Phil Chess, co-founder of Chicago’s legendary Chess Records, died last night at his Arizona home. He was 95 years old.
The sons of Polish immigrants, Phil and his brother Leonard started Chess Records in Chicago’s south side in 1950, quickly transforming into a hub for black musicians to write and record some of r&b’s earliest treasures, with an all-star roster that included the likes of Chuck Berry (who turned 90 yesterday and announced his first album in nearly 40 years,) Muddy Waters, Bo Diddly, Etta James, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy and seemingly countless other blues and rock luminaries. Chess Records remained active throughout rock’s infamous “death” in 1960 and well into the following decade, but the brothers sold their namesake label in 1969 to General Recorded Tape (GRT.) Tragically, Leonard died only months after the sale.
Phil left the industry in 1972, retiring and taking residence in Tucson, Arizona where he’d live out the remainder of his life. But the Chess imprint remains an iconic one, and music as we know it will forever be indebted to it, the brothers that brought it into the world, and with it, some of the most influential voices to ever grace airwaves.