The Chicago blues is a form of blues music that
developed in Chicago, Illinois, by taking the basic acoustic guitar and
harmonica-based Delta blues, making the harmonica louder with a
microphone and an instrument amplifier, and adding electrically
amplified guitar, amplified bass guitar, drums, piano and sometimes
saxophone and trumpet. The music developed in the first half of the
twentieth century due to the Great Migration (African American) when
Black workers moved from the South into the industrial cities of the
North such as Chicago.
Originally, the Chicago Blues was street-corner based music. But
after the music quickly gained popularity, it became a giant commercial
enterprise. Soon the new style of music reached out and touched Europe,
which led to many famous English rock n' roll bands to get their
inspiration from the Chicago Blues.
At first, the Blues clubs in Chicago were filled with Black
performers, and the music itself was aimed for Black audiences. Most of
the Blues clubs were on the far south side of Chicago, so White people
did not visit them. Later, however, more and more White audiences
visited the clubs and listened to the music. This caused clubs to open
up on the north side. In addition, more White men started playing the
Blues after it became popular.
Moanin' At Midnight
Chicago Blues has a more extended palette of notes than the standard
six-note blues scale; often, notes from the major scale and dominant 9th
chords are added, which gives the music a more of a "jazz feel" while
remaining in the confines of the blues genre. Chicago blues is also
known for its heavy rolling bass. Like Delta Blues, Chicago Blues often
uses a harmonica and occasionally saxophones.
Well-known Chicago blues players include singer/songwriters
such as Muddy Waters,
Howlin' Wolf, and
Willie Dixon; guitar players
such as Freddie King,
Magic Sam, Syl Johnson,
McKinley Mitchell, Bo Diddley,
Mike Bloomfield and
Elmore James; and harmonica
players such as Big Walter
Horton, Little Walter,
Paul Butterfield and
Junior Wells. Also
Notable record labels
Chess Records, run by brothers Leonard and Phil Chess, was
probably the most famous of the Chicago record labels to feature or
promote the blues. Musician and critic Cub Koda even described Chess
Records as "America's greatest blues label." It was active from
1950–1969 when the brothers sold the company. Most solo artists also did
double duty as session musicians on the records of others.
Checker Records was a subsidiary of Chess that recorded Chicago blues
greats such as Bo Diddley,
J. B. Lenoir,
Jr. and Sonny Boy
Cobra Records (together with its Artistic subsidiary) was an independent
record label that operated from 1956 to 1959. The label was important
for launching the recording careers of Chicago blues artists
Magic Sam, and
Buddy Guy. It signaled the
emergence of a distinctive West Side Sound.
Cobra Records was started on Chicago's West Side in 1956 by Eli
Toscano (a record store and television-repair shop owner) and Howard
Bedno. When his previous record label, Abco Records, failed to generate
much interest, Toscano approached Willie Dixon about working for Cobra.
Dissatisfied with his arrangement with Chess Records, Dixon joined
Cobra. There he served in many capacities, including talent scout,
producer, arranger, songwriter, and bassist, as well as guiding its
Delmark was formed when Bob Koester moved his Delmar label from St.
Louis to Chicago in 1958 and remains active today. They are still known
for Jazz and Blues. Artist recorded by the label includes Roscoe
Mitchell, Junior Wells,
Jr.. and Sonny
Boy Williamson II.
Bruce Iglauer, a former employee of Delmark, formed Alligator Records in
1971. Alligator Records remains a premier blues label to this day. They
have recorded Chicago blues greats such as
Hound Dog Taylor and
Eddy "The Chief"
Twinight Records was a minor American recording label, founded in
Chicago 1967 by Howard Bedno and Peter Wright, who later added E. Rodney
Jones as a partner. Specializing in R&B and soul music, for a few months
the label was called Twilight Records until it was discovered that
another company already owned the Twilight name. Over five years, the
label released (or at least recorded) 55 singles and charted seven
times. The label’s star was Syl Johnson, an established R&B performer
who had had a number of hits for King Records and who would have his
biggest hits for Hi Records in the 1970s. Johnson’s hits at Twinight
included "Come on Sock it to Me" (1967), "Sorry ‘Bout Dat", "Different
Strokes", "Is It Because I'm Black" (1969), and "Concrete Reservation".