Chicago Blues

The blues came to the Windy City during the 1930s and 1940s when a mass exodus occurred in the Deep South. During this period, Delta musicians headed north in search of job opportunities in factories. Soon the Chicago style of blues was born. In many respects, when people think of the blues they think of the Chicago sound. This is due in large part to the overwhelming popularity of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, two Delta guitarists/singers who almost singlehandedly defined the new urban sound of the early 1950s.

Waters's bands featured many of the most prominent men in blues including Willie Dixon, Jimmy Rogers, Big Walter Horton, James Cotton, and Junior Wells. He also employed two of the most important blues pianists in history, Otis Spann and Pinetop Perkins, whom you read about earlier in the chapter.

Other significant players on the classic Chicago stage included Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Sunnyland Slim, and by the 1960s, a young Jewish guitarist named Michael Bloomfield. Many of these artists were recorded by Chess Records.

Chess Records was a legendary blues record label created by Phil and Leonard Chess. Eventually, Chess embraced rock-n-roll, signing Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley in the mid 1950s. In 1969, the brothers sold Chess to General Recorded Tape. Years later, the Music Corporation of America (MCA) purchased the Chess catalog only to be bought out themselves in 2003 by Geffen Records.

The most obvious or salient feature of Chicago blues is the use of electric guitars. This revolutionized the blues and, in some respects, spurned the coming British Invasion. Many British rock bands from the 1960s and 1970s sought to imitate the Chicago blues sound, including the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, the Animals (with Alan Price on organ and keyboards), Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple (with John Lord on keyboards and organ). Today, the Chicago blues scene is still abuzz and the annual Chicago Blues Festival at Grant Park attracts throngs of tourists.

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