimmy Checker 802 August 26, 1954 October 1954
7686 Earl Brown And His Band The Cat's Wiggle Checker 802 August 26, 1954 October 1954
7687 and 7688 See Purchased Sessions
7689 through 7692 See Purchased Sessions
7693 and 7694 See Purchased Sessions
7695




7696




9416 Sugar Boy Crawford Love, Love, Love (Chess 2ACMB 209) 1954 [New Orleans]
9417 Sugar Boy Crawford Troubled Mind Blues (Chess 2ACMB 209) 1954 [New Orleans]
9418 Sugar Boy Crawford Oo Wee Sugar (Chess 2ACMB 209) 1954 [New Orleans]
9419 Sugar Boy Crawford There Goes My Baby (Chess 2ACMB 209) 1954 [New Orleans]
9422 Sugar Boy Crawford You Call Everybody Sweetheart (Chess 2ACMB 209) 1954 [New Orleans]
9423 Sugar Boy Crawford If I Love You Darling (Chess 2ACMB 209) 1954 [New Orleans]
7697 Muddy Waters and his Guitar I'm Ready Chess 1579 September 13, 1954 late September 1954
7698 Muddy Waters Smokestack Lightning (Chess [Br] 6641174) September 13, 1954
7699 Muddy Waters and his Guitar I Don't Know Why Chess 1579 September 13, 1954 late September 1954
7700 Muddy Waters Shake It Baby unissued September 13, 1954
7701 Lena Gordon | Sax Kari and Orch. Mama Took the Baby Checker 803 September 1954 late September 1954
7702 Sax Kari and Orch. Disc Jockey Jamboree Checker 803 September 1954 late September 1954
7703 and 7704 See Purchased Sessions
7705 and 7706 See Purchased Sessions
7707 Danny Overbea A Toast to Lovers Checker 808 September 27, 1954 December 1954
7708 Danny Overbea My Love Checker 808 September 27, 1954 December 1954
7709 Danny Overbea Cherokee Hug unissued September 27, 1954
7710 Danny Overbea Green Valley unissued September 27, 1954
7711 Lowell Fulson Reconsider Baby Checker 804 September 27, 1954
[Dallas]
October 1954
7712 Lowell Fulson I Believe I'll Give It Up Checker 804 September 27, 1954
[Dallas]
October 1954
7713 and 7714 See Purchased Sessions
7715 and 7716 See Purchased Sessions
7717 Bobby Lester and The Moonlighters Shoo Doo—Be Doo (My Loving Baby) Checker 806 October 1954 November 1954
U7718 The Moonglow's [sic] Sincerely Chess 1581 October 1954 late October 1954
7719 Bobby Lester and The Moonlighters So All Alone Checker 806 October 1954 November 1954
U7720 The Moonglows Such a Feeling unissued October 1954
U7721 The Moonglow's Tempting Chess 1581 October 1954 late October 1954
U7722 Willie Mabon Poison Ivy Chess 1580 October 1954 late October 1954
U7723 Willie Mabon Say Man Chess 1580 October 1954 late October 1954
7724 Odie Payne Samba Rhythm Blues unissued October 1954
7725 Odie Payne My Honey Man unissued October 1954
7726 Odie Payne Triangle Girl unissued October 1954
7727 Odie Payne Gallop Rhumba unissued October 1954
7728 Odie Payne La Do Da Dee unissued October 1954
7729 Odie Payne Give Me a Drink unissued October 1954
7730 Odie Payne Can't Get You off My Mind unissued October 1954
7731 Odie Payne I'm in a Daze unissued October 1954
7732 Ron Rico | Sax Kari Orchestra Land of Dreams Chess 1583 October 1954 December 1954
7733 Ron Rico | Sax Kari Orchestra Chano Chess 1583 October 1954 December 1954
7734 Eddie Boyd That's the Consequence (It's True I Love You) unissued September 27, 1954
7735 Eddie Boyd and His Chess Men The Story of Bill Chess 1582 September 27, 1954 November 1954
7736 Eddie Boyd Got Me Seein' Double (Chess [G] 6.24810AG) September 27, 1954
7737 Eddie Boyd and His Chess Men Please Help Me Chess 1582 September 27, 1954 November 1954
4415 Little Walter? untitled instrumental unissued October 5, 1954
4416 Little Walter and his Jukes Last Night Checker 805 October 5, 1954 November 1954
4417 Little Walter and his Jukes Mellow Down Easy Checker 805 October 5, 1954 November 1954
4418 Little Walter Instrumental (Le Roi du Blues LP 2017) October 5, 1954
7738 Otis Spann It Must Have Been the Devil Checker 807 October 25, 1954 December 1954
7739 Otis Spann Five Spot Checker 807 October 25, 1954 December 1954
7740 The Howlin' Wolf I'll Be Around Chess 1584 October 25, 1954 January 1955
7741 The Howlin' Wolf Forty Four Chess 1584 October 25, 1954 January 1955
7742 Claudia Swann [and the Moonglows] with Buddy Griffin and his Orch. Please Come Back to Me Chess 1586 November 8, 1954 January 1955
U7743 Buddy and Claudia Runnin' for My Life unissued November 8, 1954
U7744 Buddy and Claudia How Can You Say You Love Me unissued November 8, 1954
7745 Buddy and Claudia with Buddy Griffin and his Orch. I Wanna Hug Ya, Kiss Ya, Squeeze Ya Chess 1586 November 8, 1954 January 1955
7746 Muddy Waters and his Guitar I'm a Natural Born Lover Chess 1585 November 1954
[Chess offices]
December 1954
7747 Muddy Waters Ooh Wee Chess 1724 November 1954
[Chess offices]
1957
7748 Jimmy Witherspoon Time Brings About a Change Checker 810 November 1954 c. February 1955
U7749 Jimmy Witherspoon Lovin' Man in Town unissued November 1954
7750 Jimmy Witherspoon Waiting for Your Return Checker 810 November 1954 c. February 1955
U7751 Jimmy Witherspoon T.W.A. (Chess LP 93003) November 1954

Willie Mabon,
A test pressing from the Willie Mabon session, August 1954. From the collection of Tom Kelly.

Willie Mabon,
The flip side to the same test pressing. From the collection of Tom Kelly

Sessions purchased for release on Chess in 1954

Making up to some degree for decreased vigor at Universal Recording, the Chess brothers bought 48 sides from other sources in 1954.


Big Ed,
Eddie Burns on a single recorded by J-V-B in Detroit. From the Big Joe Louis collection.

Four of these were from Joe Von Battle's boutique operation, J-V-B, in Detroit; Von Battle had previously supplied Chess with some John Lee "Booker." The brothers got some more of John Lee himself from the eccentric Fortune operation, also out of Detroit (this was one of the few occasions on which Fortune licensed any of its product).


Big Ed,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

The two sides by The Swans, a doowop group, were apparently a joint venture with DJ Al Benson's Parrot label. We know that two tracks by the group were assigned numbers 7649 and 7650 in the Chess master book. We are assuming that these are the ones that appeared years later on a Relic LP and a (strictly bootleg) Parrot 45, under the titles we have listed.


Larry Liggett,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Paul Gayten
Paul Gayten, from the collection of Billy Vera

Finally, Chess launched a new, productive relationship with bandleader and producer Paul Gayten in New Orleans. Back in 1947, Aristocrat had tried to sign Gayten's singer Annie Laurie, but the deal fell through because she was staying with Gayten and Gayten was staying with the DeLuxe label. In all, Gayten recorded more than 60 sides for DeLuxe in New Orleans, btween January 1947 and January 1949. From the summer of 1949 through the fall of 1951, he was with Regal; he then spent two years with OKeh, the final session coming in November 1953 as Columbia was cutting back on its subsidiary. The outing on August 26, 1954, in New Orleans, was his first for the Chess brothers. Fancourt and McGrath put Gayten (piano, vocals), Lee Allen (tenor sax), Alvin "Red" Tyler (baritone sax), Ernest McLean (electric guitar), Frank Fields (bass), and Earl Palmer (drums) on the session. They overlooked the trumpet player, not to mention the funky trombonist who is in evidence on "Get It." Checker 801 (78 and 45) paired a vigorous "Get It" (featuring solos by Lee Allen and Ernest McLean) with a positively morose "I'm Tired" (also featuring a solo by Allen); great drumming by Palmer on both. Gayten was an effective vocalist, though too enamored, in our humble opinion, of the Dossie Terry/Cleanhead Vincent yip.

Gayten would continue to record for the Chess brothers through March 1958.

(The Sugar Boy Crawford sessions from 1953 have sometimes been attributed to Paul Gayten. These were all definitely were done in New Orleans, but the studio material seems to have been made under Leonard Chess's direct supervision.)

The Chess brothers also began to acquire sides by Larry Liggett, leader of an instrumental R&B combo that, on his first release, consisted of alto sax, piano, guitar, bass, and drums. (Liggett's only recorded vocal can be heard on "That Man Is Walking," a blues on which he plays tenor sax). The initial release of the first Liggett single was on Note, an Indianapolis-based label, and Chess release carried the same "foreign" matrix numbers. Liggett's subsequent releases appeared solely on Chess, but as they were always entered into the master books in pairs and the publisher for Liggett's originals was listed as Condor (Note's house music company), we are pretty confident that these were produced elsewhere. Note material originated in either Indianapolis or Cincinnati (where more studios were available than in Naptown).


Larry Liggett,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Two previously unknown sides (their matrix numbers, 7687 and 7688, were listed as unused in previous discographies) appear on a Universal Recording Studio test pressing that came up for auction in the fall of 2002, when it was acquired by Dan Kochakian. 7687 is an R&B electric guitar instrumental, done by a T-Bone Walker disciple. 7688 is an unaccompanied male gospel quartet number. There is no further documentation on these items, so we don't know where the Chess brothers picked them up or who the artists were.


Jack Ford,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Wayne Walker,
A silver-topped 4858 series 78. From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

The Chess brothers had never been committed to "hillbilly" or "country and Western." (We have no idea whether Leonard Chess was in the studio when Dick Hiorns cut his four sides—the only country offerings for Aristocrat— back in December 1947.) In the early days of the label, they obtained a few sides from Sam Phillips in Memphis, plus a Tommy Trent single from an unknown source on the East Coast. In May or June 1954, however, Leonard and Phil Chess entered into a deal with their friend and long-time distributor Stan Lewis, who was located in Shreveport, Louisiana, to issue country singles that he produced himself or obtained from sources in the area. The first release in the new series came out in June 1954. We have not researched the performers systematically, but Carolyn Bradshaw, who was responsible for Chess 4861, had had a release on Abbott 141, a Country and Western independent, in July 1953. "The Marriage of Mexican Joe" b/w "Baby, Then You're Catchin' on" was "a very successful record for several weeks in Texas" ("This Week's Best Buys," Billboard, September 5, 1953, p. 28).

These items were given a special series, starting at 4858 (the first address of Checker Records), and (in most cases) a special label scheme. The 78 labels were usually printed in blue on pink instead of the standard blue on white; the 45-rpm labels stuck with the "silver top" format. The series apparently was not a success from their standpoint; Chess and Stan Lewis pulled the plug on it after about a year. In all, 7 releases saw the light of day, the last of them in late March of 1955.


Jack Ford,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Wayne Walker,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Matrix Artist Title Release Number Recording Date Release Date
4409
[J-V-B]
Big Ed and His Combo Superstition Checker 790 November or December 1953
[Detroit]
January 1954
4410
[J-V-B]
Big Ed and His Combo Biscuit Baking Mama Checker 790 November or December 1953
[Detroit]
January 1954
1-294
(45-1-294)
[Note 1000]
Larry Ligett [sic] Perdido Mambo Chess 1558 late 1953
[Indianapolis?]
December 1953
2-294
(45-2-294)
[Note 1000]
Larry Ligett The Flop Chess 1558 late 1953
[Indianapolis?]
December 1953
U500
[unknown source]
Chesterfields All Messed Up Chess 1559
[78 rpm only]
prob. 1953 January 1954
U501
[unknown source]
Chesterfields I'm in Heaven Chess 1559
[78 rpm only]
prob. 1953 January 1954
U7597
(9597 on label!)
[Fortune]
John Lee Hooker It's My Own Fault Chess 1562 1952 or 1953
[Detroit]
February 1954
?
[Fortune]
John Lee Hooker Blues for Big Town (Fortune LP 3002) 1952 or 1953
[Detroit]

U7598
[Fortune]
John Lee Hooker Women and Money Chess 1562 1952 or 1953 [Detroit] February 1954
U-7614
[poss. J-V-B]
Bobo Jenkins Democrat Blues Chess 1565 1954
[Detroit]
April 1954
U-7615
[poss. J-V-B]
Bobo Jenkins Bad Luck & Trouble Chess 1565 1954
[Detroit]
April 1954
U-7626
[SU 2141]
Al Hibbler and Orchestra Poor Butterfly Chess 1569
[Sunrise 503]
1948 May 1954
U-7627
[EB1001]
Al Hibbler and Orchestra Fat and Forty Chess 1569
[Sunrise 2001]
early 1947
[New York City]
May 1954
U7628
[Note]
Larry Liggett Woodside's Mambo Chess 1570 1954
[Indianapolis?]
prob. May 1954
U7629
[Note]
Larry Liggett Junior's Mambo Chess 1570 1954
[Indianapolis?]
prob. May 1954
7649?
[Al Benson]
The Swans I Love You So (Parrot 801 [boot]) mid-1954
7650?
[Al Benson]
The Swans Will You Be Mine (Parrot 801 [boot]) mid-1954
7659
[Stan Lewis]
Jack Ford I Understand (Just How You Feel) Chess 4858 1954 [Shreveport] June 1954
7660
[Stan Lewis]
Jack Ford That's All You Gotta Do Chess 4858 1954 [Shreveport] June 1954
U-7671
[Stan Lewis]
Jimmy Lee & Johnny Mathis I'm Beginning to Remember Chess 4859 1954 [Shreveport] August 1954
U-7672
[Stan Lewis]
Jimmy Lee & Johnny Mathis If You Don't Somebody Else Will Chess 4859 1954 [Shreveport] August 1954
7675
[unknown source]
The Peppers with Dave Hamilton Rocking Chair Baby Chess 1577 1954
[Detroit]
September 1954
7676
[unknown source]
The Peppers with Dave Hamilton Hold On Chess 1577 1954
[Detroit]
September 1954
7681
[Note]
Larry Liggett That Man Is Walking Chess 1578 1954
[Indianapolis]
October 1954
7682
[Note]
Larry Liggett Ma Ma Yoquiero Mambo [sic] Chess 1578 1954
[Indianapolis]
October 1954
U-4413
[Note]
The Teasers I Was a Fool to Let You Go Checker 800 August 11, 1954
[Indianapolis]
September 1954
U-4414
[Note]
The Teasers How Could You Hurt Me So Checker 800 August 11, 1954
[Indianapolis]
September 1954
7687[source unknown] unidentified artists No Title Selection 3 [guitar instrumental]
1954
7688[source unknown] unidentified male gospel quartet No Title Selection 4
1954
7689
[source unknown]
Felix Gross and his Orchestra I Was Wrong unissued September 29, 1952
[Dallas?]

7690
[source unknown]
Felix Gross and his Orchestra Good Rockin' Mama unissued September 29, 1952
[Dallas?]

7691
[source unknown]
Felix Gross and his Orchestra Reapin' Blues unissued September 29, 1952
[Dallas?]

7692
[source unknown]
Felix Gross and his Orchestra untitled instrumental unissued September 29, 1952
[Dallas?]

7693
[Paul Gayten]
Paul Gayten I'm Tired Checker 801 August 26, 1954
[New Orleans]
October 1954
7694
[Paul Gayten]
Paul Gayten Get It Checker 801 August 26, 1954
[New Orleans]
October 1954
U-7703
[Stan Lewis]
Wayne Walker | The Louisiana Hay Ride Stars You Got the Best of Me (I Got the Worst of You) Chess 4860 1954
[Shreveport]
October 1954
U-7704
[Stan Lewis]
Wayne Walker | The Louisiana Hay Ride Stars Now Is the Time for Love Chess 4860 1954
[Shreveport]
October 1954
U-7705
[Stan Lewis]
Carolyn Bradshaw Oh! I Like It Chess 4861 1954
[Shreveport]
October 1954
U-7706
[Stan Lewis]
Carolyn Bradshaw This Is the Knight [sic, on 78]
This Is the Night [on 45]
Chess 4861 1954
[Shreveport]
October 1954
7713
[Stan Lewis]
Jimmy Lee & Johnny Mathis Can't You—Want [sic] You? Chess 4862 1954
[Shreveport]
prob. October 1954
7714
[Stan Lewis]
Jimmy Lee & Johnny Mathis The Fun Is Over Chess 4862 1954
[Shreveport]
prob. October 1954
7715 The Southern Stars I Met My Mother unissued
[Tip Top 201]
1954
[Richmond, VA]

7716 The Southern Stars When Life Is Done unissued
[Tip Top 201]
1954
[Richmond, VA]


In 1955 the Chess brothers were well heeled enough to pay for 202 studio tracks of their own. Most were still being done in Chicago at old reliable Universal Recording, but we know of at least one session (by Lowell Fulson in August) that was recorded specially for Chess in Los Angeles.


Moonglows,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

The Moonglows had scarcely gotten their first two releases out when the company whisked them back into Universal Recording for the company's first session of the new year (we had previously dated this session to the previous month, but according to vocal group expert Ferdie Gonzalez, it was in fact done in January 1955). "Most of All," which was featurned on their next release, Chess 1589, reached #5 on the Billboard R and B chart in the spring of 1955, sticking around for 11 weeks all told. The studio band on this occasion included guitarist Wayne Bennett, who was working at the time in the house band at the Crown Propeller Lounge. Bennett would tour with the Moonglows in December 1955, but he subsequently returned to Texas, where he would become famous for his work with singer Bobby "Blue" Bland. The session also yielded a second single ("New Gal" b/w "Hug and a Kiss") credited to Bobby Lester and the Moonlighters, but Checker 813 went nowhere at the cash register. The remainder of the 6-tune session was left in the can.


Two tracks that we used to think came from the end of this sesion (U7758 and 7759) are, according to Ferdie Gonzalez, not by the Moonglows at all. Instead, they are the work of the Five Thrills, a vocal group that had previously made two sessions for Al Benson at Parrot. In fact, the titles as recorded in the Chess master book suspiciously resemble two titles ("LaVerne" and "Darlene (Girl of My Dreams)" thought to have been done for Parrot in March 1954, with a combo led by Paul Bascomb. Al Benson struck some kind of deal with the Chess brothers in the early months of 1955, as we will see below. And the Five Thrills may have already broken up by this time. Obviously more research is needed.


Lowell Fulson,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

On January 13, Chess took advantage of Lowell Fulson's presence in Chicago to arrange a session for him—the guitar-playing bluesman's second for the label. The complete lineup is not known, but Earl Brown was on alto sax, Otis Spann at the piano, Willie Dixon on bass, and probably Fred Below on drums, along with tenor and baritone saxes. All four sides quickly appeared on two Checker releases.


Lowell Fulson,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

John  Brim,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

After his sojourn at Parrot, bluesman John Brim returned to Chess in January 1955. On this occasion, he recorded with his working group, instead of Little Walter or Muddy Waters' band, and actually saw his sides released. Brim's band, the Gary Kings, consisted of James Dalton (harmonica), W. C. Dalton (guitar), and Grace Brim (drums). Brim would record one more for Chess, in April 1956.


John  Brim,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

Rev. Ballinger,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Next up, probably on January 25, was the Reverend Robert Ballinger, an exponent of sanctified gospel singing. During this portion of his career, he was serving in Chicago as an assistant to Bishop J. E Watley, Sr., of the Church of God in Christ. Ballinger had previously laid down seven tunes for United in December 1952, but Leonard Allen never released any of his sides. Ballinger presumably played piano, and the omnipresent Willie Dixon played bass on the session. After a second outing for Chess later in the year, Ballinger eventually moved to the Peacock label, where he had several gospel hits in the early 1960s. He died in 1965.


Rev. Ballinger,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Studio activity continued on the 25th with a doowop session, on which the Fortunes and the Clouds were responsible for two sides each. These have caused all manner of discographical confusion, as none of these sides were released at the time—and when they did eventually appear it was either on bootlege, or on Parrot reissues. The Fortunes consisted of Donald Jenkins (lead), Ronnie Strong (tenor), Walter Granger (baritone), and William Taylor (bass). The members of the group were just 12 or 13 years old at the time, but Ronnie Strong, a former member of the Hambone Kids, was already a veteran. The Clouds were led by Sherrard Jones; the group's remaining members have not been identified, although Albert Hunter was probably there when the Chess/Parrot session took place. The groups had been finalists in a talent contest put on by disk jockey McKie Fitzhugh at the Pershing Ballroom; the prize was a recording session, and a joint venture between Al Benson and Leonard Chess was involved.

Nothing is known about the ensemble that backed the groups (tenor and baritone saxes, piano/celeste, guitar, bass, and drums) except that it was led by Willie Dixon (note the accompaniment on "Bread"). The tenor saxophonist sounds like Harold Ousley or Von Freeman, but there is nothing else to go on. (It doesn't help that the master tapes were stolen from the Chess vaults in the early 1970s.) The first release of "Baby Wants to Rock," by the Clouds, was on Broadcast 1002, a 45-rpm single put out by a company that specialized in doowop bogosities; the flip was another unissued Chess doowop side, by The Larks from 1959. The other sides appeared on bootleg Parrots. The Fortunes would stay with Chess, making two further sessions in March and May; the Clouds, enjoying the sponsorship of DJ McKie Fitzhugh, would record for Cobra in 1956 and remained on the scene into 1957.


Little Walter,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Studio activity on January 25th ended with a highly productive session by Little Walter and his band. Luther Tucker didn't show up, so Robert Junior Lockwood had to record the second guitar parts and then overdub the leads afterward. The other participants were Willie Dixon on bass and Fred Below at the drums. Although Below has also claimed credit for the arrangement, Dixon apparently got the inspiration for his gospel-flavored reworking of "My Babe" (recorded the previous year but left unissued) from accompanying Reverend Ballinger on "This Train." On release, the second version of "My Babe" became Little Walter's biggest hit. "Thunder Bird" provided a high quality instrumental B side for the single. A weird reissue of "My Babe" would take place five years later, with a female chorus layered onto the original recording; despite the terrible taste—or was that because of it?—it sold moderately well to pop record buyers.


Little Walter,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

A little later, Willie Mabon recorded one side. Why "Wow I Feel So Good," with its mambo rhythm, was the only number recorded that day we have no idea, but the number was deemed suitable for Mabon's next release. Mabon was accompanied by his usual rhythm section of Bill Anderson, bass, and Oliver Coleman, drums. There is long solo for a tenor saxophonist, probably Herbert Robinson. The trumpet player and what sounds like a second tenor saxophonist get nothing but a couple of riffs to play; Paul King is the likely suspect for the trumpeter, but with the second tenor there is nothing to go on.


Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

February 3 was divided between two long sessions, one featuring Muddy Waters' band, and the other featuring Howlin' Wolf's. Waters recorded 4 sides with Little Walter (harmonica), Jimmy Rogers (guitar), Otis Spann (piano), Willie Dixon (bass), and Francis Clay (drums). "I Want to Be Loved" and "My Eyes (Keep Me in Trouble)," both expounding familiar themes, were promptly released on Chess 1596, while "Young Fashion Ways" (that's how it was rendered, on both the 78 and the 45) came out on Muddy's next single. Only "This Pain," a ponderous slow blues, was held back. After Muddy had finished his numbers, the rest of the band stuck around for a first try at a Jimmy Rogers vehicle, "You're the One." The company was not satisfied with the Jimmy Rogers number, choosing to retry it at a later session. To today's ears, it is an excellent performance featuring a powerful harmonica solo by Little Walter, but Rogers' vocal moves along a little briskly.


Muddy Waters,

Howlin' Wolf,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

With backing from Jody Williams and Hubert Sumlin (guitars), Henry Gray (piano), Willie Dixon (bass), and Earl Phillips (drums), the Wolf turned in four strong performances, which made up his next two releases on Chess. By this point, the Wolf was no longer being referred to in New York Times style.


Howlin' Wolf,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Chess was now fully prepared for the rock and roll revolution. The first offensive was launched by Bo Diddley. Ellas McDaniel was born Otha Elias Bates in McComb, Mississippi, on December 30, 1928. He was raised by one of his mother's cousins, who moved to Chicago in 1948. McDaniel had been leading a street corner band for several years; occasionally they would land a gig in the clubs. We learn from the Board meeting minutes of Musicians Local 208 that he had been playing a gig at the 708 Club (708 East 47th Street) when he was fined $50.00 on April 17, 1952 for accepting less than Union scale. McDaniel was promptly "erased" for nonpayment. Apparently not getting a lot of offers from Union establishments in Chicago, he did not apply for reinstatement until October 7, 1954, when the Local allowed him to return to the membership rolls for $12.61, giving him 6 weeks to pay the fine.

It was early in 1955 when McDaniel recorded some demos and made the rounds of the independent record companies in Chicago. United wasn't interested enough in the band to offer to pay them for recording; a visit to Vee-Jay brought a brush-off from a secretary, in one version of the story, and an emphatic rejection from Ewart Abner, in another. Leonard Chess, however, heard something new. Chess pressed McDaniel to come up with lyrics to a hambone number, previously called "Uncle John" or "Hey Noxema," that could be played on the radio. Supposedly the words took a week to retool. The tune ended up being titled "Bo Diddley"; whether the leader had gone by that name before or not, it was firmly attached to him by the time he completed the session on March 2, 1955.

On the eponymous tune, the band consisted of Bo Diddley (vocals and guitar), Jerome Green (maracas), and Clifton James (drums). Bo's 19-year-old harmonica player, Billy Boy Arnold, joined the band on the other tracks, along with Otis Spann (piano) and Willie Dixon (bass).

After the four Bo Diddley numbers were finished, Chess gave Billy Boy Arnold an opportunity to sing on three tunes. One was rejected outright, and the other two were left in the can after Billy Boy signed a contract with Vee-Jay a couple of months later.

The company rushed out Checker 814, a coupling of "Bo Diddley" and the blues "I'm a Man," before the month was over. The record was a massive hit. Bo Diddley's music looked to many at the time to be a straightforward outgrowth of the Chicago blues scene—to such an extent that Muddy Waters hurried to make his own version of "I'm a Man" and Little Walter was eager to collaborate with the band—but very quickly rock and roll would be outcompeting the blues for the affections of the record buying public. Meanwhile, Bo Diddley's decision to seek reinstatement with the Musicians Union paid off when Elas [sic] McDaniel posted an indefinite contract with the New Hollywood Show Lounge on April 21, 1955.

March was not reserved for Bo Diddley; it turned out to be a busy month in the studio. Eddie Boyd cut two sides, only one of which was released.

Danny Overbea, whose popularity was now on the wane, came in for four, and the company ended up using one.


Flamingos,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

The Flamingos (Nate Nelson, lead; Johnny Carter, tenor and falsetto; Zeke Carey, second tenor; Paul Wilson, baritone; and Jake Carey, bass) were already an established doowop group when they signed with Checker. They had begun recording for Chance in 1953. In the middle of 1954, as Chance was beginning to falter, their manager, Ralph Leon, signed the group to Parrot, but after two sessions for Al Benson failed to produce a hit, Leon began negotiations with the Chess brothers. Leon died before the deal was finalized, but in March 1955, probably on the expiration of their Parrot contract, the group was ready to record for Checker. Reportedly at least the version of "When" that appeared on Checker 815 was cut in the back office, and released in preference to a version done at Universal. If it was cut there, the sonics had improved since Muddy Waters laid down "Ooh Wee," because "When" sounds more than presentable and has great dynamics. The group was backed by an undocumented Willie Dixon-led ensemble consisting of tenor and baritone saxes, piano, bass, and drums. Two of the sides from the session were paired on the group's first release, in April 1955, which did nothing special sales-wise. The third, "Need Your Love," was held till January 1956, when it became the B side of the group's first hit for the label, "I'll Be Home."


The Fortunes,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

The Fortunes, who seem to have interested the Chess brothers more than the Clouds did, also returned to the studio in March, cutting two further sides as the company continued its search for releasable material. The Fortunes may have cut at the end of the Flamingos' session, but only the tenor sax can be heard on "My Baby Is Fine." "Baby" showed up on the group's only single, Checker 818, complete with a bogus composer credit to one Russ Fratto, who owned the stationery store next door to the Chess headquarters.


Claudia Swann
Claudia Swann Griffin. From the collection of Billy Vera.

Then on March 22, Buddy and Claudia Griffin, now a married couple, returned to Chess for a second session. Besides Buddy's vocals and piano and Claudia's vocals, the group included "Silly Willie" Wilson on trombone, Chuck Reeves on alto and baritone saxes, Earl Swanson on tenor sax, Lawrence Burgan, bass, and Courtney Brooks, drums. Two of the five sides came out on Chess 1597, which turned out to be the group's last release.


Percy Mayfield
Courtesy of Billy Vera

On April 12, basso blues singer Percy Mayfield made his debut for Chess, cutting four sides with Fred Clark on tenor sax, plus alto and baritone saxes, piano, bass, and drums. Mayfield was another veteran. Based on the West Coast, he had made his debut for Gru V Tone in 1946, picking up with Supreme in 1949, then settling in with Specialty from 1950 through 1954. His biggest hit, "Please Send Me Someone to Love," was done at his first session for Specialty. Chess got one good-quality single out of the session. Both sides of Chess 1599 were credited, once again, to Russ Fratto, who does not seem to have harbored any aspirations as a songwriter. The Chess brothers must have owed him big... Leonard and Phil retained enough interest in Percy Mayfield to call him back for a follow-up in 1956. After that, however, he returned to recording for West Coast labels.


Little Walter,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Little Walter, who was present during the rehearsals for Bo Diddley's first session, returned to the studio on April 28, 1955. Along with Luther Tucker, Wilie Dixon, and Fred Below, Bo Diddley was on hand to play on "I Hate to See You Go" (an obsessional boogie modeled after "You Don't Love Me" from his first session) and "Roller Coaster" (an instrumental that evolved out of another composition of his). On "I Got to Go," which bears down like a jubilant express train, Robert Jr. Lockwood took Bo's place. This session formed one of the peaks in Little Walter's output: "Roller Coaster" was a transcendental exercise in rhythmic displacement. The superb instrumental and the equally brilliant "I Got to Go" were paired on Checker 817. Before "Hate to See You Go" was released on Checker 825, it was edited down to just 2:17. In this case the decision to cut Walter's last two vocal choruses, which hint at reconciliation and dull the sting, was the right one artistically. The editing and remastering were done on August 12, 1955, which sometimes led discographers to give the wrong recording date in the past.


Little Walter,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Little Walter,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Moonglows,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Moonglows,
From the collection of Billy Vera


In May, the company's other major doowop act, the Moonglows, cut 6 tunes. Bobby Lester (lead and tenor), Harvey Fuqua (lead and baritone), Pete Graves (tenor), and Prentiss Barnes (baritone) recorded with Eddie Chamblee (tenor saxophone), Sax Mallard (baritone sax), unidentified piano and guitar, Willie Dixon (bass), and Leon Hooper (drums). Chamblee solos on "Slow Down," while Mallard remains underemployed on this session (the only one he is known to have made on the baritone). "Slow Down" and "Foolish Me" came out on Chess 1598 in June 1955, followed by "Starlite" and "In Love" on Chess 1605 in July. Despite excellent performances, neither record showed up in the R&B charts.


Moonglows,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

The Fortunes,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

It appears that at the end of the Moonglows' session, the Fortunes cut one more side; Chamblee and Mallard can be heard on it, though they get no solos. The Chess brothers would couple it with one of the tracks from March on Checker 818—an odd choice because the group's work on the January session had been better. Again, Russ Fratto was the absentee co-composer of "Believe in Me." However, it is doubtful that the Fortunes single put many dollars in Mr. Fratto's pocket. The company would not be recording them again.


Bo Diddley,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

The Moonglows were also on hand for Bo Diddley's second session as a leader, on May 15. Matters became complicated when Billy Boy Arnold informed Leonard Chess that he had signed with Vee-Jay and recorded "I Wish You Would" a few days earlier. Bo had been planning to record the same number, which was hastily reworked into "Diddley Daddy," with backing vocals by the Moonglows. Little Walter was responsible for the harmonica work on "Daddy," which otherwise employed Bo's regular band with Clifton James on drums and Jerome Green on maracas. Billy Boy made his farewell appearance with the band on "She's Fine, She's Mine," which also featured an added percussionist. The results were promptly released on Checker 819.


Bo Diddley,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Stomp Gordon
Stomp Gordon

Next, the Chess brothers gave Stomp Gordon and his touring R&B unit a try. Archie A. Gordon was born in Columbus, Ohio, on February 10, 1926, where he was raised as the adopted son of Squire and Elizabeth Bagby. At age 13, he was already performing locally as a pianist. He was also already known as "Stomp," because of his attention-getting habit of taking off his shoes and socks and playing the bass line with his feet. By 1948 he was leading an R&B combo, whose live appearances eventually became a big enough draw to interest the record companies. Gordon's working quartet cut two sessions for Decca in August 1952 and January 1953, but gate receipts didn't translated into record sales and the group's contract was not renewed. By 1952, Gordon was also landing high-profile club gigs in Chicago, as the Local 208 contract lists attest. In June and July 1953 two different editions of the Stomp Gordon combo recorded in Chicago for Mercury, producing a classic set of blues lyrics in "What's Her Whimsey, Dr. Kinsey?" But sales again failed to meet expectations and several tracks were left in the vault. Whether Leonard Chess became aware of Stomp Gordon because the group had previously recorded in town, or because he'd caught the act live, he decided to give Gordon a try in May 1955. Just two sides were laid down at Universal Recording. Gordon usually worked with tenor sax, guitar, bass, and drums; for the session, a trumpet and a second tenor sax were added. "The Grind" is a raucous dance number closely related to its contemporary rival, the Chicken; apparently the lyrics normally used were not suitable for radio play and were replaced on the record with more innocuous wording. "Don't Do Me That Way" was a gimmicky blues. The ambience is loud and frantic, as Gordon seems determined to out-shout the band; much of his and their stage magic fails to come through.


A second front was opened in the rock and roll revolution on May 21, when Chuck Berry entered Universal Recording for the first time. After Berry was turned down by Vee-Jay, Muddy Waters encouraged him to take his demo of "Ida Mae," a number intended as a parody of Country and Western music, to Leonard Chess, and helped to persuade Chess to record it. Supposedly "Maybellene" (as the number was retitled in the studio) required 36 takes to complete—perhaps because Berry was a rather erratic guitar player—though in typical Chess fashion the obvious failures were recorded over on the tape. The Charles Brown style B side, "Wee Wee Hours," was much easier to record. The band consisted of Berry, vocals and guitar; Johnny Johnson, piano; Willie Dixon, bass; Ebby Hardy, drums; and, on "Maybellene," someone on maracas. Since Bo Diddley's main man Jerome Green was on the road at the time, the most likely suspect is... Leonard Chess. On release, the record was such a huge hit that both sides charted.


Chuck Berry,
Chess 1604, before the Frattonization policy went into effect. From the collection of Jean-Marc Pezet.

The first pressing of Chess 1604, on 78 and 45, credits "Maybellene" to Chuck Berry alone. But in a little while two other names appeared in the composer credit: Alan Freed, the powerful DJ; and Russ Fratto, whose stationery store was next door to the Chess offices. The cut accorded to Freed was part of Chess's overt program of payola, but Fratto? Was the company behind in its payments on letterhead?


Three days later, Muddy Waters was in the studio with one urgent mission, to cut his response to "I'm a Man." (He felt entitled; Bo Diddley had borrowed liberally from "Hoochie Coochie Man.") Muddy was accompanied on the occasion by Jimmy Rogers (guitar), Fred Below (drums), and Junior Wells (harmonica), plus a chorus of three women who scream in the appropriate places. This would be Muddy's only studio session without Little Walter between January 1953 and June 1957; in fact, Junior Wells was recording with Muddy for the first time since September 1952, when he was a regular member of the band.


Muddy Waters,
Courtesy of George Paulus

Willie Mabon returned to Universal on June 1 for the full four-tune treatment. The only important song that Wille Dixon wrote for the pianist, "The Seventh Son," was a highlight of the session. With its discmate, "Lucinda," it made for one of Willie Mabon's strongest releases. Mabon, so we are told, was accompanied by his usual ensemble of Paul King, trumpet; Andrew "Goon" Gardner, alto sax; Herbert Robinson, tenor sax; Bill Anderson, bass; and Oliver Coleman, drums. (Some discographies have expanded the reed section even further with a second tenor sax.) There are, in fact, several reasons to question this listing. For one thing, Willie Dixon was on the session—so why wouldn't he have been playing bass? Besides, "Lucinda" is credited to Bill Martin. It was first recorded on a Gatemouth Moore session for King that used Martin's band. That was back in December 1947, and the side sat unreleaased for 50 years. So it's a reasonable guess that Willie Mabon got the song from Bill Martin, which, in turn, suggests that Martin was playing on the session. Oh, and there are just two horns: trumpet and tenor sax.

Our revised personnel therefore becomes: Bill Martin (trumpet); Herbert Robinson (tenor sax); Willie Dixon (bass); and Oliver Coleman (drums).

With such experienced jazz players on hand, it's regrettable that only Robinson was called on to solo, though Martin does get some nice independent lines in the accompaniment. The atmosphere was unusually mellow; a number like "Someday You Will Have to Pay" comes across as more nostalgic than minatory. On "He Lied," Willie Dixon contributes some falsetto rejoinders to Willie Mabon's vocal complaint.

A further reasonable guess: Willie Dixon's single track, "Walking the Blues" was made at the tail end of this session. We've therefore changed the date from c. June 1955 to June 1.


On June 15, Jimmy Witherspoon visited Universal Recording for the third time. On this occasion the veteran blues shouter was backed by a band featuring Harold Ashby on tenor sax and Willie Dixon on bass; the pianist, guitarist, and drummer have not been identified. Two sides saw prompt release on Checker 826, which would be his last single for the company. Leonard Chess saw fit to turn over half the composer credit on "It Ain't No Secret" to Russ Fratto, who was soon to be enhancing his revenues with one third of the composer royalties for "Maybellene." We doubt that the real author of the tune, Willie Dixon, was especially pleased with this business arrangement.


Jimmy Witherspoon,
From the collection of Billy Vera

Witherspoon would make another four-tune session for Checker in August 1956; nothing was released off it for years. The singer then recorded in New York and Los Angeles for other labels from 1956 through 1958. Chess got him on disk one last time in January 1959, with his old bandleader Jay McShann in Kansas City, but again nothing was used for a long time. Witherspoon's last session in Chicago would take place for Vee-Jay, later that same month. He appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1959, which opened up many opportunities to work and record with jazz musicians. He went on to record prolifically for a slew of record companies from the 1960s through the 1980s. In 1983, he underwent successful treatment for cancer and returned to performing until a few months before his death. Jimmy Witherspoon died in Los Angeles on September 18, 1997.


Flamingos,
Half of this composition was dealt to DJ Alan Freed, but his promotion didn't make the record a hit. From the collection of Tom Kelly.

Another June session was reserved for the Flamingos, who cut four sides. The first two selected for release ("I Want to Love You" b/w "Please Come Back Home") appeared on Checker 821; the others were held till much later. The group would not score a hit for the Chess brothers, however, until their third release for label in January 1956.


Flamingos,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

July 14 was a busy day at Universal, featuring back-to-back sessions by Little Walter and Bo Diddley. Further collaboration between the leaders would have been interesting, but each was focused on his own material that day.


Bo Diddley,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Bo Diddley used his working band of Lester Davenport (harmonica), Jerome Green, and Clifton James; Willie Dixon helped out on bass on three of the four sides (he laid out on "Pretty Thing"). "Pretty Thing" and "Bring It to Jerome" (the first of the band's numbers to give the percussionist a vocal role) were chosen for release on Checker 827, "Bring It to Jerome" in an edited version with awkwardly audible tape splices. "Spanish Guitar," an instrumental too long for a jukebox single, was held till Chess put out its second Diddley LP. "Heart-O-Matic Love," a rather labored effort to compete with Chuck Berry in the automotive arena, would not be heard until well into the CD era.


Bo Diddley,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

On August 3, Lowell Fulson recorded 4 sides in Los Angeles, with a band and arrangements of his choosing. Fulson was much more comfortable in this setting (his two sessions in Chicago both turned into contentious affairs). There are two more tracks on the same tape reel in the Chess vaults, but neither "The Checker" (as it was probably meant to be titled) nor "My Baby's Gone" are by Lowell Fulson. Who the singer was remains a mystery.


Sonny Boy Williamson,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

On August 12, the company conducted its long-awaited first session with Sonny Boy Williamson. A harmonica-playing bluesman of highly uncertain age (supposed years of birth, somewhere in rural Mississippi, have ranged all the way from 1894 to 1912), Sonny Boy was originally known as Aleck Miller, and in his younger days was sometimes billed as Little Boy Blue. But a crass advertising decision, made in the early 1940s when he was appearing on the King Biscuit Program on KFFA in Helena, Arkansas, deliberately confused him in the minds of listeners with the then-popular John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, who recorded extensively between 1937 and 1947. Miller clung to the imposture after the real Sonny Boy's early death, in 1948. Like his old associates Howlin' Wolf and Elmore James, he finally broke onto the recording scene in 1951. He recorded for Lillian McMurray's Trumpet label until 1954, when the foundering company sold his contract to a Memphis-based pressing plant to which it owed a large sum of money. The pressing plant, in turn, dealt his contract to Leonard Chess, and well into the next year he was finally in Chicago ready to record.

The red carpet was rolled out for Sonny Boy's first session: on hand were Otis Spann (piano), Muddy Waters and Jody Williams (guitars), Willie Dixon (bass), and Fred Below (drums). Five sides were cut, and the two that were selected for his first Checker single, "Don't Start Me Talkin'" and "All My Love in Vain" are both considered classics.


Sonny Boy Williamson,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Although Sonny Boy finally arrived in Chicago as popular demand for the blues was beginning to soften, and his health was in steady decline, he recorded regularly for Checker until 1964. From 1963 through 1965 he toured Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival; many of his overseas appearances were recorded. Not long after returning to Helena and the King Biscuit radio show, the second Sonny Boy Williamson died suddenly on May 26, 1965.


J B Lenore,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

The cooperation with the Parrot label evident in the vocal group sessions from January proved to be short-lived, for as the rival company began to decline the Chess brothers started luring Al Benson's talent away. On September 14, the eccentric guitar-playing bluesman J. B. Lenoir cut 9 tracks, two of which saw fairly prompt release on Checker. Checker spelled the bluesman's name as his previous record label had spelled it: "Lenore." From late 1950 through early 1953, Lenoir had recorded for JOB (though his first session for that label, back in December 1950, was promptly sold outright to Chess). In 1954 and 1955 he'd cut 3 sessions for Parrot, where "Mamma Talk to Your Daughter" was a hit.


J B Lenore,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

On his first outing for Checker, J. B.'s vocals and guitar were accompanied by his working band: Alex Atkins (alto sax), Ernest Cotton (tenor sax), Joe Montgomery (piano), and Al Galvin (drums). (Some sources have put Willie Dixon on these tracks, but there was no string bass in Lenoir's working ensemble and none is audible on the sesssion either.) None too thrilled about Lenoir's defection, Al Benson put out one last release on the bluesman in the fall of 1955, with the matrix numbers doctored to make it look like a new recording. Although much of Lenoir's output was left in the can until well into era of reissue LPs, the Chess brothers stuck by this quirkily brilliant artist, recording him again in December 1956 and March 1958.

Bobby Tuggle who we are reasonably sure was a drummer by trade (note also the prominence given to the drums on "The $64,000 Question"), made his debut as a leader for Checker at some point in August. It would be interesting to know who was responsible for the stinging lead guitar work on his sides; also who produced the session, which may have been sold to the company. Tuggle did well enough with "The $64,000 Question" (Checker 823) that the company brought him back the next year for an isolated, unissued track ("Bobby's Blues"), then for a five-tune session in May 1956, which would be his last.


At some point in September, one Joe Bisko recorded four tunes, of which nothing more has ever been heard.


The fallow period continued as the company brought Stomp Gordon back for a standard-size four-tune session. His first Chess release had gone nowhere, and the advent of rock and roll suddenly made his brand of R&B seem dated. In fact, none of the sides from his second session have ever been seen the light of day. As the company's assets grew, and the cost of recording slowly declined in relative terms, the brothers were willing to take risks that would have been inconceivable in 1950 or 1951.

Stomp Gordon would make his last session in September 1956, for Savoy; the two sides that were released had an aura of desperation, with frenetic, raspy singing. Although Universal Attractions picked him up in 1957, rock and roll was cutting more and more deeply into his bookings, and Gordon had developed a heroin habit. On January 18, 1958, he was found dead in the driver's seat of the band's station wagon, which was parked on an avenue in Harlem.


Moonglows,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

In October, the Moonglows returned for a fairly long session at Universal. The documentation is confusing, perhaps incorrectly suggesting multiple attempts at the song that was released as "Lover, Love Me" on Chess 1611. Just this tune and its flip, "In My Diary," were released at the time. Another track came out on an LP in the 1970s. There were no parallel releases on Checker this time around.


Moonglows,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Five Notes,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Somewhere in October, Chess laid down two sides by a doowop group called The Five Notes. The group was originally formed in Dallas, Texas. Al Braggs was the lead singer, Cal Valentine was the second lead, and the other members were Robert Lee Valentine, Jesse Floyd, and Billie Fred Thomas. After winning some talent shows in Texas, the group moved to Milwaukee, where a DJ named Chuck Dunaway promoted the group at his stage shows and took co-composer credit on their songs. The Five Notes recorded just two sides for the company, but their single release, on Chess 1614, is considered a classic of the genre. According to Robert Pruter, "With its relaxed lope, vigorous doowop chanting, and splendid work by the bass and high tenor, 'Park Your Love' was the side that got the most plays across the country. 'Show Me the Way,' the ballad side, likewise got strong doowoppy support from the chorus" (Doowop: The Chicago Scene, p. 81). The group was backed by an unidentified rhythm section of piano, guitar, bass, and drums, which for all we know was also imported from Milwaukee.


Five Notes,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

The Five Notes returned to Dallas in 1957, appearing in a locally made rock and roll film; they recorded two sides as the Five Stars for Blues Boy Kingdom, a label operated by B. B. King (1957), and two more as the Five Masks, for a label of uncertain geographical location called Jan (1958). It probably didn't help that there were several other active groups called the Five Stars, including one that recorded in Chicago for the Indianapolis-based Note label. The group broke up in 1958. Subsequently, Al "TNT" Braggs performed as a soloist, recording for Duke and working as a popular opening act for Bobby "Blue" Bland. The brothers Valentine started a group called the Valentines, which recorded six blues sides for King.


Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

On November 3, Muddy Waters and his band laid down four tunes. The results of this session were uniformly strong, and all of the sides would be released on singles, starting with "Sugar Sweet" b/w "Trouble, No More" on Chess 1612. However, Muddy was entering a period in which his studio recordings and club appearances concentrated on his singing, making the "Muddy Waters & His Guitar" billing a little archaic. During 1956 and 1957 he actually hung his instrument up, though fortunately the decision turned out to be temporary.


Muddy Waters,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Willie Dixon,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Tucked into the next few days was another session for Willie Dixon as a leader. As with so many of the sessions that Dixon supervised, the personnel isn't known with certainty: two tenor saxes, guitar, piano, the leader's bass, and drums. Willie Dixon's stolid bass wasn't an ideal lead, but he makes a good account of himself on "Crazy for My Baby," one of his better songs. The number also features a rockin' tenor sax solo that may the work of Harold Ashby. "I Am the Lover Man" is a rather strange tune that too often exposes Dixon at the very bottom of his range. These two sides came out on Checker 828, "Pain in My Heart" (a ballad with a long tenor sax solo by Ashby) was held for Checker 851 (where it was paired with Dixon's classic "29 Ways"), and a fourth was left in the can.


Willie Dixon,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Bo Diddley,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

A week after the Muddy Wates session, a very busy Bo Diddley was back for his fourth session in 8 months. Little Willie Smith was now playing harmonica in his working group (after he left, Bo would drop the instrument entirely), and was duly featured on the classic "Diddy Wah Diddy," along with backing vocals by the Moonglows. "I Am Looking for a Woman" featured the guitar lead of Jody Williams, a significant addition to the band who was a month away from making his own classic session for Parrot. Jerome Green and Clifton James rounded out the session, with help as usual from Willie Dixon on the bass.


Bo Diddley,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Flamingos,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Although members of the group told Robert Pruter that they had recorded "I'll Be Home" back in March, the matrix number series suggests that the Flamingos made their famous ballad, "I'll Be Home," at their third session, which took place in November. However, the existence of two matrix numbers for the same title does support the recollection that "I'll Be Home" was first cut in the company's back office, and Leonard Chess ended up preferring that version to the one that the group subsequently made at Universal Recording. When it came out in January 1956, "I'll Be Home" would be a hit, reaching #5 on the Billboard R&B chart.


Bull Moose Jackson
From the collection of Billy Vera

On December 15, Chess recorded Bull Moose Jackson with brass and reed sections, piano, bass, drums, and female backing singers. Benjamin Clarence Jackson had been a top R&B artist since August 1945, when he first recorded for King Records. After "I Love You Yes I Do" (1947) and "Big Ten Inch Record" (1952), Jackson ended a decade with King with a session in January 1955. According to some accounts, Jackson was signed with the aim of using his sides for the brothers' new Marterry label. But nothing was released from his session on any label, until well into the CD era. The Chess brothers may have concluded that Jackson's material was dated and wouldn't sell. It surely didn't help when Leonard Chess was called on the carpet by the Board of Musicians Union Local 208 for recording Jackson while he was an "erased member" of the local. (See the Musicians Union Local 208 Board minutes for February 16, 1956, p. 1; we learned the precise date of the session from this source.)

Bull Moose Jackson recorded little after his failed session at Chess: 4 sides for Encino in Los Angeles (1956), two for Warwick in New York (1960), and two more for 7 Arts, also in New York (1961).


At some point during the month, Chess also worked in two sides by The Flock Rocker, a prominent St. Louis DJ. What these were like we have no idea, because they've never surfaced in any form. Were the Chess brothers trying to compete with Vee-Jay, which had recorded one of the Flock Rocker's Chicago-based competitors, the Magnficent Montague?


Chuck Berry,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

On December 20, the company brought Chuck Berry and his group back into Universal Recording to make six more sides; much was expected, as this was their third session in less than a year. The lineup consisted of Berry, vocals and guitar; Otis Spann, piano; Wille Dixon, bass; and Ebb Hardy, drums. And somebody contributed maracas to one of the instrumentals. The two warm-up instrumentals were mastered and titled, to appear a little while later on the company's first Chuck Berry LP. The first release from the session, Chess 1615, coupled "No Money Down" and "The Downbound Train." "You Can't Catch Me" was held for release on Chess 1645; for some reason, it failed to chart although it has subsequently become a rock and roll classic. It also appeared on LP 1425, the very first 12-inch LP on the Chess label. "I've Changed" has no matrix number, and there is some question as to when it was done, but we will go here with Fred Rothwell's judgment on the matter, in his book Long Distance Information.


Chuck Berry,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Little Walter,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Little Walter,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Closing out their blues recording for the year, the Chess brothers brought Little Walter into the studio for another four sides. "Who," a cleverly worded number by Bernard Roth, and "It Aint' Right" formed his next single on Checker 833. "One More Chance with You" made his next release, and "Boom Boom Out Goes the Lights" would see release on Checker 867. Unusually for Walter and band, all four numbers had vocals.


Little Walter,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

To round out the session, Jimmy Rogers came in with a single mission: to remake his song "You're the One." The new laid-back rendition was quickly released on Chess 1616 and became a hit.

Around this same time, amid circumstances no longer recalled, Eddie Boyd laid down a single track that sat unreleased for 40 years.


Marterry Is Launched

In the second half of 1955 the Chess brothers, now in a position to expand their operations significantly, began preparations for a third record label. According to a story in Billboard for December 24, 1955, they had recorded four pop sessions for the new imprint; the first releases were scheduled for January 1, 1956. The master numbers indicate that the first LP and EP on the label were also put together in 1955. The original plan was to name the new brand after Leonard Chess's son Marshall and Phil's son Terry. But the Marterry name would soon elicit complaints from society band leader Ralph Marterie (who resided in Chicago and was recording regularly for Mercury), so after just two Marterry singles the name was changed to Argo. The Marterry/Argo release series began at 5249, another significant address in the history of the Chess brothers. The two Marterry singles were promptly followed by two more on Argo; the Savannah Churchill release on Argo 5251 was rebranded so quickly that M for Marterry was still on the matrix numbers. After an interruption of a couple of months while the company regrouped (and briefly attached a "Creative" logo to one Argo LP) activity revived at Argo 5255.

The first release on Marterry was by a doo-wop group called The Daps. The personnel of this group remains unknown, but the deluxe studio band that Willie Dixon put together for the date was finally identified by ear in 2014 (we thank Mark Mumea, Scott Dirks, and Steve Franz for their help with the identifications; Jody Williams has confirmed working on the session). The jump side, "Down and Out" features stinging lead guitar by Jody Williams and rasping tenor sax by Harold Ashby. Williams is just as recognizable on the ballad side, "When You're Alone," where he turns the amplifier down and Ashby lays out. The rhythm section appears to have consisted of Lafayette Leake (piano), Willie Dixon (bass), and Vernel Fournier (drums). In April 1956 the Daps appeared in a package show at the Madison Rink (2560 West Madison) put on by DJ Sam Evans; Ray Charles and the Diablos were the headliners. The group did not record again and its subsequent activities have not been traced.


Harvey Norman,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Our thanks to Dan Ferone for alerting us to the very rare second Marterry release, by a pop singer named Harvey Norman, who accompanied by a good-sized studio band under the baton of one Leon Addeo. Norman had a forgettable voice, and the songs were sappy.


The single by verteran pop singer Savannah Churchill, featuring spare accompaniment (and a male chorus...) on a pop ballad and a Country ballad, would be her only recording for the Chess brothers.


And with the advent of rock and roll, Danny Overbea had turned into a full-time pop singer, recording with strings, hence the decision to move him to the new label.


Harvey Norman,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Sessions newly recorded for Chess in 1955

Matrix Artist Title Release Number Recording Date Release Date
7752 Moonglows Most of All Chess 1589 January 1955 February 1955
7753 Bobby Lester and The Moonlighters Hug and a Kiss Checker 813 January 1955 February 1955
U7754 The Moonglows Doubtful unissued January 1955
U7755 The Moonglows He Lied unissued January 1955
7756 Bobby Lester and The Moonlighters New Gal Checker 813 January 1955 February 1955
7757 Moonglows She's Gone Chess 1589 January 1955 February 1955
U7758 The Five Thrills La Vern unissued January 1955 [?]
U7759 The Five Thrills Girl of My Dreams, Darling unissued January 1955 [?]
U7760 and U7761 See Purchased Sessions
7762 Lowell Fulson Lonely Hours Checker 820 January 13, 1955 July 1955
7762 [alt.] Lowell Fulson Lonely Hours (Chess CHD 2-9394) January 13, 1955
7763 Lowell Fulson Check Yourself Checker 812 January 13, 1955 February 1955
7763 [alt.] Lowell Fulson Check Yourself (Chess CHD 2-9394) January 13, 1955
7764 Lowell Fulson Loving You (Is All I Crave) Checker 812 January 13, 1955 February 1955
7765 Lowell Fulson Do Me Right Checker 820 January 13, 1955 July 1955
7766 John Brim and His Gary Kings Go Away Chess 1588 January 1955 February 1955
7767 John Brim and His Gary Kings That Ain't Right Chess 1588 January 1955 February 1955
7768 and 7769 See Purchased Sessions
7770 Rev. Ballenger This Train Chess 1590 prob. January 25, 1955 March 1955
7771 Rev. Ballenger [sic] How I Got Over Chess 1590 prob. January 25, 1955 March 1955
7772 The Fortunes Bread (Parrot 804 [boot]) January 25, 1955
7773 The Fortunes Love (Parrot 804 [boot]) January 25, 1955
7774 The Clouds Baby Wants to Rock (Broadcast 1002, Power Vine 6082 [CD]) January 25, 1955
7775 The Clouds Say You Love Me (Parrot LP 2120 [boot]) January 25, 1955
7776 Little Walter and His Jukes Thunder Bird Checker 811 January 25, 1955 February 1955
7777 Little Walter and His Jukes My Babe Checker 811 January 25, 1955 February 1955
7777R Little Walter My Babe Checker 955 January 25, 1955
[female vocal group overdubbed in 1960]
June 1960
7778 and 7779 See Purchased Sessions
7780 and 7781 See Purchased Sessions
7782 Willie Mabon Wow I Feel So Good Chess 1592 c. January 1955 March 1955
7783 Muddy Waters This Pain (Chess [J] PLP 6040/50) February 3, 1955
7784 Muddy Waters and His Guitar Young Fashion Ways Chess 1602 February 3, 1955 June 1955
7785 [alt.] Muddy Waters I Want to Be Loved (Chess 2 CD 649, Hip-O Select CD 2758) February 3, 1955
7785 Muddy Waters and His Guitar I Want to Be Loved Chess 1596 February 3, 1955 April 1955
7797 Muddy Waters and His Guitar My Eyes (Keep Me in Trouble) Chess 1596 February 3, 1955 April 1955
7786 [alt.] Bo Diddley I'm a Man (Chess CHD-9331) March 2, 1955
7786 Bo Diddley I'm a Man Checker 814 March 2, 1955 late March 1955
7787 [alt.] Bo Diddley Little Girl (Chess CHD-9331) March 2, 1955
7787 Bo Diddley Little Girl (Checker LP 1436) March 2, 1955
7788 [alt. 1] Bo Diddley Bo Diddley (Hip-O Select CD B0009231-02) March 2, 1955
7788 [alt. 2] Bo Diddley Bo Diddley (Hip-O Select CD B0009231-02) March 2, 1955
7788 Bo Diddley Bo Diddley Checker 814 March 2, 1955 late March 1955
7789 Bo Diddley You Don't Love Me (Checker LP 1436) March 2, 1955
7790 Billy Boy Arnold Rhumba rejected March 2, 1955
7791 Billy Boy Arnold Sweet on You, Baby (Red Lightnin RL 0012) March 2, 1955
7792 Billy Boy Arnold You Got to Love Me (Red Lightnin RL 0012) March 2, 1955
7793 and 7794 See Purchased Sessions
7795 Howlin' Wolf Who Will Be Next Chess 1593 February 3, 1955 April 1955
7796 Howlin' Wolf I Have a Little Girl Chess 1593 February 3, 1955 April 1955
7798 Howlin' Wolf Come to Me Baby Chess 1607 February 3, 1955 October 1955
7799 Howlin' Wolf Don't Mess with My Baby Chess 1607 February 3, 1955 October 1955
7800 Jimmy Rogers You're the One (Chess [Br] 6641174) February 3, 1955
7801 through 7806 See Purchased Sessions
7807 Eddie Boyd unidentified title unissued March 10, 1955
7808 Eddie Boyd and His Chessmen Real Good Feeling Chess 1595 March 10, 1955 April 1955
U7809 Danny Overbea Because unissued March 1955
U7810 Danny Overbea By Myself unissued March 1955
U7811 Danny Overbea Dear Friend unissued March 1955
7812 Danny Overbea Do You Love Me Checker 816 March 1955 prob. May 1955
7813 Flamingos That's My Baby (Chick-A-Boom) Checker 815 c. March 1955 April 1955
7814 Flamingos When Checker 815 c. March 1955 April 1955
7815 The Flamingos Need Your Love Checker 830 c. March 1955 c. January 1956
7816 The Fortunes My Baby Is Fine Checker 818 c. March 1955 June 1955
U7817 The Fortunes Starlight unissued c. March 1955
7818 Buddy Griffin and his Orch. | Vocal Duet Buddy & Claudia You Keep Me Guessing Chess 1597 March 22, 1955 May 1955
7819 Buddy and Claudia Griffin You Let the Deal Go Down unissued March 22, 1955
7820 Buddy and Claudia Griffin Once More unissued March 22, 1955
7821 Buddy Griffin and his Orch. | Vocal Duet Buddy & Claudia I Got a Secret "I Ain't Gonna Keep" Chess 1597 March 22, 1955 May 1955
U7822 Buddy and Claudia Griffin Long Way Home unissued March 22, 1955
7823 Percy Mayfield Are You Out There? Chess 1599 April 12, 1955 June 1955
7824 Percy Mayfield You Name It (Chess [J] PLP-6064) April 12, 1955
7825 Percy Mayfield Double Dealing Chess 1599 April 12, 1955 June 1955
7826 Percy Mayfield No. 43 (My Story about a Woman) (Chess [J] PLP-6064) April 12, 1955
7827 Little Walter and His Jukes Roller Coaster Checker 817 April 28, 1955 May 1955
7828 Little Walter and His Jukes I Got to Go Checker 817 April 28, 1955 May 1955
7888 Little Walter and His Jukes I Hate to See You Go
[edited on earlier releases*]
Checker 825* April 28, 1955 September 1955
7829 Moonglows Starlite Chess 1605 c. May 1955 August 1955
7830 The Moonglows Foolish Me Chess 1598 c. May 1955 June 1955
7830 [alt.] The Moonglows Foolish Me (Chess ACRR 701) c. May 1955
7831 The Moonglows No One unissued c. May 1955
7832 The Moonglows Doubtful (Power Vine 6082 [CD]) c. May 1955
7833 The Moonglows Slow Down Chess 1598 c. May 1955 June 1955
7834 Moonglows In Love Chess 1605 c. May 1955 August 1955
7835 The Fortunes Believe in Me Checker 818 c. May 1955 June 1955
7836 Bo Diddley Diddley Daddy Checker 819 May 15, 1955 June 1955
7837 Bo Diddley She's Fine, She's Mine Checker 819 May 15, 1955 June 1955
7838 Stomp Gordon and His Orchestra The Grind Chess 1601 May 1955 prob. June 1955
7839 Stomp Gordon and His Orchestra Don't Do Me That Way Chess 1601 May 1955 prob. June 1955
7840 The Dixieland Singers Where We Never Grow Old Chess 1603
[78 rpm only]
c. May 1955 July 1955
7841 The Dixieland Singers Our Prayer Chess 1603
[78 rpm only]
c. May 1955 July 1955
U7842 Willie Dixon If You're Mine Checker 822 May 1955 July 1955
U7843 Willie Dixon Alone (Chess [G] 6.24802AG) May 1955
7844 Chuck Berry and His Combo Maybellene Chess 1604 May 21, 1955 July 1955
7845 Chuck Berry and His Combo Wee Wee Hours Chess 1604 May 21, 1955 July 1955
7846 Muddy Waters and his guitar Manish Boy Chess 1602 May 24, 1955 June 1955
7847 Jimmy Witherspoon It Ain't No Secret (What My Baby Can Do) Checker 826 June 15, 1955 October 1955
7848 Jimmy Witherspoon Why Did I Love You like I Do? Checker 826 June 15, 1955 October 1955
U7849 Jimmy Witherspoon I Got a Lot of Lovin' unissued June 15, 1955
U7850 Jimmy Witherspoon Cryin' (Chess LP 93003) June 15, 1955
7851 Rev. Robert Ballinger In Miami, Florida unissued 1955
7852 Rev. Robert Ballinger "P" for Paul unissued 1955
7853 Jackie Brenston Rocket 202 unissued January 19, 1955
7854 The Flamingos Please Come Back Home Checker 821 c. June 1955 July 1955
7855 The Flamingo's [sic] Just for a Kick Checker 853 c. June 1955 1956
7856 The Flamingos I Want to Love You Checker 821 c. June 1955 July 1955
U-7857 The Flamingos Whispering Stars Checker 915 c. June 1955 1957
7858 through 7861 See Purchased Sessions
7862 The Sparrows You Waited Too Long unissued c. June 1955
7863 The Sparrows Fooling My Heart unissued c. June 1955
7864 The Sparrows Go Home, You're Dead unissued c. June 1955
7865 The Sparrows Gee, Isn't Love Wonderful? unissued c. June 1955
U7866 through U7868 See Purchased Sessions
U7869 Willie Mabon He Lied (Chess [G] 6.24806AG) June 1, 1955
U7870 Willie Mabon Someday You Gotta Pay (Chess [G] 6.24806AG) June 1, 1955
7871 Willie Mabon The Seventh Son Chess 1608 June 1, 1955 October 1955
7872 Willie Mabon Lucinda Chess 1608 June 1, 1955 October 1955
7873 Willie Dixon and The Allstars Walking the Blues Checker 822 June 1, 1955 July 1955
U7874 Little Walter Little Girl, Little Girl (Le Roi du Blues LP 2012) July 14, 1955
U7875 Little Walter Crazy for My Baby Checker 986 July 14, 1955 1960
U7875 [alt.?] Little Walter Crazy for My Baby (Le Roi du Blues LP 2007) July 14, 1955
U7876 Little Walter Can't Stop Loving You (Le Roi du Blues LP 2012) July 14, 1955
7877 Bo Diddley Pretty Thing Checker 827 July 14, 1955 November 1955
U7878 [alt.] Bo Diddley Heart-o-Matic Love (Hip-O Select CD B0009231-02) July 14, 1955
U7878 Bo Diddley Heart-o-Matic Love (Chess CHD-9331) July 14, 1955
U7879 Bo Diddley (Vocals: Bo Diddley and Jerome Green) Bring It to Jerome (Chess CHD2-19502) July 14, 1955 November 1955
7879
[edited]
Bo Diddley (Vocals: Bo Diddley and Jerome Green) Bring It to Jerome Checker 827 July 14, 1955 November 1955
U7880 Bo Diddley Spanish Guitar (Checker LP 2974) July 14, 1955
7881A and 7881B See Note on LPs
7882 Lowell Fulson Trouble, Trouble Checker 829 August 3, 1955
[Los Angeles]
December 1955
7883 Lowell Fulson I Still Love You, Baby Checker 829 August 3, 1955
[Los Angeles]
December 1955
7884 Lowell Fulson It's a Long Time (Chess 2ACMB 205) August 3, 1955
[Los Angeles]

7885 Lowell Fulson Rollin' Blues (Chess 2ACMB 205) August 3, 1955
[Los Angeles]

7886 unidentified artist The Chocker [sic] unissued August 3, 1955
[Los Angeles]

7887 unidentified artist My Baby's Gone unissued August 3, 1955
[Los Angeles]

7889 Sonny Boy Williamson Work with Me (Chess CHV-417) August 12, 1955
7890 "Sonny Boy" Williamson Don't Start Me Talkin' Checker 824 August 12, 1955 September 1955
7891 "Sonny Boy" Williamson All My Love in Vain Checker 824 August 12, 1955 September 1955
7892 Sonny Boy Williamson Good Evening Everybody (Chess CHV-417) August 12, 1955
7893 Sonny Boy Williamson You Killing Me (Chess CHV-417) August 12, 1955
7894 Eddie Boyd and His Chess Men I'm a Prisoner Chess 1606 August 12, 1955 late August 1955
7895 Eddie Boyd and His Chess Men I've Been Deceived Chess 1606 August 12, 1955 late August 1955
7896 Bobby Tuggle The $64,000 Question Checker 823 August 1955 September 1955
7897 Bobby Tuggle Too Late Old Man Checker 823 August 1955 September 1955
7898 Chuck Berry and His Combo "Together" (We Will Always Be) Chess 1610 September 1955 late September 1955
7899 Chuck Berry and His Combo Thirty Days (To Come Back Home) Chess 1610 September 1955 late September 1955
7900 J. B. Lenoir Natural Man [Everybody Wants to Know] (Chess LP 410) September 14, 1955

J. B. Lenoir J. B.'s Rock (Chess 2ACMB 208) September 14, 1955
7901 J. B. Lenoir Don't Dog Your Woman (Chess LP 410) September 14, 1955
7902 J. B. Lenore [sic] Let Me Die with the One I Love Checker 844 September 14, 1955 1956
7903 J. B. Lenore [sic] If I Give My Love to You? Checker 844 September 14, 1955 1956
7904 J. B. Lenoir Low Down Dirty Blues (Chess 2ACMB 208) September 14, 1955

J. B. Lenoir Everybody Wants to Know [Laid Off] (Chess LP 410) September 14, 1955

J. B. Lenoir If You Love Me (Chess 2ACMB 208) September 14, 1955
7905 Joe Bisko Chop Down That Big Tree unissued c. September 1955
7906 Joe Bisko I'm Gonna Cry unissued c. September 1955
7907 Joe Bisko Lonely Street unissued c. September 1955
7908 Joe Bisko Maggie unissued c. September 1955
7909 through 7912 See Al Hibbler EP
7913 Stomp Gordon Hold Me unissued September 29, 1955
7914 Stomp Gordon Jivin' Girl unissued September 29, 1955
7915 Stomp Gordon House Rockin' Party unissued September 29, 1955
7916 Stomp Gordon Top Red unissued September 29, 1955
7917 Moonglows In My Diary Chess 1611 c. October 1955 November 1955
U7918 The Moonglows Lover unissued c. October 1955
7919 Moonglows Lover, Love Me Chess 1611 c. October 1955 November 1955
U7920 The Moonglows Lover unissued c. October 1955
U7921 The Moonglows Let's Go unissued c. October 1955
U7922 The Moonglows Thrill Me (Chess ACRR 701) c. October 1955
7923 The Strollers False Love (Power Vine CD 7093) c. October 1955
7924 The Strollers Baby Sweets (Power Vine CD 7093) c. October 1955
U7925 King Fleming You're Gone unissued c. October 1955
7926 [on 78]
U7926[on 45[
King Fleming [on 78]
King Flemings [sic, on 45]
Please Come Back Chess 1633 c. October 1955 1956
7927 The Five Notes Park Your Love Chess 1614 c. October 1955 January 1956
7928 The Five Notes Show Me the Way Chess 1614 c. October 1955 January 1956
7929 and 7930 See Purchased Sessions
7931 and 7932 See Purchased Sessions
7933 and 7934 See Purchased Sessions
7935 and 7936 See Purchased Sessions
7937 Muddy Waters I Got to Find My Baby Chess 1644 November 3, 1955 1956
7938 Muddy Waters & His Guitar Sugar Sweet Chess 1612 November 3, 1955 late November 1955
7939 Muddy Waters & His Guitar Trouble, No More Chess 1612 November 3, 1955 late November 1955
7940 Muddy Waters Clouds in My Heart Chess 1724 November 3, 1955 1959
U7941 Willie Dixon Youth to You unissued early November 1955
7942 Willie Dixon Crazy for My Baby Checker 828 early November 1955 November 1955
7943 Willie Dixon I Am the Lover Man Checker 828 early November 1955 November 1955
7944 Willie Dixon The Pain in My Heart Checker 851 early November 1955 1956
7945 Bo Diddley Dancing Girl (Checker LP 2974) November 10, 1955
7946 Bo Diddley Diddy Wah Diddy Checker 832 November 10, 1955 1956
7947 Bo Diddley I Am Looking for a Woman Checker 832 November 10, 1955 1956
7948 The Flamingos Chickie-um-bah (Checker LP 1433) c. December 1955
7949 The Flamingos I'll Be Home unissued c. December 1955
7950 The Flamingos I'll Be Home Checker 830 c. December 1955 [Chess offices] c. January 1956
7951 Chuck Berry You Can't Catch Me Chess 1645 December 20, 1955 1956
7952 Chuck Berry Rolli Polli (Chess LP 1426) December 20, 1955
7953 Chuck Berry Berry Pickin' (Chess LP 1426) December 20, 1955
7954 Chuck Berry and His Combo Down Bound Train Chess 1615 December 20, 1955 1956
7955 Chuck Berry and His Combo No Money Down Chess 1615 December 20, 1955 1956
? Chuck Berry I've Changed (Reelin' LP 001) December 20, 1955
7956 and 7957 See Purchased Sessions
7958 Bullmoose Jackson The Meaning of Time unissued December 15, 1955
7959 Bullmoose Jackson Can't Get You off My Mind unissued December 15, 1955
7960 Bullmoose Jackson Jeanie unissued December 15, 1955
7961 Bullmoose Jackson Heavyweight Baby (Chess CHD 4-9352) December 15, 1955
7962 The Flock Rocker I Don't Know Where unissued December 1955
[St. Louis?]

7963 The Flock Rocker Back in Saint Louis unissued December 1955
[St. Louis?]

7964 The Daps When You're Alone Marterry 5249 December 1955 January 1956
7965 The Daps Down and Out Marterry 5249 December 1955 January 1956
7966 Little Walter and his Jukes One More Chance with You Checker 838 December 1955 1956
7967 Little Walter and His Jukes Who Checker 833 December 1955 1956
7968 Little Walter Boom, Boom Out Goes the Lights Checker 867 December 1955 1957
7969 Little Walter and His Jukes It Ain't Right Checker 833 December 1955 1956
7970 Jimmie [sic] Rogers and His Rocking Four You're the One Chess 1616 December 1955 1956
7971 Eddie Boyd What's the Matter Baby? (Chess CHD2-9385) December 1955
M-7972 Harvey Norman wth Leon Addeo and orchestra City of Love Marterry 5250 December 1955 January 1956
M-7973 Harvey Norman with Leon Addeo and orchestra Swan Song Marterry 5250 December 1955 January 1956
M-7974 Savannah Churchill with Eddie Wilcox and Orchestra They Call Me a Fool Argo 5251 December 1955 1956
M-7975 Savannah Churchill with Eddie Wilcox and Orchestra Let Me Be the First One to Know Argo 5251 December 1955 1956
7976 Danny Overbea with Strings Hear My Story Argo 5252 December 1955 1956
7977 Danny Overbea with Strings My Stubborn Heart Argo 5252 December 1955 1956

Sessions Purchased for Release on Chess and Checker in 1955


Jon Thomas,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

The Chess brothers acquired material from other sources at a fairly slow rate in 1955: 33 items all told. They picked up an R&B single by Jon Thomas from the Note label in Indianapolis; the house publisher, Condor Music, is a clear sign of a Note import. Thomas led a quartet of tenor sax, piano, guitar, and drums. On "Rib Tips," the names of various down home comestibles are roughly chanted over a funky background featuring slashing guitar and a few saxophonic whinnies; "HI Fi" is a hard blues instrumental at a medium tempo featuring the tenor sax.


Jon Thomas,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Larry Liggett,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Note was already contributing Larry Liggett's singles to Chess. In 1955, one more was released on Chess 1594. Because the company never would acquire any distributional muscle, some of Note's later releases would also show up on Checker (see our Jimmy Coe page for some examples from 1958).


Larry Liggett,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Jimmie Nelson,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

The single by Jimmie "T99" Nelson seems to have emanated from some little operation in Houston, Texas. Nelson's baritone vocals were accompanied by tenor and baritone saxes, piano, guitar, bass, and drums (musicians all unidentified). "Great Big Hunk of Man" is an exuberant blues on which Nelson does a pretty good approximation of Big Joe Turner; the slow "Free and Easy Mind" ranges into Lowell Fulson territory. Chess would pick up further Nelson sides made in Houston in October 1957 and December 1959.


Jimmie Nelson,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

The Rays,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

One by the vocal group The Rays arrived from Bob Crewe Productions in New York City, and the Emmett Davis sides may have been the work of the Atlas label.


The Rays,
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Some kind of pact was struck with Ace Records in southern Louisiana, but it must have fallen through because none of the material (by Lightnin' Slim and Henry Talbert) ever hit the store racks with the Chess company brand on it.


Jimmy Lee and Wayne Walker,
A hint of rockabilly on the Chess 4858 series. From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth.

The Chess brothers wrapped up their joint venture with Stan Lewis, ending the short Chess 4858 series after two more country releases in March 1955. According to Dr. Robert Stallworth, only one item out of the 4858s was in the emerging rockabilly style: that was "Love Me" by Jimmy Lee and Wayne Walker. Chess would never get much farther into country music than it did during this abortive venture.


Jimmy Lee and Wayne Walker,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Hawketts,
From the collection of Billy Vera

The collaboration with Paul Gayten in New Orleans proved more fruitful. Early in the year, The Hawketts served up "Mardi Gras Mambo" on Chess 1591.


Bobby Charles,
A rock and roll hit from New Orleans. From the collection of Tom Kelly.

In the fall, Gayten followed up with a rock and roll hit in "See You Later, Alligator" by Bobby Charles (in its earliest pressings, the number was more succinctly titled "Later Alligator").


Bobby Charles B side on chess 1609
From the collection of Tom Kelly

Gayten was also responsible for Checker 831, a release headlined by Charles Williams. Four additional sides from the Gayten aggregation were left in the can.


Charles Williams,
From the collection of Billy Vera

The company's sporadic dealings with J-V-B in Detroit yielded a sermon by the Reverend C. L. Franklin (best known today as the father of Aretha). The single appeared both as Chess 1600 and as Chess 65. The Reverend Franklin's sermons were a powerful addition to the company's gospel offerings; an entire wave of them, in a special series, would follow in 1956.


Matrix Artist Title Release Number Recording Date Release Date
1000-A
[Note]
Jon Thomas and his Orch. Rib Tips Checker 809
[Note 1001]
1954
[Indianapolis?]
January 1955
1000-B
[Note]
Jon Thomas and his Orch. Hi-Fi Checker 809
[Note 1001]
1954
[Indianapolis?]
January 1955
7760
[source unknown]
Jimmie (T99) Nelson Free and Easy Mind Chess 1587 January 13, 1955 [Houston] February 1955
7761
[source unknown]
Jimmie (T-99) Nelson Great Big Hunk of Man Chess 1587 January 13, 1955
[Houston]
February 1955
7768
[Stan Lewis]
Jimmy Lee and Wayne Walker Lips That Kiss So Sweetly Chess 4863 c. January 1955
[Shreveport]
March 1955
7769
[Stan Lewis]
Jimmy Lee and Wayne Walker Love Me Chess 4863 c. January 1955
[Shreveport]
March 1955
7778
[Stan Lewis]
Jack Ford Yankee Dime Chess 4864 c. January 1955
[Shreveport]
March 1955
7779
[Stan Lewis]
Jack Ford Teach Me to Love Chess 4864 c. January 1955
[Shreveport]
March 1955
7780
[Paul Gayten]
The Hawketts Mardi Gras Mambo Chess 1591 January 1955
[New Orleans]
March 1955
7781
[Paul Gayten]
The Hawketts Your Time's Up Chess 1591 January 1955
[New Orleans]
March 1955
7793
[Note]
Larry Liggett My Wild Irish Rose Chess 1594 c. February 1955
[Indianapolis?]
April 1955
7794
[Note]
Larry Liggett The Turtle Chess 1594 c. February 1955
[Indianapolis?]
April 1955
7801
[3034, Ace]
Lightnin' Slim Bad Feeling Blues (Chess [J] PLP-6035) March 10, 1955
[Opelousas, LA]

7802
[3035, Ace]
Lightnin' Slim Lightnin' Slim Boogie (Chess [J] PLP-6035) March 10, 1955
[Opelousas, LA]

7803
[Ace]
Lightnin' Slim School Day Jump (Chess [J] PLP-6035) March 10, 1955
[Opelousas, LA]

7804
[Ace]
Lightnin' Slim Station Blues (Chess [J] PLP-6035) March 10, 1955
[Opelousas, LA]

7805
[Ace]
Henry Talbert Good Understanding (Chess [J] PLP-6035) March 10, 1955
[Opelousas, LA]

7806
[Ace]
Henry Talbert Shake It Baby (Chess [J] PLP-6035) March 10, 1955
[Opelousas, LA]

7858
[Paul Gayten]
Paul Gayten Needing Your Love (Rarin' LP 555) June 15, 1955
[New Orleans]

7859
[Paul Gayten]
Paul Gayten If You Love Me, Tell Me So unissued June 15, 1955
[New Orleans]

7860
[Paul Gayten]
Paul Gayten Dirty Bird unissued June 15, 1955
[New Orleans]

7861
[Paul Gayten]
Paul Gayten You Shouldn't Say That unissued June 15, 1955
[New Orleans]

45-A
[J-V-B]
Rev. C. L. Franklin and Congregation Sings I Love the Lord Chess 65, Chess 1600
[J-V-B 65]
1955
[Detroit]
prob. June 1955
45-B
[J-V-B]
Rev. C. L. Franklin and Congregation Sings Heard the Voice of Jesus Chess 65, Chess 1600
[J-V-B 65]
1955
[Detroit]
prob. June 1955
7929
[Paul Gayten]
Bobby Charles On Bended Knee Chess 1609 October 1955
[New Orleans]
November 1955
7930
[Paul Gayten]
Bobby Charles Later Alligator
[See You Later Alligator]
Chess 1609 October 1955
[New Orleans]
November 1955
7931
[Bob Crewe/Frank Slay]
The Rays Tippety Top Chess 1613 1955
[New York City]
December 1955
7932
[Bob Crewe/Frank Slay]
The Rays Moo-Goo-Gai-Pan Chess 1613 1955
[New York City]
December 1955
7933
[source unknown]
Christine Kittrell Handle with Care unissued October 25, 1955
[location?]

7934
[source unknown]
Christine Kittrell Tricks of the Trade unissued October 25, 1955
[location?]

7935
[poss. Atlas]
Emmett Davis Easier Said than Done unissued October 25, 1955
[New York City?]

7936
[poss. Atlas]
Emmett Davis The Last Straw unissued October 25, 1955
[New York City?]

7956
[Paul Gayten]
Charles Williams with Paul Gayten Orch. So Glad She's Mine Checker 831 December 14, 1955
[New Orleans]
1956
7957
[Paul Gayten]
Charles Williams with Paul Gayten Orch. Mary Don't You Weep, Mary Don't You Moan Checker 831 December 14, 1955
[New Orleans]
1956

The end of 1955 marks a watershed in Chess history. Up to this point the label had been strictly a singles operation, like nearly all of the smaller independents. The 33 1/3 rpm LP had become enough of a commercial force by this time, however, that the Chess brothers were now preparing to enter that market (they were apparently never tempted during the days of 10-inch LPs).

For their first 12-inch microgroove release, originally on Marterry, they turned to the singer who had saved the label commercially back in 1951. (The name change to Argo took place so quickly that the Marterry LP is quite rare.) The Al Hibbler LP (matrix numbers 7881A for Side A, 7881B for Side B) was a straight reissue of the five Chess singles that had featured him. "Feather Roll Blues," an instrumental by Billy Strayhorn and band from Hibbler's first session for Sunrise, was included in the LP because it had been the flip side of Chess 1457. There was additional material from Sunrise and Miracle in the Chess vaults, but none of it was used on this occasion. Argo also released a 45-rpm EP consisting of four of the Hibbler items.


Melodies by Al Hibbler

Original matrix number Title Recording Date Original release First Chess release LP release
EB1001A Fat and Forty early 1947 Sunrise 2001A Chess 1569 Marterry LP 601, Argo LP 601
EB1002 Solitude early 1947 Sunrise 2002-A Chess 1457 Marterry LP 601, Argo LP 601
EB1003A My Little Brown Book early 1947 Sunrise 2001B Chess 1481 Marterry LP 601, Argo LP 601
EB1004 Feather Roll Blues early 1947 Sunrise 2002-B Chess 1457 Marterry LP 601, Argo LP 601
SU-2029 Trees November 1947 Miracle M-501 Chess 1456 Marterry LP 601, Argo LP 601
SU-2030 Lover Come Back to Me November 1947 Miracle M-501 Chess 1456 Marterry LP 601, Argo LP 601
SU-2135 It Don't Mean a Thing 1948
Chess 1455 Marterry LP 601, Argo LP 601
SU-2140 What Will I Tell My Heart? April 1949
Chess 1455 Marterry LP 601, Argo LP 601
SU-2141 Poor Butterfly April 1949 Sunrise 503 Chess 1569 Marterry LP 601, Argo LP 601
SU-2142 I Love You April 1949 Sunrise M-515 Chess 1481 Marterry LP 601, Argo LP 601

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. Ian Saddler's article, "The '4800 Series' Hillbillies," in Roll Street Journal (Volume 1, No. 4, May 1983), pp. 1-3, was extremely helpful with the country series that the Chess brothers operated in 1954 and 1955 with material obtained from Stan Lewis in Shreveport, Louisiana; Dr. Robert Stallworth and Ferdie Gonzales provided significant corrections. Scott Dirks gave us full information on the Little Walter session that now sits at the head of the 1953 newly recorded listing, and improved our listing for the session of May 22, 1954. Bill Daniels researched Billboard from 1953 through 1955 to find the first mentions of most Chess and Checker releases during that period. Dave Sax provided corrections to our Eddie Boyd listings (email communication, September 7, 2006). Moanin' at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin' Wolf, by James Segrest and Mark Hoffman (New York: Pantheon, 2004) contains a valuable sessionography.

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 date of the company's move to 4750 South Cottage Grove and the occasional recording activity in the back room there.


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