Released in early February 1993 in the USA - the 101 tracks on this 4CD box represented the first proper overview by MCA of the Chess Blues legacy since their acquisition of its entire catalogue way back in 1985. And even now (in early 2015) with many subsequent compilations and box sets having followed - I estimate there are still at least 20 to 30 tracks exclusive to this superb box set.
Each CD on "Chess Blues" has a themed label (listed below) - here's a basic breakdown of what's on MCA/Chess CHD4-9340 (Barcode 076732934029):
Disc 1, 1947-1952, 25 Tracks, Yellow Aristocrat Label (73:31 minutes): 1. Lollypop Mama- CLARENCE SAMUELS 2. Bilbo Is Dead - ANDREW TIBBS 3. Johnson Machine Gun - SUNNYLAND SLIM 4. Fly Right, Little Girl - SUNNYLAND SLIM 5. Little Anna Mae - MUDDY WATERS 6. I Can't Be Satisfied - MUDDY WATERS 7. My Sweet Lovin' Woman - ROBERT NIGHTHAWK 8. I Feel Like Going Home - MUDDY WATERS 9. She Ain't Nowhere - SUNNYLAND SLIM 10. Florida Hurricane - ST. LOUIS JIMMY 11. Memory Of Sonny Boy - FOREST CITY JOE 12. Tonky Boogie - FOREST SYKES 13. Cryin' The Blues - LAURA RUCKER 14. My Head Can't Rest Anymore - BABY FACE LEROY 15. Big Town Playboy - JOHNNY JONES 16. Sweet Black Angel - ROBERT NIGHTHAWK 17. Rollin' Stone - MUDDY WATERS 18. Luedella - JIMMY ROGERS 19. Mother Earth - MEMPHIS SLIM 20. Dr. Ross' Boogie - DOCTOR ROSS 21. Joliet Blues - JOHNNY ROSS 22. Moanin' at Midnight - HOWLIN' WOLF 23. All Night Long (Alternate Take) - MUDDY WATERS 24. Mr. Commissioner (Alternate Take) - ARBEE STIDHAM 25. Getting Old And Grey - HOWLIN' WOLF
Disc 2, 1952-1954, 25 Tracks, Blue Chess Label (73:01 minutes): 1. Walkin' The Boogie (Alternate Take) - JOHN LEE HOOKER 2. Juke - LITTLE WALTER 3. Conjur Man - MEMPHIS MINNIE 4. Who's Gonna Be Your Sweet Man When I'm Gone - MUDDY WATERS 5. Broken Heart (Alternate Take) - MEMPHIS MINNIE 6. Truckin' Little Woman - WILLIE NIX 7. Funeral Hearse At My Door - ROCKY FULLER 8. Hard Time Gettin' Started - EDDIE BOYD 9. Don't Need No Horse - LITTLE WALTER 10. Eight Ball - GUS JENKINS 11. Fast Boogie - LITTLE WALTER 12. I'm Mad - WILLIE MABON 13. Ice Cream Man - JOHN BRIM 14. Whose Muddy Shoes - ELMORE JAMES 15. Got To Have It - WILLIE MABON 16. I Declare That Ain't Right - HENRY GRAY 17. Remember - ALBERTA ADAMS 18. [Untitled Instrumental] - HENRY GRAY 19. Blues With A Feeling - LITTLE WALTER 20. (I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man - MUDDY WATERS 21. Forty-Four - HOWLIN' WOLF 22. Got To Find My Baby (Alternate Take) - LITTLE WALTER 23. Evil - HOWLIN' WOLF 24. Reconsider Baby - LOWELL FULSON 25. Mama Talk To Your Daughter - J.B. LENIOR
Disc 3, 1954-1960, 26 Tracks, Plum Checker Label (73:08 minutes): 1. Mellow Down Easy - LITTLE WALTER 2. My Eyes (Keep Me In Trouble) - MUDDY WATERS 3. My Baby - LITTLE WALTER 4. You Got To Love Me - BILLY BOY ARNOLD 5. Walking The Blues - WILLIE DIXON 6. Don't Start Me To Talkin' - SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON II 7. Smokestack Lightning - HOWLIN' WOLF 8. Twenty-Nine Ways To My Baby's Door - WILLIE DIXON 9. Right To Love You - PAUL GAYTON 10. Ain't Nobody's Business - JIMMY WITHERSPOON 11. I'm Leaving You - OTIS SPANN 12. Break Of Day - HOWLIN' WOLF 13. Please Don't Go - FLOYD DIXON 14. Keep It To Yourself - SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON II 15. Walking By Myself - JIMMY ROGERS 16. Got My Mojo Working - MUDDY WATERS 17. Fattening Frogs For Snakes (Alternate Take) - SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON II 18. Slow Leake - LaFAYETTE LEAKE 19. Sitting On Top Of The World - HOWLIN' WOLF 20. She Don't Know - J.B. LENIOR 21. Your Funeral And My Trial - SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON II 22. Key To The Highway - LITTLE WALTER 23. Double Trouble (Alternate Take) - MUDDY WATERS 24. Come On Home - EDDIE BOYD 25. The Goat - SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON II 26. So Many Roads, So Many Trains - OTIS RUSH
Disc 4, 1960-1967, 25 Tracks, Brown Argo Label (71:30 minutes): 1. First Time I Met The Blues - BUDDY GUY 2. Too Poor - DETROIT JUNIOR 3. Blue Shadows - LOWELL FULSON 4. The Shakedown - LLOYD GLENN 5. Sun Is Shining (Alternate Take) - ELMORE JAMES 6. Calling On My Darling - ALBERT KING 7. The Red Rooster - HOWLIN' WOLF 8. Nine Below Zero - SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON 9. Goin' Down Slow - HOWLIN' WOLF 10. Satisfied - LITTLE MILTON 11. Something's Got A Hold On Me - ETTA JAMES 12. Wrinkles - THE BIG THREE TRIO 13. Bring It On Home - SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON 14. Good Moanin' Blues - BIG WALTER HORTON 15. Killing Floor - HOWLIN' WOLF 16. What Kind Of Man Is That? - KOKO TAYLOR 17. We're Gonna Make It - LITTLE MILTON 18. Wang Dang Doodle - KOKO TAYLOR 19. Dirty Work Goin' On - LITTLE JOE BLUE 20. One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer - JOHN LEE HOOKER 21. Jinglin' Baby - EDDIE "GUITAR" BURNS 22. That's Why I Don't Mind - MUDDY WATERS 23. Keep It To Myself - BUDDY GUY 24. Sitting Here Alone - HOUND DOG TAYLOR 25. I'd Rather Go Blind - ETTA JAMES
"Chess Blues" was produced and co-compiled by ANDY McKAIE and features a wonderful 64-page booklet detailing track-by-track liner notes by MARY KATHERINE ALDIN of the LIVING BLUES Magazine (she handled the liner notes for many of the early Chess compilations). The text is peppered with classy black & whites photos of Chess giants like MUDDY WATERS, JOHN LEE HOOKER, LITTLE WALTER, HOWLIN' WOLF, WILLIE DIXON, SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON, CHUCK BERRY and ETTA JAMES. There are a few reproduced trade adverts and an opening comment by PHIL CHESS. Best of all though is the read - the paragraphs have great insights into the songs and revelatory information on long forgotten artists like LAURA RUCKER, ROBERT NIGHTHAWK and ARBEE STIDHAM. Just like Peter Grendysa's liner notes in the "Chess Rhythm & Roll" box that followed it, the booklet in this is a peach.
Remastered from Aristocrat and Chess master tapes by ERICK LABSON (over 1000 credits to his name), the sound is great throughout - excepting a few tracks dubbed from disc ("Memory Of Sonny Boy" by FOREST CITY JOE from 1949 is one of them).
The music is far grittier than the "Rhythm & Roll" box where the Blues morphed into Rhythm 'n' Blues and then into Soul - but it's equally brilliant. Unreleased gems include the fabulous piano-boogie of "Cryin' The Blues" by LAURA RUCKER sounding like a blues'd up version of Nellie Lutcher (lyrics above) - and a truly electrifying stripped down alternate take of "All Night Long" by Muddy Waters (just Muddy on guitar and Little Walter on harmonica) where he wants his woman to "rock me...all night long...'til my back has no bone..."
All the huge hits of the genre are gathered here in one place - Muddy's "I Just Can't Be Satisfied" and "Hoochie Coochie Man", Wolf's "Killing Floor", Mabon's "I'm Mad", Little Walter's "My Baby", Sonny Boy Williamson's "Bring It On Home" and Koko Taylor's fab R'n'B crossover hit "Wang Dang Doodle". It ends with a nod towards the Sixties Blues Rock revolution with the Etta James original "I'd Rather Go Blind" which Britain's Chicken Shack made into an anthem. Oh - and a certain band named themselves after the Muddy Waters track "Rollin' Stone"....
Over 20 years after its release - listening to "Chess Blues" is still a fabulous experience - and although it's not nearly as rare as it's follow-up set "Chess Rhythm & Roll" - it's just as desirable...
PS: See also 5 separate reviews - the 1994 4CD box set "Chess Rhythm & Roll" - the mammoth 15CD box set "The Chess Story 1947-1975" issued in 2000 and it's 3 separate parts issued as stand-alone 5CD sets in 2003
Having purchased this boxset's companion Chess Rhythm & Roll, and being suitably impressed I then bought this. I'm glad to say that I did.
Dedicated to Willie Dixon, bass player, producer and song writer for Chess for nearly 20 years, who sadly passed away the same year that this was released, the set comes housed in a strong cardboard long box in the shape of a crocodile skin guitar case. The music is spread over four CDs, the tracks arranged chronologically, disc 1 1947-1952; disc 2 1952-1954; disc 3 1954-1960 & disc 4 1960-1967. It also comes with a 62 page booklet with detailed discographies of the tracks, intersperced with a short potted history of Chess Records, and quotations from the major players such as Phil & Marshall Chess. Written by Mary Katherine Aldin, the notes are informative and helps to put each track in its context. There are lots of photographs as well of the individual acts and trade advertisements.
Unlike its companion 'Chess Rhythm & Roll' you don't get the breadth of artists. This does not mean though that the quality is any less, in fact the exact opposite is the case. Considering Chess is synonymous with Chicago Blues, the music doesn't disappoint, it is simply brilliant throughout. You have the usual suspects such as Muddy Waters (represented by 11 songs including 'I Can't Be Satisfied' & 'Hoochie Coochie Man'), Howlin' Wolf (10 songs including 'Moanin' At Midnight' and 'Evil', Little Walter (8 songs, 'Juke' & 'Blues With a Feeling') Sonny Boy Wiilliamson (7 songs including 'Your Funeral & My Trial') and Willie Dixon himself on two tracks. But it is the lesser known artists and their songs, some never released on CD before, which, even 20 years later, are difficult to find anywhere else that really make this collection special. Artists such as Sunnyland Slim, Lafayette Leake, Jimmy Rodgers, Otis Span & Walter Horton who were an integral part of the Chess house band are all represented here, as are John Lee Hooker (both his 50's and 60's sessions) & Elmore James from their brief stints at Chess. There are plenty of previously unreleased or alternative mixes to found throughout the set even for the big artists such as Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson & Little Walter; although a few of them have since been released on other sets (such as the Little Walter The Complete Chess Masters (1950-1967) from Hip-O Select) the scarce nature of these collections means that this is still the best way to get hold of them.
The sound is excellent, considering the age now of the remasters. The engineer is Erick Labson who has since this set masterminded most if not all the Chess re-releases and even though some rare recordings (Forrest Sykes 'Memory of Sonny Boy' & Dr. Isaiah Ross 'Dr. Ross' Boogie') had to be taken from 78's as the original masters had gone missing, even those have been handled with the care and respect they deserve. As a detailed primer for Chicago Blues there is simply no better set out there for the price, even after 20 years.
This handsome boxset, complete with a large booklet, is a superb addition to your blues collection, even if you already have the best of the major Chess artists such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson II. There are bound to be some tracks, especially by Waters and the Wolf, that overlap with what most blues lovers already own, but the "Chess Blues" compilers have done a very fine job assembling dozens of rarer tracks by artists like Robert Nighthawk, Sunnyland Slim, Otis Rush, Memphis Minnie McCoy, Lowell Fulson, Willie Mabon, Elmore James, Jimmy Oden and many others. And these high quality tracks, which make up the vast majority of the 101 cuts, make "Chess Blues" a very welcome supplement to the many available compilations featuring Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Little Walter Jacobs.
A fantastic overview of what Chess records was all about. I bought this years ago on a foray to the USA and it is still one of my absolute treasures. Accompanying booklet is of great interest, but it's the music that fascinates.If you have a few shekels, invest. You will not be disappointed!