Are you ready to join the blues music bandwagon or renew your membership in this seminal roots’ music sounding art form?
May I suggest checking out the just issued New Moves by the Chess Project, on Czyz Records, distributed by Orchard, akin to the similarly styled 2008 UK limited edition Chess Moves endeavor, both spearheaded by record business veteran Marshall Chess, scion of the Chess family, and former president of Rolling Stones Records 1970-1978.
New Moves is a collection of reinterpreted born in Chicago Chess classics done by a trio of musicians Marshall has known for decades. Some were by his previous association with the New Jersey-based Sugar Hill Records, who owned the Chess catalog, before it was sold in 1983 to MCA Records, now Universal Music Enterprises.
The epicenter of New Moves was Keith LeBlanc’s studio in Meriden, Connecticut.
Marshall Chess and Jamar Chess teamed with producer LeBlanc to dive into their family’s hallowed Chess Records vault; offering reinterpretations of Chess’ blues legends, many of whom Marshall worked with firsthand.
Featuring The Chess Project - a band hand-recruited by LeBlanc with Marshall and Jamar - the album highlights world class musicians who’ve backed artists like James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner as they reimagine Chess on the new collection New Moves, (Czyz Records), gems first recorded by Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Memphis Slim, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson and more.
Listen to The Chess Project’s New Moves here: https://orcd.co/newmoves
New Moves is an album nearly two decades in the making, conceived by Marshall Chess and Keith LeBlanc whom he met while working at the hip-hop label Sugar Hill Records (who helped launch artists like Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel).
The original idea was to use samples of the original Chess blues masters combined with new original instrumental tracks created by LeBlanc.
Legal issues using the original samples surfaced so the idea evolved to one which has become New Moves, a collection of reimagined recordings with songs selected by Marshall and production by LeBlanc. This transformation provides a starring role for longtime Rolling Stones backing vocalist Bernard Fowler.
The New Moves roster also includes world class percussionist Keith LeBlanc, Skip “Little Axe” McDonald (Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five) on guitar, Eric Gales (Santana, Gary Clark Jr., Lauryn Hill), Paul Nowinksi (Keith Richards, Patti Smith) and MonoNeon (Prince, Ne-Yo) on bass, Reggie Griffin (Kenny Babyface Edmonds, Chaka Khan) on keys, and Alan Glen (Jeff Beck, Peter Green) on harmonica, and Mohini Dey, an up-and-coming young bass player from India.
The Chess family are clearly no strangers to a trailblazing path. After spending his early years alongside his father Leonard and uncle Phil in Chicago studios and record pressing plants, Marshall Chess made his mark at the family label in the late '60s with his own label Cadet Concept producing the albums Electric Mud (Muddy Waters) and Rotary Connection (self-titled).
Marshall continued his innovative work as the founder and head of Rolling Stones Records and President of music publisher, Arc Music.
The Chess family continue to be pioneers in the industry today; as this new collection is co-executive produced by Marshall’s son, Jamar Chess: a Billboard "30 Under 30" alum, 2019 ASCAP award-winner, and co-founder of Sunflower Entertainment and Wahoo Music Fund One.
Marshall and Jamar have founded the special project label Czyz Records- an ode to the Chess family’s original last name - which is the record label behind New Moves.
NEW MOVES - THE CHESS PROJECT TRACKLIST
- Boom Boom Out Go The Lights
- Moanin’ At Midnight
- Nine Below Zero
- So Glad I’m Living
- Tell Me
- Mother Earth
- Goin’ Down Slow
- High Temperature
- Smokestack Lightning
- Help Me
“Last decade Keith built a studio in his house,” Marshall Chess explained in a December 2023 Zoom interview.
“I loaned him some money for equipment. We did the album Chess Moves, using the original tracks of the blues artists. We got permission from Universal in the UK and it came out for about a month and local L.A. office squashed it,” Chess lamented
“Meanwhile, Keith really learned how to be an engineer with his studio. And wanted to do another one where I picked the tracks. So, my son Jamar and I got going.
“In the meantime, Alistair Norbury, president of BMG repertoire and marketing asked me what I was doing now, and I had a demo of what Keith and I were working on.
“I played it for him. ‘Can I buy it.’ He loved it. So, Keith, Skip, Bernard myself and Jamar are all partners in an equal new deal. Then my back collapsed, I had operations, Brexit, and then Covid hit, and the BMG offices were closed in London.
“I called Alistar at BMG. I love the guy. I wanted to buy it back and he gave it back to me. They are still in on it as music publishers. I made the deal 15 years ago to sell our Chess (Arc Music Publishing) to Fuji Entertainment who subsequently sold it to BMG.
“An Australian publisher read the 2023 article on me in The New Yorker, heard the album, and made a deal with us. There is a song on New Moves, ‘Hi Temperature,’ a globally relevant track about climate change.
“As far as the songs selected for New Moves, this album almost all of the songs are personally related to songs I’ve used in my life for my own psychological therapy. I learned that my father [Leonard] would always look for things in lyrics like love, pain, sorrow. ‘My wife cheated on me.’ I learned that from him. I realized many years ago when I made compilations of blues artists that there was a therapeutic value of the songwriters and recording artists.
“These people, they couldn’t go to therapists or psychologists. They were all coming up from the south and their girls are all getting fucked by men city slickers and they were all having problems. And they heard other people with the same problems. You hear it in these psychological blues lyrics: ‘Another Mule Kickin’ In Your Stall.’
“That is exactly why I picked these songs. I’ve been divorced. I’m man enough to say I’ve had girlfriends cheat on me. All of that happened to me. In the old days back at Chess, all of these musicians, between takes, would be talking’ about pussy if my father didn’t have them do extra takes on a recording.
“Then there’s some cuts, like Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Goin’ Down Slow.’ That’s me. I’m age 81,” volunteers Marshall. “My father was a workaholic and I wanted to be around him. He was my hero.
“My father and I never did sports together. I probably went to ten White Sox [baseball] games and four Bears [football] games. My father never went to one, but he was working. My uncle Phil [Chess] got a college scholarship playing halfback in football. Phil did give scholarships to numerous athletes over the years.”
Marshall Chess is prominently featured and interviewed in the Born In Chicago blues documentary. A Ravin' Film presented by Shout! Studios and Out The Box Records.
It’s directed by Bob Sarles and John Anderson and produced and edited by Bob Sarles. Christina Keating serves as co-producer and story editor. Contributors are Marshall Chess, Barry Goldberg, Nick Gravenites, Harvey Mandel, Sam Lay, Charlie Musselwhite, Elvin Bishop, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Bob Dylan and Keith Richards.
“The Chess brothers and their record labels were instrumental in popularizing the blues music of Chicago’s South Side,” emailed Born In Chicago co-director and co-producer Bob Sarles in summer 2022.
“Marshall Chess has kept that flame burning to the present day. His story about The Rolling Stones’ visit to the Chess Records studio is a highly entertaining part of our documentary.”
Marshall and Jamar Chess are also now reaching the TikTok generation and internet audience, reminding them of the family legacy with their own podcasts and the inviting Chess Records Tribute YouTube channel.
Marshall spiels Chess history coupled with vintage photos and video content. It’s a stellar collaboration with Richard Ganter, author of Chess Record Corp A Tribute, published in 2020 by Upfront Publishing. The awe-inspiring book includes complete R&B chart entry history of Chess Records and the Chess family archive contributions. Foreword by Marshall and Introductions by Ganter.
“It's already the greatest blues channel on that's out there,” enthused Chess. “We’re working with Richard on our YouTube channel to promote his book and Chess history. So, I became the voice you've hearing. I'm telling stories, whatever. And the reason I did it, though, is I have my son Jamar and my two granddaughters.
“I thought that they'll never read a book about this great Chess record label, and, this channel with my voice and everything. It will blow their fucking minds when they're 16 or 18. That's why I did it. You can find out how Afro-American blues from the Delta took the world by storm.
“I learned how to do it, so we keep doing it now. And, we found that people like the stories that we're doing, folk tales. I'm going to do all these little stories. Because that's what people want, like Will Rogers did, because no one else is alive. They're not alive. People are coming to the channel over and over. We’ve got to where it's 400 videos. What blues music freak wouldn't want to look at those 400 videos we’ve found. You know I mean? So, just check it out.
“See, Chess Records, we were the first. That's why I say Chess is so much more than blues. We were the first with gospel that did that all over the South. We had all the Black comedy. Moms Mabley, Pigmeat Markham.
“Watching the Chess heritage going into the digital world and the sound which was made still penetrates. Is it reaching a new demographic. We've got two years of data on the YouTube channel. And, now we've got it for an audience from streaming. It looks like people who listen to blues are males over 50, like 85 percent.
“But the internet has opened it up to all this. People don't know the blues in Bulgaria. And they're finding out they're able to hear and see it. And there's a certain thing with the blues, with certain people, they hear it. That's why it keeps never going away. There's a new and growing world. Even though the audience is older, it keeps replenishing like jazz. It's similar, it keeps replenishing.”
Harvey Kubernik is the author of 20 books, including 2009’s Canyon Of Dreams: The Magic And The Music Of Laurel Canyon, 2014’s Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll In Los Angeles 1956-1972, 2015's Every Body Knows: Leonard Cohen, 2016's Heart of Gold Neil Young and 2017's 1967: A Complete Rock Music History of the Summer of Love.
Sterling/Barnes and Noble in 2018 published Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik’s The Story Of The Band: From Big Pink To The Last Waltz. In 2021 they wrote Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child for Sterling/Barnes and Noble.
Otherworld Cottage Industries in 2020 published Harvey’s It Was 50 Years Ago Today The Beatles Invade America and Hollywood. Kubernik’s Docs That Rock, Music That Matters was published by Otherworld Cottage Industries during 2020.
In October 2023, ACC ART BOOKS LTD published THE ROLLING STONES: ICONS. Introduction is penned by Harvey Kubernik. The volume spans six decades of tours, album covers, and eminent names in photography.
Kubernik’s writings are in book anthologies, including, The Rolling Stone Book Of The Beats and Drinking With Bukowski. Harvey wrote the liner notes to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s Tapestry, The Essential Carole King, Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, Elvis Presley The ’68 Comeback Special, The Ramones’ End of the Century and Big Brother & the Holding Company Captured Live at The Monterey International Pop Festival.
During 2006 Kubernik spoke at the special hearings initiated by The Library of Congress in Hollywood, California, discussing archiving practices and audiotape preservation. In 2017 Harvey appeared at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio in their Distinguished Speakers Series, and lectured in 2023 at a Grammy Museum Reel to Reel event.
Kubernik was a West Coast /Director of A&R for MCA Records (now Universal Music Enterprises) during 1978-1979.
Harvey is a native of Los Angeles, California. His parents Marshall and Hilda hail from Chicago. Marshall’s mother Revetta and Hilda both graduated from Chicago’s Von Steuben High School. The landmark institution which graces the cover of Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little 16 LP, originally issued by Chess.