|Stylistic origins||Delta blues, instrumentation|
|Cultural origins||Early twentieth century: Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Typical instruments||Electric guitar, harmonica, drums, piano, bass guitar, saxophone|
|Rock and roll - Rock music - Rhythm and blues|
The Chicago blues is a form of blues music indigenous to Chicago, Illinois. Chicago blues is a type of urban blues. Urban blues evolved from classic blues as a result of the great depression and developed in the first half of the twentieth century during the Great Migration, when Black workers moved from the Southern United States into the industrial cities of the Northern United States such as Chicago.
Urban blues started in Chicago and St. Louis, as music created by part-time musicians playing as street musicians, at rent parties, and other events within the black community. For example, bottleneck guitarist Kokomo Arnold was a steelworker and had a moonshine business that was far more profitable than his music.
One of the most important early incubators for Chicago blues was the open air market on Maxwell street. The Maxwell street market was one of the largest open air markets in the nation. Residents of the black community would frequent it to buy and sell just about anything. It was a natural location for blues musicians to perform. The standard path for blues musicians was to start out as street musicians and at house parties and to eventually make their way to blues clubs. The first blues clubs in Chicago were mostly in predominantly black neighborhoods on the South Side with a few in the smaller black neighborhoods on the West Side. One of the most famous was Ruby Lee Gatewood's Tavern, known by patrons as "The Gates". During the 1930s virtually every big name artist played there.
What drove the blues to international influence was the promotion of record companies such as Paramount Records, RCA Victor, and Columbia Records. Through such record companies Chicago blues became a commercial enterprise. The new style of music eventually reached Europe and the United Kingdom. In the 1960s, young British musicians were highly influenced by Chicago blues resulting in the British blues movement.
Well-known Chicago blues players include singer/songwriters such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, Earl Hooker, Slim Harpo and Koko Taylor; guitar players such as Freddie King, Otis Rush, Luther Allison, Magic Sam, Magic Slim, Syl Johnson, Jimmy Rogers, Buddy Guy, Robert Lockwood Jr., Bo Diddley, Mike Bloomfield, Homesick James, Johnny Shines, Johnny Young, Floyd Jones, Eddy Clearwater, Mighty Joe Young, Phil Guy, Lil' Ed Williams, J. B. Hutto, and Elmore James; harmonica players such as Big Walter Horton, Little Walter, Billy Boy Arnold, Charlie Musselwhite, Paul Butterfield, Junior Wells, Corky Siegel, Billy Branch, James Cotton, and Jimmy Reed; and keyboardists such as Otis Spann, Lafayette Leake, Blind John Davis, and Erwin Helfer
Notable record labels
Bluebird was an important Chicago blues label, notably due to the work of A&R/producer Lester Melrose, who created what is known as the "Bluebird Sound.". Many blues artists recorded for Bluebird, if only briefly, while Arthur Crudup, Lil Green and Tommy McClennan spent virtually their entire career with the label.
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.
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 Otis Rush, 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). 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 artistic vision.
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, Robert Lockwood 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 musicians such as Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Hound Dog Taylor and Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater.
Influence of Chicago blues
Chicago blues was one of the most significant influences on modern rock music. Chuck Berry originally signed with Chess records—one of the most significant Chicago blues record labels. Berry met and was influenced by Muddy Waters in Chicago and Waters suggested he audition for Chess. Willie Dixon and other blues musicians played on some of Berry's early records. Although The Beatles were not significantly influenced by Chicago blues music, later British invasion bands and artists such as The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and Rory Gallagher were all influenced by Chicago blues musicians such as Big Bill Broonzy, Son House, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf.
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While attending a nightclub in Chicago in 1955, Berry met his idol Muddy Waters and asked Waters where he might be able to cut a record. Waters directed him to Leonard Chess of Chess Records
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