Friday, April 6, 2018

On Finishing Rich Cohen’s Machers And Rockers....


I finished Rich Cohen’s Machers And Rockers, which I strongly recommend to anyone interested in the blues—namely, Mississippi Delta and Chicago South Side, in Chess Records, the first generation of Chicago Bluesmen, especially Muddy Waters and Little Walter, (not enough on Howlin’ Wolf, mind you), the transition from South Side electrified blues to rock and roll especially through the music and lyrics of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, who turned the great  mystery trains of the blues into speeding, screaming bullets, in the fascinating hustling record men like Leonard Chess, a huge focus of the book, mostly tough, pushy, aggressive, street wise, immigrant Jews, who formed independent labels and recorded black bluesmen and women that the majors wouldn’t touch, in fact, recorded them for black audiences that the majors didn’t care about, and, finally, sadly, how it all went south.

Here are a couple of tastes for your pleasure from near the book’s end, the sad going south part:

.....The executives at GRT said they wanted Chess Records to continue as before with Leonard at the helm, calling the shots, churning out the hits, but of course things started to change right away. In the corporate world, the only thing as important as money is control: which means no dope smoking in the back rooms, no black guys hanging out for no reason, no shouting in the halls, no ....”Get that fucking cocksucker on the fucking phone”..., no ...”Hey Marshall, run out and get Wolf a bottle of applejack”... Within a few months of the sale, 2120 South Michigan had been overrun by auditors, managers, accountants, suit wearing Nancy boys, numbers crunchers, scolders and shushers, actual library- style shushers, who wanted to go over those numbers again, keep it quiet in the lobby, contain and control all that noise and action that might seem like chaos but was in fact the rhythm section of the label. Without it, the song had no drive.  It was like trying to run a crime family without all those aimless espresso drinking hours at the social club. Leonard responded by staying away, coming in late, leaving early, spending more time at WVON (me: his radio station.) He was concerned only with securing a place for Marshall, (me: his son), protecting him from the corporation. “It was like cancer from the moment GRT arrived,” Marshall told me. “They we’re sending me to budget meetings. Chess was never run that way, we never had budget meetings, never thought about how many hits we were going to have. We just hoped and kept trying.  Now it was a public corporation, and we had to submit shit to the shareholders.”....


....Chess records pressed more than music—it pressed the mystique and style of Rock and Roll. Artists like Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley invented the sound, the swagger: Diddley sings, ...”I walked forty-seven miles of barbed wire, I got a cobra snake for a neck tie.” Leonard invented the image and style of the record executive, the cigar smoking presence behind the music. It was an accidental invention, Leonard being Leonard, but there is no way to look at postwar social history without looking at Chess. He created an image as archetypal and American as the woodsman or logger or city desk editor. The record man—rough and vulgar and comical and irritating and cheap and rude, but when you shook his hand, you knew you had really met someone....

No comments:

Post a Comment