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Before Motown

Before Motown

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Published by kalasanty

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Published by: kalasanty on Dec 24, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Before Motown, There was
Atlantic and Chess.
Jan 03 '04
The Bottom Line
Many consider Motown Records to be the father of modern day Rock andRoll. If so, then Atlantic and Chess Records MUST be considered the Grandfather.I once wrote a essay entitled "Is Rap Music Bad for African Americans". Some peoplemisunderstood the direction of my essay and unfortunately it raised a few hackles.In that essay,http://www.epinions.com/content_3591086212I recounted how in mychildhood I had perseverated on Black, Rhythm and Blues (the precursor of Rock and Roll)music and artists. These artists and the many who came before them, whom I unfortunatelynever heard and whom I can't identify, are the true driving force in the creation of Rock musicand by extension my current favorite, certain kinds of Metal Music.If I may be metaphoric, picture a rose bud. Think of it as Rhythm and Blues, the father of Rock and Roll. As the bud opens petals start to become individual sub genres of Rock andRoll. As the years pass we get more and more petals. We get Pop, Soft Rock, Pop Rock, HardRock, Alternative rock, Punk Rock, Heavy Metal, etc. Some petals fall off and are not heardfrom again but new petals take their place. Pychedelic rock, Art Rock, Folk rock, Rockabilly,Hair Metal, Progressive Rock/Metal, Euro rock, Electronica, Industrial Rock, etc. Will theR&B flower ever run out of petals? I doubt it.I can't imagine what music would be like if not for these pioneers of Rock. The music beforewas infinitely boring with titles like "Papa loves Mombo", "On Top of Old Smokey" and (I'mnot kidding) "How Much is that Doggie in the Window". In all fairness, there was some goodstuff as well, songs like "Ghost Riders in The Sky", "Cool Water", "Hernado's Hideaway",and "Cry" by early 50's heart-trob
Johnny Ray
, but overall pre-rock and roll music was bland.With the birth of Rock and Roll came the advent of diversity. Before, music was like Creamof Wheat, after, it's more like spicy, Chili Con Carne with crackers. We have gone fromvanilla ice cream to hot fudge sundaes with nuts and whipped cream. Thank God for Rock 
and Roll.Which brings me to the subject(sorta) of my essay. While there's no denying the importanceof Motown Records contributions for African American Music, they were not around in theearly years. The artists I listened to in my adolescent and teen years recorded on labels such asVee Jay, Imperial, Checker, King, Ace, Crown, Sun and probably the most important labelsAtlantic/Atco and Chess/Checker Records.All of these early Indie labels, including some Black owned, and to a much lesser extent,major labels such as Decca, Mercury and RCA Victor, contributed to the fledgling rock androll evolution but none more than Atlantic/Atco and especially Chess/Checker Records.
Chess/Checker Records
 Started by Polish immigrant brothers Leonard and Phil Chess in 1947 bought an exitingcompany called Aristocrat Records and changed the name to Chess Records, "The home of the Electric Blues". The Chess brothers knew exactly what kind of music they wanted for there label, Black Jazz and Blues. With the landing of 
Muddy Waters
the tone was set andhis acquisition set Chess apart from all the hundreds of other R&B companies springing uparound the country.They may have been Polish but this is no joke, the Chess brothers knew the Blues and withina couple years had a stable of extraordinarily talented Black artists to be the envy of theindustry. In addition to
Muddy Waters
(Mckinley Morganfield), labelmates
Howlin Wolf,Eddie Boyd, Memphis Slim, Willie Mabon, John Lee Hooker, Joe Turner, Little Walter,Otis Spann
Bobby Bland
were making Chess Records a leader in the Blues field.By 1955, Chess had added
Bo Diddley
Sonny Boy Williamson
but no one had theimpact on the company, the industry, even the country(at least til Presley) that
Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry
put Chess records on the map, and gave little Chess Records credibilitywith the big boys.With their trophy artist in hand Chess signed several new artists and groups.
The Moonglows
and the
in the fifties and
Buddy Ray, Otis Rush, Etta James, The Dells, Little
Milton Campbell
("We're Gonna Make It," "Who's Cheating Who?" and "Grits Ain'tGroceries."),
the Radiants
("Voice Your Choice"),
Billy Stewart
& the
Rhythm Aces
("Searching For My Love"),
Tony Clarke, James Phelps
, and
Bobby McClure
all recorded on Chess. Many other artists including a bevy of ladies alsorecorded for Chess but in 1969 things went bad.In 1969, Leonard Chess died, stilling the heart and soul of Chess Records. Previously thatyear, Phil and Leonard had sold the company to a company called GRT, who tried their bestto hold things together. Sadly, the momentum that had enabled Chess to become a giant, began to erode. In 1975, GRT closed down the logo, selling to All Platinum Records of Englewood, New Jersey.In 1985, MCA acquired the rights to the massive Chess treasure trove. At the start of 1987,MCA began to mount a long-term reissue campaign of the invaluable Chess masters - anongoing program that is gathering steam.
Atlantic/Atco Records
 While Chess was locking up many of the best R&B artists in the midwest, Atlantic and it'ssubsidiary Atco were becoming the Big Dogs of the East Coast R&B scene.As with Chess Records, Atlantic Records was founded in 1947. It's founder was the son of aformer Turkish Ambassador, Ahmet Ertegun. Ahmet's story is very interesting but for thesake of expediency I will move along.Unlike Chess Records which pretty much dealt only Black musicians, Atlantic was an equalopportunity record label.Atlantic's impressive list of artists included
Ray Charles, The Drifters, Clyde Mcphatter,Bobby Darin, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Yes, Herbbie Mann, Roberta Flack, Ruth Brown,Tori Amos, INXS, Bette Midler, The Coasters, The Robins, Aretha Franklin, TheCream, Sonny Bono, Sam and Dave, Foreigner, Phil Collins, Wilson Pickett
and on andon..........., which as you can see include both white and black artists.

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