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Chess Records (1966–75)

320 E 21st St.

Chicago’s most influential record company, Chess, moved to this eight-story factory building in 1966 and the location remained its base of operations until its end in 1975. With the additional space, the company was able to hire more writers, arrangers and musicians. Chess also bragged that it could record, mix, stamp and release its records in house so quickly that the label could “get a record on the market, from performance to record shop within 24 hours.” With these new capabilities, Chess continued to release excellent records, including albums from Terry Callier, The Dells and Rotary Connection under the leadership of Leonard Chess’ son, Marshall Chess. In-house arranger and producer Charles Stepney gave much of that music a classically informed ideas that were ahead of their time. He also guided the company’s veteran artists, like Muddy Waters, toward a sound that also embraced psychedelic rock. When California-based General Recorded Tape bought the company in 1969 and Leonard Chess died in October of that year, the company experienced considerable financial turbulence. Marshall and Phil Chess left the company during the 1970s, but which point its business had shifted to New York during its final years.

– A.C. 

Caption: Former location of Chess Records

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