In business, and probably in art too, such men have the advantage over the genus, who depends on the great big nothing, a flukey, unpredictable freak. Leonard could not spot a song, something he was criticized and mocked for, but he had a skill far more important: he could spot the man who could spot the song, woo him and hire him, and then when the gift goes away, dump him like an aging wife. It was not music Leonard had a talent for—it was people.
A bloodsucking skill because, if done right, it means, in a business sense, never growing old.
Will Self Goes In Search Of The American Blues
Willie Dixon would serve as the key man in the glory years, but in the beginning it was Sammy Goldberg. And it was Goldberg, one day when a musician did not turn up for a session, remembered the kid he had met in the union hall: Muddy Waters. My father wanted to make what black people wanted to buy. We were not out to make great music.
We were out to make hits, to make money. When the call came, Muddy was out on the truck—he had a job delivering Venetian blinds. The relative who took the message got in his car and raced around the city looking for Muddy, another moment so crucially cinematic you imagine it in storyboard: jagged lines, narrow streets, the big truck tearing around a corner.
When Muddy got the message, he ran to a phone and called his boss. He said his cousin had been found dead in an alley and he had to rush home. This lie is the original sin on which Muddy built his career—OK, not a deal with the Devil, but still pretty graphic and ghetto-y in a way meant to titillate the white boss. So here comes Muddy, and this guy walks in like John Wayne, a soldier back from the war, a farmer in the rain, drenched but not about to hurry. His first recordings were a classic case of trying too hard, copying the Bluebird beat.
In the second or third session, after he had burned up considerable tape and money, and the patience of Leonard was wearing thin—and as a Negro from the South Muddy could always sense the loss of patience in a white man—he figured, Fuck it, if I fail at least I will fail as myself, and launched into some old Delta Blues.
This is the moment the needle, after popping and hissing, falls into the groove and the music blasts away—a song that will play for the next thirty years. When the record was cut, Leonard kept it on the shelf. Muddy came in week after week to ask when it would hit the stores. If Leonard was your boyfriend, you would call him commitment-phobic: he recorded and recorded but seemed never to release. He blanched when it came to plunge, invest the money, press, and distribute. A record would spend years in larval form as an acetate, the big waxy master from which copies were made.
For every four songs recorded, maybe one was put into production.
To suspicious artists like Bo Diddley or Jimmy Rogers, it seemed a form of control, with the songs held as hostages. Leonard said he was in fact protecting his investment, guarding the reputation of his artists by only releasing quality—an assertion scoffed at until Leonard died and many of those shelf-bound originals were released. I made lots of stuff.
He tended to rely on oracles. The record was rushed into production. But these songs by Muddy—no one had ever made commercial records like this. It was music from the underclass, the language of rent parties and cotton fields. Who the fuck is going to buy that? In the end, it was not Leonard who had the guts to press and release—it was Evelyn Aron. She was in the business less for the money than for the connection to the real, and these songs were real. It was Evelyn who pushed Leonard to release that first record by Muddy.
The passage of time can diminish or enhance a song, or change it into something else. Songs that, on first release, were good but probably not mysterious, like early George Jones or Johnny Cash, are remade by time into hints of a vanished America, spooky in the way of old photographs. Time has made them into background noise, like a ragtime tune used in a documentary about the Jazz Age, so you must really work to hear them as they sounded in those first years, the novelty and charge and sex and dirt of them.
This is the part of the story where I am supposed to say this record, which the boss did not want to release, a record without precedent, made by a mostly illiterate black man Muddy could sign his name who, until a few years before, lived in a shack on the edge of a cotton field, became a surprise, runaway hit—and so it did! On the morning of its release, when Muddy walked to Maxwell Street to buy a coy, he was told, because the record was selling so fast, customers were allowed only two copies. Muddy bought two and sent his wife back for two more.
There was no radio, no advertising, no nothing.
The Devil’s Music: The Life And Legacy Of Robert Johnson | uDiscover
It was word of mouth. Leonard had stumbled upon a vast reserve: over a hundred thousand blacks from Mississippi who craved their own music. For everyone else, it was a change in the weather, an appearance of the real, Brando mumbling in a movie. It was like that commercial: she told two friends, and she told two friends, and so on, and so on. The record sold out by the end of the first day. Leonard pressed thousands more. He did not analyze this success or take it apart—he simply did what good merchants do: played out the string, not caring why it worked, just glad that it did.
He stayed with it until it redefined him: switched the label from sophisticated Blues to a down-home sound. Leonard was now the impresario of Delta Blues, music sold to the poorest people in the city. It reached top twenty in Billboard.
Keeping the Blues Alive
For Muddy, it was a strange sensation. As if he had cast off an image that had gone on to live a life of its own. What did it have to do with him? Late one night, he was driving alone through the city in his new convertible, the streets shut down and the windows dark and the dark towers like a distant line of hills, and that warm wind that blows all summer, and he heard a sound so forlorn and familiar he pulled over and sat for a long moment listening before he realized it was his own voice, his own song, floating down from the dark apartments above.
The book has been described as a tour-de-force history of Jews, blues, and the birth of a new industry. On the south side of Chicago in the late s, two immigrants, one a Jew born in Russia, the other a black blues singer from Mississippi met and changed the course of musical history. Muddy Waters electrified the blues, and Leonard Chess recorded it. This engrossing story shows how Leonard Chess, with the other record men, made this new sound into a multi-billion-dollar business aggressively acquiring artists, hard-selling distributors, riding the crest of a wave that would crash over a whole generation.
My father had a store on Maxwell Street, which is famous in blues history. Found at these bookshops Searching - please wait We were unable to find this edition in any bookshop we are able to search. These online bookshops told us they have this item:. Other suppliers National Library of Australia - Copies Direct The National Library may be able to supply you with a photocopy or electronic copy of all or part of this item, for a fee, depending on copyright restrictions.
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Public Private login e. Add a tag Cancel Be the first to add a tag for this edition. Lists What are lists? Login to add to list. Be the first to add this to a list. Comments and reviews What are comments? Related series Music in American Life. Edna Staples. Charlie Louvin. Ira Louvin. Woody Guthrie. Flora McDowell. Lucien McDowell.
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