Saturday, 23 February 2019

A Complete Introduction To Chess

  

This is a truly wonderful, invigorating, life-affirming compilation from the now defunct Chess Records, launched by Chicago brothers Leonard and Phil Chess in the late nineteen forties. The label was responsible for bringing to the world the sound of blues, early rock 'n' roll, original r 'n' b, some jazz and soul too. Artists such as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Willie Dixon were introduced to the world and notably to the young Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones, of course, and all the many UK blues-influenced bands like The Yardbirds, The Animals, The Kinks, Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall's Blues Breakers, Eric Clapton and many more. Then, lest we forget, there was Chess's biggest artist, the legendary Chuck Berry, who inspired so many.

The box set covers 4 CDs. They cover the development of the label, its artists and changing musical trends.

CD 1

This is a CD full of early blues material plus some ground-breaking early rock 'n' roll numbers. There is a case for 1951's "Rocket '88" by Jackie Brenston And His Delta Cats being the first true rock'n'roll record, (but many plead the case of 1949's "Rock Awhile" by Goree Carter). Chuck Berry's 1956 offering "Maybelline" pre-dated any Elvis rock 'n' roll recordings. Then there is the intoxicating rhythm of Bo Diddley's self-titled track. Lowell Fulson's "Reconsider Baby" was subsequently covered by Elvis. Thereafter it is blues all the way with iconic numbers such as Bo Diddley's "I'm A Man", Elmore James' "Dust My Broom", Muddy Waters' "Hoochie Coochie Man" and "Mannish Boy". Stuff like this would provide The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and many pub bluesers with covers for decades.

CD 2

This kicks off with Chuck Berry's rocking "Rock 'n' Roll Music". The classics come thick and fast now - Jimmy McCracklin's quirky, infectious "The Walk", Howlin' Wolf's totally iconic "Smokestack Lightnin'", Berry's "Johnny B. Goode", Dale Hawkins' "Susie Q", Etta James' magnificent "I Just Wanna Make Love To You" and Howlin' Wolf's "The Red Rooster". The Stones used the latter for "Little Red Rooster". Some really good cuts on here. There is also some rock 'n' roll- style doo-wop soul in Harvey & The Moonglows' "Ten Commandments Of Love" and some jazzy, swing in "(I Don't Know Why I Love You) But I Do" by Clarence "Frogman" Henry.

CD 3

Here we have Chess beginning to delve into soul, with numbers like "Rescue Me" by Fontella Bass, the Northern Soul classic "Landslide" by Tony Clarke and also jazzy material like "Wade In The Water" and "The In Crowd" by The Ramsey Lewis Trio. These two also became Northern Soul floor-fillers. Chuck Berry contributes two stonking rockers on this disc in "The Promised Land" and "No Particular Place To Go".

CD 4

Some copper-bottomed blues still finds its way on to the final disc - the lively "Wang Dang Doodle" by Koko Taylor and "I'd Rather Go Blind" by Etta James. Gritty, urban "blaxploitation" soul/funk arrives for the first time now in the shape of the marvellous, evocative "Woman Of the Ghetto" by Marlena Shaw; the impossibly funky "Evil" from, would you believe, Howlin' Wolf; and the psychedelic, hippy, trippy funk of "I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun" by Minnie Riperton and Rotary Connection. Why, even Muddy Waters went funky with "Tom Cat".

There is classic soul like Solomon Burke's "Let Me Wrap My Arms Around You" and Irma Thomas's "Good To Me". Also Northern Soul stompers like The Valentinos' "Sweeter Than The Day Before" and "Hold On" by the Radiants. We also get some novelty recordings in the infuriatingly singalong "Here Comes The Judge" by Pigmeat Markham and Chuck Berry's "My Ding-A-Ling". The less said about that one, the better. Other than it is the only duff track in one hundred of them.

B+

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