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Remembering Chess Records First Hit: Gene Ammons’ ‘My Foolish Heart’

Chess Records had its first hit record on 29 July 1950, Gene Ammons’ ‘My Foolish Heart’, then went on to provide the soundtrack to Black America in the 1950s.

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Gene Ammons And His Sextet My Foolish Heart

“The Blues is at the heart of popular music and Chess Records are at the heart of the Blues.”Buddy Guy

In the early 1947 two Polish-born, nightclub-owning brothers, Leonard and Philip Chess (real name Chez) bought into the established Aristocrat label and had their first major success was Muddy Waters, ‘I Can’t Be Satisfied’. Nearly two years later Leonard and Phil bought out their original partner and renamed their label Chess Records. The new label’s first release was the 78 RPM single ‘My Foolish Heart’ b/w ‘Bless You’ by saxophonist, Gene Ammons that was released as Chess 1425 in June 1950, going on to became the label’s biggest hit of the year after it entered the R&B chart on 29 July 1950. It was nothing like the sound that we have come to associate with the Chicago power house but it was still a great record.

In 1951, Chess began an association with Sam Phillips‘ Memphis Recording Service and as a result the label released ‘Rocket 88’ by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats which topped Billboard’s R&B Records chart. Ike Turner was the man behind what is regularly touted as the first ever rock and roll record but that is the subject of a whole other debate. One of the most important artists that signed to Chess through this association with the Memphis recording studio was Howlin’ Wolf, who stayed with the label until his death in 1976.

Along with these new names came other signings, including Jimmy Rogers, Eddie Boyd and his Chess Men, Willie Mabon, and Memphis Slim. By 1952 the Chess brothers started a subsidiary they named Checker; among those on this new label were Elmore James, Little Walter, Memphis Minnie and Sonny Boy Williamson.

Chess Records Roster
By 1955, Chess had expanded still further, as well as crossing over into the white Rock ‘n’ Roll market with Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. Soon Otis Rush and Buddy Guy joined Chess to give their sound a harder, younger edge. Much of Chess’s success was down to the excellent work of A&R man, composer, and general Mr Fix-it Willie Dixon. Dixon’s bass playing coupled with Fred Below’s peerless drumming are essential to the Chess sound.

Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s Chess records were the soundtrack to much of black America, they were the Motown Records of their day. Chess records were also treasured by young British guys, keen to hear the blues, who would write off to Chicago record stores to order the very latest recordings that they absorbed and copied. Soon enough British bands playing the blues were being listened to by white America, many of whom were unaware of the treasury of brilliant music that was theirs for the listening.

Without Chess Records there would have been no Rolling Stones… think on that…

Follow the Chess Records Essential playlist for more Chess classics.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Stephen Robinson

    June 8, 2014 at 9:39 am

    Its awesome that Iv seen so many people keeping the blues ALIVE!!!! More people need to realize this is where a lot of todays music comes from!!!!

  2. Cameron Tollick

    June 8, 2014 at 10:54 am

    I have been collecting Chess tracks for many years. I also have a number of books purely about Chess and Chess recording artists, including a full Chess discography.

    • HK

      January 4, 2016 at 11:13 pm

      I am also a collector of blues music and would be interested in any duplicates you may want to part with…

  3. Gabriela

    June 8, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Excelente sitio que brinda la oportunidad de informarse más acerca de estos magníficos músicos.

  4. Lori Graboyes

    June 8, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Where can i get a copy of this?

  5. Lee

    July 1, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    Without The great Little Richard, wouldn’t be no Rolling Stones,Bealtes and a lot more.. Peace

  6. Denis Sloan

    July 2, 2014 at 12:21 am

    The first time that I witnessed the Blues was in Belfast at a club called The Maritime Hotel. Alexis Korner. then Roary Gallagher next The Cream. Thie was the door opener to a musical journey In to Blues from the American South that lead to Chicago. . BB King Freddie King, Albert King and John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy . The first time I saw Muddy Waters was a experience I will always remember. Thanks to Chess records you brought this music to us white kids in the first Place.

  7. gaby

    July 2, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    desde argentina .el blues esta mas vivo que nunca,gracias por la musica !!!!!!!

  8. zerbael chee

    September 22, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    I was raised by my father,he was a Studio musician in the 50’s and early60’s ( single parent at that so I was lucky enough to be raised by the village two of my babysitters were From Chicago.Street players both so they played a few sessions at Chess,when somebody needed Back up they’ll go to Maxwell Street and find themselves a band)

  9. karl von getz

    July 17, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    Chess and Specialty Records were the two greatest record companies for Rhythm and Blues and Rock & Roll…I still have many of their ‘demo’ records on 78rpm…I wonder when they stopped making 78’s…and switched to 45’s…

  10. Cavelink

    July 18, 2015 at 6:09 pm

  11. Garland Floyd

    March 5, 2016 at 5:41 pm

    We have a Real Chess Record forum on Facebook, where we have 4,073 members. The Real Chess Record Forum discusses the artists, history and recordings of Chess Records including Aristocrat, Checker and ancillary labels that contributed recordings that ultimately ended up on Chess Labels. https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheRealChessRecordForum/1152604304779079/?notif_t=like

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