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Leonard Chess
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    (March 12, 1917-October 16, 1969)
    Born in Motal, Belarus
    Birth name was Lejzor Czyz
    Emigrated to Chicago (1928)
    Ran a series of jazz clubs on the South Side
    With his brother Phil, purchased Aristocrat Records (1947)
    Renamed the label Chess Records (1950)
    Recorded many blues and rock legends, including Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Etta James
    Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987)
    He would routinely answer the phone with 'Hello, motherfucker.'
    He liberally engaged in payola, which included giving away part of his artists' royalties by listing Alan Freed as a co-writer of songs like Chuck Berry's 'Maybellene' and the Moonglows' 'Sincerely.'
    He paid recording artists a royalty rate half that of the major labels.
    Willie Dixon said of his business practices, 'Some people call it smart. I call it swindling, when you take advantage of someone who don't know better.'
    He loyally continued recording his label's blues acts like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf even as their sales fell off following the rise of rock and roll.
    Etta James said, 'More than once, Leonard got me into rehab, paid the bills, and never gave no lectures. In his own way, he protected me. He kept the deed to my home, knowing I would have sold it for drugs.'
    Bo Diddley said, 'I take my hat off to Leonard and Phil Chess, to have the first rock and roll record company.'
    His label had such a mystique in England that Keith Richards first approached Mick Jagger because Mick was carrying some Chess albums.

Credit: C. Fishel

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