17 August 2010

The Morlocks Play Chess!

The Morlocks Play Chess sees these Los Angeles garage-rock stalwarts paying their respects with appropriate raucous abandon to one of the most crucial body of recordings in the American popular music canon.  The original Chess releases by now-legendary Blues, R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll artists like Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry among others was the primary inspiration to a generation of young British musicians who’d constitute the “British Invasion,” i.e. the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Pretty Things and countless others. The English in turn influenced and encouraged white American teens to follow in their footsteps creating the genre that came to be known as “Garage-rock.” A few years later Garage-rock afficianados would jump start the music revolution we now know as “Punk.” All these artists either covered or reverently “appropriated” the riffs, song structure, primal rhythms and fierce lyric stances of those Chess recordings. Not a single one among them would every claim they’d done it one whit better. The Morlocks hope to bring new attention in the 21st century to this powerful and seminal body of work.

Chess Records was an American record label based in Chicago, Illinois. It specialized in blues, R&B, gospel music, early rock and roll, and occasional jazz releases.

Run by brothers Leonard and Phil Chess, the company produced and released many important singles and albums, which are now regarded as central to the rock music canon. Leonard bought a stake in a record company called Aristocrat Records in 1947; in 1950 Leonard brought his brother Phil into the operation and they became sole owners of the company and renamed it Chess Records. (excerpted from Wikipedia entry)
Chess Records played a pivotal role in the birth of the Chicago electric blues movement of the postwar era, launching the careers of legends ranging from Muddy Waters to Howlin' Wolf to Little Walter. 

The success of the label's initial artist roster (Gene Ammons, Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers) established Chess as the cutting-edge in urban blues and the Chesses soon began seeking talent outside of the Chicago area, contacting Sun Records' Sam Phillips to aid in the search. Phillips’ key discovery was Howlin' Wolf, who scored a major hit in 1951 with his label debut "How Many More Years." He relocated from Memphis to Chicago in 1953, soon waxing hits like "Smokestack Lightnin'" and "Who Will Be Next." By the mid-'50s, Chess Records included affiliated labels Checker, Argo, and Specialist, with new signings ranging from legends like Sonny Boy Williamson to newcomers like Bo Diddley, whose debut single -- the two-sided hit "Bo Diddley"/"I'm a Man" -- introduced one of rock & roll's most influential and enduring beats.

Leonard's most important discovery of the period was Chuck Berry, who signed to Chess in mid-1955. From his first hit "Maybellene" onward, Berry essentially wrote the book on rock & roll, creating its most indelible guitar riffs over the course of singles like "Johnny B. Goode" and "Sweet Little Sixteen." The R&B adherents of the ‘60’s British Invasion illuminated the label's massive influence for a new generation of listeners. (excerpted from Jason Ankeny’s AllMusic entry)

Chess Records was the subject of two films produced in 2008, Cadillac Records and Who Do You Love. In addition to the Chess brothers, both films feature portrayals of or based on Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Chuck Berry, and Etta James. Cadillac Records was directed by Darnell Martin and features an ensemble cast including Adrien Brody, Mos Def, Beyoncé Knowles and Jeffrey Wright. Who Do You Love was directed by Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks and stars Alessandro Nivola playing Leonard Chess "as a complicated, driven man, hard on both his musicians and his family, yet with a real love for some of America's greatest music." The latter film's world premiere was at the Toronto International Film Festival, September 11, 2008. (excerpted from Wikipedia entry)

So how does that tie in with The Morlocks as musicians and Rock 'n' Roll fans? According to The Morlocks: “Early Rhythm & Blues had a raw and visceral quality.  The rhythmic elements are primal -- you can feel them in your guts.  They’re readily absorbed by garage bands who then reinterpret them according to their own life experiences. And it’s not just the beat that grabs you, when Bo wrote a song it was boastful and brash and had tons of gritty attitude- a perfect match for a group like us!  

“Chess Records put out a significant portion of the early rock ‘n’ roll records that became the blueprint for all rock music that would follow - Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley,  Without Chess Records, we wouldn't exist. Final!”

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