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HISTORY OF THE MUSIC BIZ:
CHESS MASTERS

In this latest excerpt from our recently published special issue, History of the Music Biz: The Mike Sigman Interviews, Marshall Chess relates some delectable details about growing up in the family business.

 

Leonard, Marshall and Phil Chess

When Marshall was eight, Leonard introduced him to the magic of the recording studio. It was the 1950 session that produced the first Chess release, “My Foolish Heart” by tenor sax great Gene Ammons. Marshall was too young and too tired to take in the immensity of it all, but he sensed that something mysterious and special was happening.

“It was late at night, and I couldn’t stay awake,” Marshall remembers. “They put two chairs together to make a bed for me, and I dozed through the whole thing. But I got a taste for the recording studio. Over the years, I learned how to produce by spending many, many hours in the Chess Studios with my uncle and my father.”

When Leonard wasn’t in the studio, he tended to be on the road, and sometimes Marshall went along, visiting scores of record stores, distributors and radio stations. Leonard taught Marshall to shake hands, make friends with the right people and promote Chess’s inventory.

“We always had product in the trunk. We had the preachers, like Reverend C. L. Franklin, Aretha’s father. We were selling sermons on 78. This was before there were preachers on radio or TV.”

Marshall’s grandfather had taught him to drive when he was 10—one time Leonard slept while his son sat on a pillow and drove all the way from Chicago to Mobile, Ala.

Marshall is up front about the payola—legal back then—that greased the industry’s wheels in those frontier days. “All the early record business people did it. They did everything—found the artist, A&R’d it, promoted it, distributed it and got airplay. Thank God for payola. Without it, the indie record industry would never have happened. It would have been stifled by the majors.”


 To obtain a copy of History of the Music Biz: The Mike Sigman Interviews, contact Robin at (323) 946-7600.

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