Chicago – Maybe you enjoy the blues; maybe you enjoy rock and roll. Either way, you should know about Chess Records a label and a studio on the South Side that helped shape music all over the world.
Chess Studios was home to dozens of legendary blues and rock musicians from 1957 to 1967.
Their location, 2120 South Michigan, is one of the most famous addresses in blues history. It’s a building so revered, the Rolling Stones wrote a song about it.
The Stones, like so many rock and rollers, developed their own sound based in large part on the music spawned there. It’s now the former home of Chess Records, a studio and recording company, which gave voice to so many legendary blues artists including Chuck Berry, who recorded Johnny B. Goode there in 1958.
The unusually angled walls and original baffling still exist, as does some original recording equipment. You can almost hear Muddy Waters, recording his classic Hoochie Coochie Man.
“This is Buddy Guy in his young days. He could have not been more than 23 years old,” said Marie Dixon, president of the Blues Heaven Foundation, pointing to a picture on the wall.
Dixon knew them all, including the men in the photo: Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters and Marie’s late husband, bassist, producer and writer extraordinaire, Willie Dixon.
The building is now home to the Willie Dixon Blues Heaven Foundation, whose mission is to not only honor the legacy of the most prolific writer of his era, but to preserve the Blues as an art form.
“If a tree is planted and not watered it dies, the root dies. So if they change music’s style and don’t think about where it started from, the blues is going to die,” Marie Dixon said.
The building, which is open to the public six days a week, is brimming with photos and artifacts — a tribute to the blues pioneers and those who followed.
Dixon has her favorites, those who pay homage to the past, like the iconic Eric Clapton,
Stone’ guitarist Ronnie Woods, who stops by every time he’s in town, and Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler, who kissed the floor when he visited, saying he had to pay his respects to the giants who came before.