New Box Set Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Elvis Presley’s 1972 concert trek

by admin  6th Jan 2023 Comments [0]

By Harvey Kubernik


RCA/Legacy Recordings, the catalog division of Sony Music Entertainment released the Elvis On Tour box set, a newly-compiled 50th anniversary celebration of Presley’s monumental 1972 concert trek (premiering unreleased live and studio material) digitally in December 2022 and physical issue in 2013 on January 27.

A seven-disc set, with the audio selections available in digital and physical configurations, the Elvis On Tour box set includes six audio discs (premiering previously unreleased Elvis concert performances and studio rehearsals) and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s Blu-ray edition of the MGM Film, Elvis On Tour, winner of Best Documentary Film at the 30th Golden Globes Awards in 1973 and the last feature film starring Elvis Presley to be released during the artist’s lifetime.

The box set is produced by Ernst Mikael Jørgensen and mixed by Grammy Award®-winning Memphis-based producer Matt Ross-Spang. The original recordings were made by Felton Jarvis and Al Pachucki.

Disc 1 was recorded live on April 9, 1972, at Hampton Roads Coliseum, Hampton, Virginia, and contains all previously unreleased material. Disc 2 was recorded live on April 10, 1972, at Richmond Coliseum, Richmond, Virginia, and contains all previously unreleased material. Disc 3 was recorded live on April 14, 1972, at Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, North Carolina, and contains all previously unreleased material. Disc 4 was recorded live on April 18, 1972, at Convention Center Arena, San Antonio, Texas, and includes previously released material (from 2003’s Elvis: Close-Up box set), remixed for this release.

Disc 5 features the tour rehearsals, recorded live at RCA Recording Studios on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, California, on March 30 and 31, 1972. The disc is comprised primarily of previously unreleased tracks in addition to performances previously available on the official Elvis Presley collector’s releases Elvis On Tour – The Rehearsals (Follow That Dream CD 2004) and 6363 Sunset Boulevard (Follow That Dream CD 2001) as well as The Great Performances (RCA 1990).

Disc 6 completes Elvis’ rehearsals with his band at RCA Recordings Studios with performances recorded March 31, 1972. The disc includes previously unreleased takes on Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times” as well as performances previously available only on 6363 Sunset Boulevard, Elvis On Tour – The Rehearsals and Amazing Grace (RCA 2CD 1994).

Presley and band prepared for his 1972 personal appearances at the RCA studios in Hollywood. The facility had been home to Sam Cooke, Bobby Womack, Henry Mancini, Shorty Rogers, Gogi Grant, Jesse Belvin, Jack Nitzsche, Kim Fowley, Nik Venet, Harry Nilsson, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater, Electric Prunes, the Monkees, Jose Feliciano, Merry Clayton, the Rolling Stones, Andrew Loog Oldham, and Elmer Bernstein.

“Studio A and B were both the same size,” described the legendary RCA engineer/producer, Al Schmitt in an interview I conducted with him. “They were big rooms, and then there was also Studio C, a smaller room. You could mix in either room. The studios had very high ceilings and a nice parquet floor. One of the things that made them so unique was that we had all those great live echo chambers. I think there were seven of them. The nice thing about doing everything at one time was that you knew exactly what it was going to sound like.

“RCA had a great microphone collection. Just fabulous. Great Neumann and Telfunken microphones. Great RCA microphones. Plus, they had the great, original Neve console. And they were just spectacular. They were so punchy. There was a punch and a warmth and still one of the best consoles ever made. They were using a lot of Scotch tape then.

“There were no isolation booths. None whatsoever. But we had gobos, we would have around. Like a separator where you could isolate things. We did have some small rugs that we would put down sometimes under the drums and things.”

As Elvis Presley’s national tour played to sold-out secondary markets across the country in 1972, Elvis was enjoying himself on-stage and finding electrifying new ways of connecting to audiences at every show. Working with a band and set lists of his choosing, Elvis was channeling the music he loved most—from pop and gospel and traditional country to blues and rock and contemporary hits—while transforming his own greatest hits with fresh arrangements, turning nostalgia into an unforgettable concert experience packed with immediacy.

Award-winning filmmakers Pierre Adidge and Robert Abel (Mad Dogs & Englishmen) went on the road with Elvis Presley and his band with all-access passes, cameras and crew to chronicle the King of Rock & Roll at his on-stage peak in MGM’s Elvis On Tour documentary film.

The film captures Elvis, the human being driving the myth, behind-the-scenes backstage with his eyes open and his defenses down. MGM’s original press release described the Elvis On Tour film as “the first intimate look at the enigmatic country boy who became the world’s most celebrated musician.” Both documentary and concert film, Elvis On Tour features montage sequences supervised by Martin Scorsese. The film was released on November 1, 1972.

The Elvis On Tour box set includes behind-the-scenes liner notes by Jerry Schilling, a longtime personal friend and member of Elvis’ inner circle. The package also features an illuminating essay by rock historian/musician Warren Zanes, founding member of the Del Fuegos and Professor at New York University.

According to Zanes: “The set lists and the performances of the Elvis On Tour period bring a rare thing: a fifties legend working in the early seventies who was still taking his audiences to new places….The core band, including Ronnie Tutt, James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, Jerry Scheff, John Wilkinson, Charlie Hodge, the Sweet Inspirations, J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet, and an orchestra led by Joe Guercio, had gotten to a place at which Elvis could inject spontaneity, allowing the arena shows to have a measure of the unexpected….

“1972 was a year of one-hundred-sixty-five performances. In Jorgensen’s words, it was a ‘climax of his career.’ While the ’68 Comeback Special marked the significant point at which Presley returned to live performance, 1972 was the year in which the artist revealed most completely what he wanted to do with the creative energy such a return kicked off.”

A definitive portrait of the artist in 1972, the Elvis On Tour box set arrives in the wake of the release of Warner Bros Pictures’ epic big-screen drama, ELVIS, from filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, starring Austin Butler in the title role and Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ longtime manager and technical advisor.

“Compiling this set was very easy – include everything RCA recorded,” explained Ernst Mikael Jørgensen in a 2022 email. “So that’s what we did. The surprise in here is just how well is Elvis singing and the tightness of his band. The shows are the climax of ‘The Elvis Presley Show’ as we know it, eventually reaching its commercial peak with Aloha from Hawaii.”

Elvis Presley onstage at the Los Angeles Forum in November 1970.

After my family saw Elvis Presley the ‘68 Comeback Special, my parents Hilda and Marshall went to see one of his August 1969 shows at the International Hotel in Las Vegas and afterwards gave me an enthusiastic review.

On November 14, 1970 I took three buses from West Hollywood to Inglewood to see Elvis Presley’s debut at the Forum, his first concert in Southern California in 13 years. In 1968 I saw the Doors at the Forum, the Rolling Stones twice in 1969 at the same venue and now Elvis. It was a devoted beehive hairdo crowd like a casting call from another era. Thousands of cameras clicked and flashed when Elvis emerged on stage. Presley’s voice sounded terrific as I sat in the colonnade section.

Returning home later that evening, I discussed the one-hour Presley show with then GO! magazine reporter Rodney Bingenheimer at the Hollywood Ranch Market on Vine Street over hot tater tots.

“I worshiped The Elvis the ’68 Comeback Special and he was back on the pop charts again,” beamed Bingenheimer. “During 1969 when I was writing a column for GO! magazine. I went to the Elvis press conference in Las Vegas when he was making his debut at the International Hotel. I know he played Las Vegas in the fifties on a bill with Liberace, but this was Elvis’ return to performing after eight years. Grelun Landon, who was the head PR guy at RCA in Hollywood, took care of me. Nick Naff the PR guy from the Las Vegas International wanted me to cover the opening night as well.

“As a fan and reporter, I had a weekly music column in a national paper distributed in record stores, as FM radio was only a year or two old at the time. Over the years I was at many Elvis’ openings and closings. After the first show in August 1969, and around a couple of parties, Colonel Tom Parker told me that Elvis saw GO! and said, ‘Get me a subscription to GO!’”

Grelun Landon who helmed the RCA Public Affairs office at the record label was the first advocate of my nascent music journalism efforts. In 1972, Grelun arranged two press tickets for Presley at the Long Beach Arena on November 15.

I sped over to the RCA 6363 Sunset Boulevard building to get the ducats. I encountered Col. Parker in the elevator, and magazine columnist/English Disco nightclub owner Rodney Bingenheimer, picking up his Elvis tickets. Parker handed us Presley Christmas calendar cards and we still have them.

Grelun played us an acetate of a dramatic Presley live version of Marty Robbins’ “You Gave Me a Mountain” that sounded fantastic.

Man, I was ready for Elvis Presley in Long Beach.

I was aware of earlier well-received and heralded four Presley dates in New York in June of 1972 at Madison Square Garden. George Harrison, Paul Simon, Lenny Kaye, manager/record producer Mike Appel with his client, Bruce Springsteen, and David Bowie were in attendance. So was music archivist and rock historian Ron Furmanek.

“Went to all the shows, waited on line for 20 hours for tickets, had 2nd, 3rd, and 4th rows center,” marveled Furmanek in a November 2022 email exchange. “Shot super 8 film too, saw Colonel Parker standing in front of the stage, and to have Elvis right in front of you like that was amazing! I took my eleven year old little brother. It was his first concert!”

After I left that awe-inspiring Elvis Presley Long Beach Arena show from mid-November ’72, I felt, or recognized, the influence of music director William (Billy) Goldenberg on Presley’s set list and his 1968-1972 recording career. Goldenberg had collaborated with director/producer Steve Binder and engineer/producer Bones Howe on the Elvis Presley the ’68 Comeback Special

Goldenberg, a graduate of Columbia University and a protégé of the Broadway Legend, composer Frank Loesser (Guys and Dolls), brought a rich harmonic sensibility to his craft that remarkably suited the caterwauling punch of fifties rock ‘n’ roll.

“I met Billy Goldenberg, the musical director when I was directing [the pop music TV series] Hullabaloo,” recalled Binder in a 2008 interview. “He was working with Peter Matz, who was the musical director on Hullabaloo and Billy was the dance arranger. Then I brought Billy along to do Elvis. And the fact that there is this Jewish New York Broadway kid who basically in 1968 re-shaped Elvis’ entire musical career, the two of them hit it off so well. It really says something important about opposites attract.”

Goldenberg subsequently was the musical director and scored Presley’s 1969 movie A Change of Habit. In the very early seventies, he composed music for Steven Spielberg’s television episode in the Rod Serling- hosted Night Gallery.

“From the very first meeting I liked Elvis,” expressed Goldenberg in an interview we conducted in 2008. “We had a great rapport. He always looked after me and was supportive. There was a movie soundtrack by Quincy Jones, In Cold Blood, probably the most interesting score I had ever heard at that point. It was a fusion of that kind of country redneck sound but at the same time something very classical underneath it all. Evil, sexual, and spooky. Elvis personified all of those things. And the music had too as well.

“His voice invited you into the arrangements. I wanted it all to be seductive. Because Elvis was the ultimate seducer. It also touched on some of the Beatles’ stuff. The darker Beatles’ stuff. And I knew Elvis would get it because he was really a receiver,” summarized Billy.

Steve Binder, the director of Elvis Presley The ’68 Comeback Special in 2005 told the Elvis Australia fan club that Goldenberg had “truly changed” Presley’s musical direction. “After that he loved big bands and full orchestras.”

On September 1, 1957. Elvis Presley performed at Seattle’s Sick’s Stadium. James Marshall Hendrix is fourteen years old, as impressionable as a Little Leaguer on opening day. He made detailed notes on every song Presley did—’Hound Dog’ in particular captured his ear. In 1969 Jimi Hendrix jammed on a version of ‘Hound Dog’ while he and his father Al were making up songs inside Jimi’s apartment documented in film footage.

Last century I asked the songwriting and production team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller about working with Presley. Their tunes are covered on Elvis on Tour, including “Hound Dog.”

“Hound Dog” was initially written at the request of Johnny Otis, the bandleader and A&R man for Big Mama Thornton, who wanted Leiber and Stoller to listen to his acts and see if they could write some songs for them. Elvis knew the Big Mama ‘Hound Dog’ record, because he was a student,” underlined Mike Stoller. “And it was a woman’s song. Jerry wrote the lyrics for Big Mama and I think we recorded it in 1952, and it was released in early ’53. It was a big R&B hit. In 1956 Elvis heard a lounge act doing it in Las Vegas.”

“Jerry and I actually produced, without credit, the records, our songs in particular, that were in the M-G-M film Jailhouse Rock. He asked for us to be there. We had never met him before. He was a very good-looking young man, very energetic. I mean, he just kept going and going in the studio. He’d say, ‘Let’s do another one.’ And it would go on and on until he felt he had it. The studio was booked for the day, and we were used to three-hour sessions.”

“He loved doing it,” reinforced Jerry Leiber. “He wasn’t someone who was doing it and wanted to go home, like a lot of people. He had more fun in the studio than he did at home. He was very cooperative and a workhorse.”

“I ended up spending a little more time with him than Jerry,” added Stoller, “because I played the role of his piano player in Jailhouse Rock, which Jerry was supposed to play, but he had to go to the dentist that day,” Mike volunteered.

“I thought he was the greatest ballad singer since Bing Crosby,” emphasized Jerry. “I loved to hear him really do a ballad, because we were writing rhythm & blues, torch ballads. As far as I’m concerned, nobody cuts Little Richard on rhythm tunes. You have to go far and wide. But Presley was the ultimate in the ballad. It was just his singing. Pure talent.”

In 1974, I covered the Beverly Hills press conference for Melody Maker when George Harrison announced his solo tour. He itemized charities he would be working with that year including, “a concert in Los Angeles for the Self Realization Fellowship. It was founded by Paramahansa Yogananda. He happened to be a big influence in my life. I’d like to repay his in a small way.”

Paramahansa Yogananda, who was born Mukunda Lal Ghosh, (January 5, 1893-March 7, 1952), was an Indian Hindu monk, yogi and guru whose teachings of meditation and Kiya Yoga reached millions of people through his organization Self-Realization Fellowship. His teachings of yoga provided unity between Eastern and Western religions. During 1925 in Los Angeles, he established an international center for SRF.

Yogananda’s life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, was initially published in 1946, and expanded by him in subsequent editions. It’s been a perennial best seller having sold millions of copies, and translated into many languages. George Harrison would give the book to friends and musical associates.

In 1950, Yogananda held the first Self-Realization Fellowship World Convocation at the international headquarters in Los Angeles. He also dedicated the beautiful SRF Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades that has since become one of California’s most prominent spiritual landmarks.

Elvis Presley had visited Self-Realization Fellowship center on Sunset Blvd. near the Pacific Coast Highway in Southern California and devoured Autobiography of a Yogi from the movement’s founder, Paramahansa Yogananda. Presley and his wife Priscilla also had a friendship with Daya Mata of the SRF retreat in the Mount Washington area in East Hollywood. Sir Daya Mata, born Rachel Faye Wright, was President and spiritual head of SRF from 1955 to 2010.

In Elvis and Me: The True Story of the Love Between Priscilla Presley and the King of Rock N’ Roll, by Priscilla, with contributions from Sandra Harmon, Priscilla mentioned her husband’s fascination with spirituality. Elvis made several trips to the Mount Washington retreat for sessions with Daya Mata hoping to attain the highest form of meditation.

“As Elvis’ fascination with occult and metaphysical phenomena intensified, [his friend] Larry introduced him to the Self-Realization Fellowship Center on Mount Washington, where he met Daya Mata, the head of the center,” Priscilla wrote. “She epitomized everything he was striving to be.” According to Priscilla, “Mata resembled Elvis’ mother, Gladys Presley.” Elvis would call her “Ma.”

Jerry Schilling is the author (with Chuck Crisafulli) of Me and a Guy Named Elvis. Jerry was a longtime insider/adviser and trusted Presley employee. Last decade I interviewed Schilling, one of the executive producers on HBO’s Elvis Presley: The Searcher. He currently manages the Beach Boys.

“Elvis was a seeker,” described Schilling. “He did go to the Bodhi Tree (spiritual book store in West Hollywood that opened in July, 1970). There was a part of our group that did not like that. I was in the minority with Larry Geller. Elvis was open to show a spiritual and vulnerable side. He was into that. What I loved about it was that through his spiritual quest I got to know the man even deeper. We would go to SRF in Pacific Palisades and Mt. Washington in East Hollywood many times.”

In 2004 I asked record producer and author Andrew Loog Oldham about Elvis Presley for my book Hollywood Shack Job: Rock Music In Film and On Your Screen.

“Man of hope, dreams and glory,” replied Oldham, who produced the Rolling Stones’ 1964-1967 sessions at RCA studios in Hollywood.

“You must remember that Elvis only toured the UK on screen and vinyl, therefore he had the first and last word and the best audio and lighting. This was also the era when TV was a black and white affair afforded by the few that ran from 5PM to 10 PM and did not feature the likes of Elvis. I think King Creole, Jailhouse Rock and Flaming Star were best; loved the interplay with Katy Jurado; loved him with Carolyn Jones in King Creole

“Elvis seemed to have these great confrontations with older ladies in his flicks, Lizabeth Scott in Loving You. The images that I remember best are Elvis singing ‘Crawfish’ on a balcony in New Orleans is just classic, singing ‘Baby, I Don’t Care’ poolside in Jailhouse Rock in those great Zoot suit pants, cable knit sweater with the pure Armani neck and those black and white loafers to die for.

“Elvis gave us hope and attitude. The Beatles opened our minds and hearts but Elvis opened our legs, of course the pill helped.”


© Harvey Kubernik, 2022



In 2008 Harvey Kubernik penned the liner notes to Elvis Presley the ’68 Comeback Special box set 40th anniversary edition. He is also an interview subject on the 40th anniversary deluxe edition Jailhouse Rock DVD where he comments on Presley’s singing, dancing and choreography for the “Jailhouse Rock” number captured on screen.

Kubernik is the author of 20 books, including Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows published in 2014 and Neil Young Heart of Gold during 2015. Kubernik also authored 2009’s Canyon Of Dreams: The Magic And The Music Of Laurel Canyon and 2014’s Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll In Los Angeles 1956-1972. Sterling/Barnes and Noble in 2018 published Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik’s The Story Of The Band: From Big Pink To The Last Waltz. In 2021 the duo wrote Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child for Sterling/Barnes and Noble. Otherworld Cottage Industries in 2020 published Harvey’s book, Docs That Rock, Music That Matters. Kubernik’s writings are in several book anthologies, including, The Rolling Stone Book Of The Beats and Drinking With Bukowski. Harvey wrote the liner note booklets to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s Tapestry, The Essential Carole King, Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, the Ramones’ End of the Century and Big Brother & the Holding Company Captured Live at The Monterey International Pop Festival.

Marshall Chess on the Legacy of Chess Records

by admin  28th Sep 2022 Comments [0]

By Harvey Kubernik


Veteran music business legend Marshall Chess is the son of Leonard and nephew of Phil Chess, the dynamic duo who founded the monumental Chicago-based blues label.

After departing from Chess Records in 1969, Marshall formed and served as President of Rolling Stone Records for seven years. He helped create the Rolling Stones’ famous tongue and lip logo and was involved as Executive Producer on seven Rolling Stone #1 albums during the 1970s.

Marshall Chess is prominently featured and interviewed in the new Born In Chicago blues documentary that will screen on November 21st in downtown Los Angeles at the Grammy Museum.

Directed by Bob Sarles and John Anderson, and narrated by Dan Aykroyd, Born In Chicago is a soulful documentary film that chronicles a uniquely musical passing of the torch. It’s the story of first generation blues performers who had made their way to Chicago from the Mississippi Delta and their ardent and unexpected followers—middle class kids who followed the evocative music to smoky clubs deep in Chicago’s ghettos. Passed down from musician to musician, the Chicago blues transcended the color lines of the 1960s as young, white Chicago music apprenticed themselves to legends such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.

“The Chess brothers and their record labels were instrumental in popularizing the blues music of Chicago’s South Side,” emailed Born In Chicago co-director and co-producer Bob Sarles in summer 2022. Marshall Chess has kept that flame burning to the present day. His story about the Rolling Stones’ visit to the Chess Records studio is a highly entertaining part of our documentary.”

Marshall Chess was born in Chicago, Illinois on March 13, 1942, and was raised during the heyday of the independent record business. Leonard Chess had a piece of a record company named Aristocrat Records in 1947, and later in 1950 he brought his brother Phil into the fold and the brothers assumed sole ownership of the company and renamed it Chess Records. They also operated a club on the South side of Chicago, the Macomba Lounge.

Marshall “started” in the family business at age seven accompanying his father Leonard on radio station visits. For sixteen years Marshall worked with his dad and his uncle Phil, doing everything from pressing records, applying shrink wrap and loading trucks to producing over 100 Chess Records projects, eventually heading up the label as President after the GRT acquisition in 1969.

Otis Rush performs with Little Bobby at Pepper’s Lounge in Chicago, IL – December 17, 1963 (Photo by: Ray Flerlage/Cache Agency)

Over years the monumental Chess catalog has had various homes, including a 1975 sale to All Platinum Records, and eventually a couple of decades ago the Chess master tapes were purchased by MCA Records, now Universal Music Enterprises.

Chess Records showcased blues, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, soul, jazz and comedy: Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Little Walter, Buddy Guy, Jimmy Rogers, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Little Milton. Maurice White and Charles Stepney both learned their craft at the label. [Chicago-based label International Anthem in September 2022 has just issued “Step on Step,” a compilation of Stepney demos and experimental music.]  The label issued seminal efforts by Etta James, the Dells, Billy Stewart, and Fontella Bass. The Miracles, Four Tops, Bobby Charles and Dale Hawkins cut singles for Chess.

In addition, there was a jazz division with Gene Ammons, Ahmad Jamal and the Ramsey Lewis Trio. Argo, the jazz arm of Chess released material by Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, James Moody, Clark Terry, Zoot Sims, Kenny Burrell, the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet (with the debut recording of pianist McCoy Tyner), Ray Bryant, Roland Kirk, Oliver Nelson, Jack McDuff, Illinois Jacquet and John Klemmer.

In the late 1960s Marshall created his own record label Cadet Concept, a division of Chess Records. He created and produced the Rotary Connection, which became the springboard for vocalist Minnie Riperton’s career. He signed John Klemmer and created a new format which was heralded as the first jazz fusion album, Blowin’ Gold. Marshall also produced the blues albums Electric Mud and After the Rain. The Chess comedy division offered long players by Moms Mabley, George Kirby, Pigmeat Markham and Slappy White.

Marshall has produced three films. The Legend Of Bo Diddley, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones, and the rarely glimpsed 1972 Rolling Stones’ Robert Frank-directed tour documentary Cocksucker Blues. Chess is also a revealing interview subject in Robert Greenfield’s 2006 captivating book Exile On Main Street: A Season In Hell With The Rolling Stones.

In 2004, Marshall was featured in a movie project collaboration titled Godfathers and Son’s directed by Marc Levin, for the PBS-TV series The Blues, produced by Martin Scorsese. Chess produced a hip-hop version of the classic Chess track “Mannish Boy” with rappers Chuck D and Common recording with members of the original Muddy Waters’ Electric Mud band.

In 2008, Marshall concluded a DJ stint hosting a weekly blues music program on Sirius Satellite Radio. His Chess Records Hour debuted in November 2006 and aired for 81 shows.

During 2009, I interviewed Marshall Chess in West Hollywood, California at the Sunset Marquis Hotel, and in 2010 I spoke with him by telephone from his office in New York City. Chess spent a few hours with me discussing Chess Records, the label’s legacy, his personal relationship with the company’s artists, and working with the Rolling Stones.


Born In Chicago documentary trailer:


Can you explain how Chess Records worked? Can you even compare or contrast Leonard and Phil Chess? How could your uncle and father know so much about music, the blues, and bringing it to the world? They were Polish immigrants.


Because they were very bright people. They worked in black businesses. My dad had a liquor store. I sat around my uncle and asked, ‘everyone always asks me about music, and how did Chess get into music.’ And, my uncle’s vision is this. That in Poland, in the small Jewish ghetto town, there was no music. Then some guy got a windup victrola. And the whole fuckin’ village would stand underneath this guy’s window when he played it. That was the first recorded music they heard. They come to America.

 My grandfather, who was here seven years prior in Chicago brings them. He had a scrap metal yard. Across the street from it, on the west side of Chicago, was a black gospel church. My uncle said that my dad and him were kids, and after work they would hear the bass drum and gospel singing with a piano, they would be fascinated. They would stand there and get punished for being late, ‘cause they were listening to the black music. That’s where it began to me.

 For some reason it affected them. And then, when my uncle went into the army, my dad, I think because he was an immigrant got him near Maxwell Street, the black neighborhood. No prejudice. That’s just it. No blacks in Poland. You don’t get raised being prejudiced in Europe. You hate Nazis, but no blacks to hate. So, they had no problem, and they saw that there was this giant influx of blacks in Chicago, and they had money, and they were working. And my dad started with a liquor store after he worked in a shoe shop. Berger’s shoes. Then the liquor store, where he had a jukebox, and he was there 15-18 hours a day hearing blues. I watched the jukeboxes being serviced. They used to be controlled by gangsters of Chicago. They’d come and pick ‘em up from us. The Italian gangsters.


Can you offer some reflections about the Chess studio?


We had fabulous engineers. Ron Malo and Malcolm Chism. They were the two best engineers. Ron came from Detroit. He had worked on Motown studios and he was a big part. Before Ron, we had these two Weiner brothers, who actually built the studio. It was a basic classic studio design, with the echo chamber in the basement, very small control room.

 One of the secrets of the Chess studio was not the studio but our mastering. We had a little mastering room with a lathe. Eventually we had a Neumann lathe. The first one was an American one. We did our own mastering and had these Electrovoice speakers on the wall.

 The great part about that room that when it sounded right in that mastering room it would pop off the radio. That’s what it was all about. And the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, later Fleetwood Mac had to make visits there.


The Chess sonic delights are amazing.


The best explanation is, this may sound way out. It contains magic. The most apparent magic that we can see or experience is music. Let’s face it. Music changes the way you feel. That’s magical. Chess Records for some reason was a magnet for amazing artistry and all these magicians came to Chess. And we were able to capture it. And it’s something that can be experienced through audio. The music has stood up without a cinematic aspect like video. And the method of recording.

As I grew older, and was a person of the hippie generation, and discovered things like meditation, psychedelic drugs, Buddhism. I realized what was happening in the early Chess studio was like a high Buddhist monk meditation manager. Because when you recorded in mono and two-track with 5 or 6 players and a singer there wasn’t any correction possible. One of the main jobs as a producer was like a meditation manager master. He had to get the band locked together to go down. I remember when they were teaching me to produce, they always would say, “when the motherfucker fucks up you got to embarrass him and tell him to play that shit right. Over and over.”


Vee-Jay Records was across the street from Chess in Chicago.


Ewart Abner was a good friend of mine. The Vee-Jay stuff came later. It was more on the edge of ‘60s. That led into the Impressions, Curtis Mayfield all that part of Chicago. The thing that this early music has is that it just has some fuckin’ kind of magic in it. I think maybe it’s the direct to two-rack recording of the period. I don’t know what it is. Some kind of alchemy. A real esoteric alchemy. That’s what drew the Stones to record in our studio. There’s some alchemy in those early records that even carries over when you sample them. Jerry Butler and Dee Clark. Brilliant singers. Amazing. They all come from black church. Etta. Every one of them. This is the shit, man. All these motherfuckers learned from church, or the fuckin’ cotton fields in Mississippi.

I love Chess Records. Because it was the greatest, happiest place in the world. You would love going there. You laughed all fuckin’ day. The artists hung out there, no, not all the artists, but what we would call the family artists. Sonny Boy, Muddy Waters, Dells, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley.


And Billy Stewart!


Billy Stewart shot the doorknob off at the studio if they didn’t let him in quick enough. What was Billy Stewart mad about? ‘I brought some fuckin’ pepper stuffed crabs from Baltimore. You gotta taste them before they get ruined!’ We were into eatin’ and laughing. Maurice White is the drummer on Billy’s ‘Summertime.’ I saw genius in him. He was the first black guy that ever had a Volkswagen. He was like the first of the switch from the Cadillac to the cool.

I’m proud and I’m thrilled, and helped historically continue the legacy of the Chess Records label. I’m not a classic blues fan, a blues collector, I am not into the anal aspect of what guitar strings Muddy used, or what harmonica did Little Walter play.

I only wanted to be around my family, and my father, who was a workaholic. It was a family business. They were immigrants and embraced that. For age 7 to age 12 or 13, my dad took me on the road, not because I wanted to be in the record business but because I wanted to be with my father. So, I got it really by osmosis, ya know. And that was my real reason for hanging out there.


In Hollywood at Fairfax High School, the Father and Sons album released with Muddy, Otis Spann, Sam Lay, Buddy Miles Paul Butterfield, Michael Bloomfield, and Donald “Duck” Dunn was the big hit in the school hallway with collectors and stoners. It’s been reissued by Universal. The version of “Long Distance Call” is totally amazing!


Man, and live, you couldn’t see it, Muddy did this dance on ‘Got My Mojo Working’ that was unreal! Like Nureyev. He put down his guitar and did a pirouette. The place went wild! You can hear it on the record. You can hear the crowd when that happens.

Muddy Waters being interviewed by Mike Bloomfield, Chicago, IL; circa early 1960’s. (Photo by Ray Flerlage/Cache Agency)

What sort of images flash in your head when you play the music of Chess Records?


I see them. My dad and uncle. Man, that’s what goes through my head. Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters went to my Bar Mitzvah. A lot of black people were there which was a very unusual event back then in 1955.

The Chess recording artists were always writing about women problems and sex. That’s all I ever heard from them when I was a kid. I saw some of these records being recorded. I sold them originally. I helped their initial exposure. On the SiriusXM radio program I brought more exposure.

But being around the blues, and all these records being made, and knowing the artists, I don’t know, man, it just, ya know, got into me. It just became part of me. It’s part of my life. I’ve never even considered it work. I appear and promote Chess and the blues in films and TV documentaries. I do as much as I can because I get a buzz out of it. I’m just amazed, man, that this music that we made in Chicago has become so historical


In the Chess stable as far as songwriters like, who, was your main man?


Chuck Berry was the best. He had a spiral notebook, a fuckin’ school spiral book. I saw all those lyrics written out. Like poetry, man.


The earliest I saw Chuck Berry was 1969. He was having pickup bands even then.


A pick up band… In the mid to late 1950s he was just brilliant. Johnnie Johnson on piano. I don’t remember much. The first session I remember in detail when he came out of jail was ‘Nadine.’ I was his road manager for six gigs. I brought him his clothes when he came right from the prison. My dad gave me $100.00 to take him down next to the Chicago Theater on State Street to buy him a new outfit. And then we went on tour. The first gig we did was in Flint, Michigan, with the Motown rhythm section backing him.


I never got to see that…


Chuck was great. But I always felt he was too greedy. He ruined the alchemy because those pickup bands, as good as they knew it, weren’t locked, like if it would have been his own band. That’s why in Keith’s movie he had all those problems with Chuck. He wouldn’t lock. And he lost it. He needed my father there. I don’t know if I could even deal with it. My dad was the one. As for guitar playing, he invented that whole thing, ya know. And he sang and wrote the words, too.

Howlin’ Wolf poses backstage with his guitarist Hubert Sumlin, in England; 1964. (Photo by: Brian Smith/Cache Agency)

Run down some of the other Chess artists. Howlin’ Wolf. I loved it when he was on Jack Good’s Shindig! television show in 1965 when the Rolling Stones were booked.


Howlin’ Wolf…On stage very commanding, but off stage a very gentle, soft man. I remember him telling me he was learning how to read music. Did you know that? He went to school to learn how to read music so he could learn how to play the guitar. He wanted to learn notes. One time my dad had me bring him a thousand dollars to his house, and he opened like those tool boxes that you lift off the tray at the top. And it’s stacked full of money. “What do you need this money for?” “I gotta go buy some special dogs to go huntin’ on my farm.” (laughs). He was a gentle man but ferocious. Big. He used to drink a lot. He was pretty much high a lot when he performed.

Muddy Waters – Chicago, 1964. (Photo by: Ray Flerlage/Cache Agency)

Muddy was the showman and a towering regal figure.


Muddy liked to drink. Muddy on stage and in the studio was the best. He was organized. He was a fuckin’ leader. I always say this. People say ‘what do you mean?’ He was a fuckin’ leader. Muddy was the reincarnation of a tribal chief, of a President, of a King. Such a powerful presence. I just loved him. And he treated me so good. He used to call me his white grandson. His wife Geneva used to send me fried chicken wrapped in foil. Muddy once wrote a poem to a girl for me that I gave when I was in high school. I always say this and people laugh but most of what I discussed with these guys was about sex. That was the main thing on their mind.

In the fifties and very early sixties there were clubs, during that early blues heyday of Muddy, and Wolf, they were places where people went primarily on weekends to find women. And women to find men and to party. And the music was very much party music. It was like a psychological influence on the people in these little clubs. And it was what these guys wanted to do. Drinkin’ and make love.

It then began to die out as R&B and Motown happened. It’s a period when I was in a few of those clubs that were hot and steamy and smelly and funky and the music was loud. Those were the clubs where Muddy Waters put the coke bottle in his pants and Wolf got down on his knees, howling, drinking whisky out of a bottle. Those were a whole different audience then when the white blues market discovered it.

Look at their lyrics. With the TV programs recently on Muddy. The American Masters documentary, it’s all very gratifying. We always knew it. Gratification is the best word. Not for all of them. Muddy, Wolf, Chuck Berry. These are like Beethoven and Bach. They should be right up there.

Buddy Guy – Chicago, 1960s (Photo by: Ray Flerlage/Cache Agency)

Buddy Guy?


Buddy Guy brought me a real mojo from Mississippi that I used to wear when I was in high school that I used to wear when I was trying to get girls. This little pink bag I pinned to my under shirt.


Bo Diddley?


I have always considered Bo Diddley to be one of the most creative, innovative and original of all the Chess artists. From his custom guitars that he built himself to his constant searching for new sounds. He has influenced many recording artists with his originality. He was not afraid to take chances with his music. Chess Records was the perfect place to be as we to were not afraid to experiment with new sounds and ideas. During the 50’s both Bo and Chess were always ready to push the envelope. Brilliant artist. A true original. Great artist. But he’s a trip. The thing I remember about Bo, and here’s my memory. I remember Bo with this long airport limousine broken down in front of 2120 S Michigan Avenue on his back repairing it himself in the street jacked up changing the rear end or something. On the curb. You know what I told Bo Diddley? “The reason you’ve never had another hit is because your creativity is tied up in bitterness. I said let that shit go and you can have a hit tomorrow. You’re a fuckin’ genius.”


Willie Dixon?


Willie Dixon. Songwriter, producer, bass player. He’d get the bands together. I think he was a great songwriter and a great –promoter and a real hustler and he was a great guy. He was very important to the success of Chess and I will not take that away from him. He wasn’t Chess at all. But he was an important part of Chess Records. Very important part of that blues era.


Etta James?


The Queen of Soul. They were calling her that before Aretha (Franklin). She’s just great. She started singing in church. She’s a real L.A. girl. A street girl. Johnny Otis broke her out on Modern, and then she had that hit “Roll with Me, Henry” that was later re-titled “Dance with Me, Henry.”

In 1960 she came to Chess and our Argo label, and then another hit in ’61 with “At Last.” In 1967 came “Tell Mama.” Both great records. They blew our minds. We loved good shit. We knew when it was good. (Laughs). We had black radio in our pocket. We were strong. Not only that, we had a radio station WVON. (Voice Of The Negro) which was part of it. E. Rodney Jones was our program director.


Little Walter? People are still talking about him.


He’s the truest genius of all the Chess artists. Because he invented and perfected a new way to play the harmonica, and did it with tremendous creativity and talent. Very much like Hendrix with guitar. They’re exactly alike. Miles Davis considered Walter a genius. Hendrix considered Walter a genius. I liked him as a person but he was always drunk. I never knew him when he wasn’t fucked up. Smelling of liquor. But, yeah, I liked him. There was something ‘sloppy drunk’ about him that I liked. But he had a mean side to him, too. I saw him and my dad go at it with anger numerous times when he was drunk. He’d be a mean drunk. But we loved him. And my dad and my family loved him. We buried him.


You issued Electric Mud by Muddy Waters and have been defending it from the day of retail release.


Here’s the true Electric Mud story. I produced it. I recorded it and promoted it. At that time, I was very aware and very on top of alternative FM radio. I drove across the United States, visiting FM DJ’s like Tom Donahue and Bobby Mitchell in San Francisco. I’d meet all the DJ’s at radio stations in Los Angeles like KMET-FM and KPPC-FM and meet all these people. And these guys would be smoking joints on the air and they’d take an album right from your arm and play it immediately five times on the air!


FM “Underground” radio gave airplay to blues recordings during 1967-1970


Those were the great days. I was part of the generation. When everyone took LSD to watch the Grateful Dead, I did. I’ve been at the Fillmore West sitting on the floor. What happened to me was that I was part of that sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll generation. And it blew my mind.

Bill Graham was the greatest for that for the blues artists of that era. B.B. King on the bills. FM radio was a Godsend for the blues. The big commercial AM stations would not play the records at all except some black stations. And I decided to repackage Chess to that market that was getting stoned and going deep. It was a big boost when the English groups covered the music earlier. On records and at their shows. We loved it and something we thought could never happen.

Muddy Waters and B.B. King really dug white people doin’ their stuff. Sonny Boy was very much into white people doin’ his stuff. So was Howlin’ Wolf. I remember (Eric) Clapton gave him a fishing rod. Wolf was a real sportsman. He had fuckin’ huntin’ dogs that were a thousand dollars each. It blew our mind, of course it was a fantastic thing. We loved it. And we never thought that could happen. It was a total fantasy. But we first noticed it with the Muddy At Newport album came out. See, albums were not selling to black people. They didn’t have record players. I can remember we got all these orders from Boston on the Muddy album and we knew it was white people buying it. College kids. The first things we noticed as the album market developed.


In 1984, you became a partner in the established blues rock publishing company, the Arc Music Group, which he began actively heading in 1992. You and the Arc Music team placed Chess Records-birthed recordings and music copyrights into major motion pictures, television shows, and TV commercials. You just oversaw the sale of Arc Music to Fuji Entertainment America.


I’m in shock and still haven’t realized it. It was time. We’ve had people chasing us since 2001. We’ve just been waiting for the right buyer. It was the right price with the right respect for the catalogue.

Chess Records fans Charlie Watts and Paul Body at the Motown Museum, 2015.


© Harvey Kubernik 2010, 2022


HARVEY KUBERNIK is the author of 20 books, including Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows published in 2014 and Neil Young Heart of Gold during 2015. Kubernik also authored 2009’s Canyon Of Dreams: The Magic And The Music Of Laurel Canyon and 2014’s Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll In Los Angeles 1956-1972. Sterling/Barnes and Noble in 2018 published Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik’s The Story Of The Band: From Big Pink To The Last Waltz. In 2021 the duo wrote Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child for Sterling/Barnes and Noble.

Otherworld Cottage Industries in 2020 published Harvey’s book, Docs That Rock, Music That Matters, featuring interviews with D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, Albert Maysles, Murray Lerner, Morgan Neville, David Leaf, Dick Clark, Curtis Hanson and Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

Kubernik’s writings are in several book anthologies, including The Rolling Stone Book Of The Beats and Drinking With Bukowski. Harvey wrote the liner note booklets to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s Tapestry, The Essential Carole King, Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, Elvis Presley The ’68 Comeback Special, The Ramones’ End of the Century and Big Brother & the Holding Company Captured Live at The Monterey International Pop Festival.

 In 2020, Harvey served as a consultant on the 2-part documentary Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time directed by Alison Ellwood that debuted on the M-G-M/EPIX cable television channel. During December 2021, Kubernik was an on-screen interview subject and received a consultant credit for the rock & roll revival music documentary currently in production about the story of the Toronto Canada 1969 festival featuring the fabled debut of the John Lennon and Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band and an appearance by the Doors. Klaus Voorman, Geddy Lee of Rush, Alice Cooper, Shep Gordon, Rodney Bingenheimer, John Brower, and Robby Krieger of the Doors were filmed by director Ron Chapman).

Tribute Concert Announced For Don Craine of the Downliners Sect

by admin  17th Jun 2022 Comments [0]

On Sunday, August 21, 2022 there will be an afternoon tribute concert to the late great Don Craine at the Half Moon in Putney. The show begins at 1:00pm and features the Downliners Sect, the Masonics, and the Fallen Leaves.

Contemporaries of the Rolling Stones, Pretty Things and the Yardbirds, the Downliners Sect came into being in the spring of 1963 when deerstalker-hatted rhythm guitarist Don Craine of the Downliners found Keith Grant.  They played their own brash and exciting brand of R&B and still do.

Critic Richie Unterberger wrote: “The Sect didn’t as much interpret the sound of Chess Records as attack it, with a finesse that made the Pretty Things seem positively suave in comparison.”

Their first single on EMI “Baby What’s Wrong” entered the charts and their second, “Little Egypt,” made them stars in Sweden.

“We were quite influenced by the Downliners Sect,” said David Bowie.

“Downliners Sect were IT!” agreed Van Morrison.

Both Steve Marriott and Rod Stewart auditioned for a place in the band but were turned down because they both wanted to be frontmen, while Don Craine and Keith Grant did not wish to relinquish that role.

The Downliners Sect remained true to their beliefs and never sold out.

They recorded the Lou Reed and John Cale composition “Why Don’t You Smile Now” in 1966 before the emergence of the Velvet Underground.

In the mid-seventies they were embraced by punks who  recognised their uncompromising spirit.

In the 90s Don and Keith  teamed up with Billy Childish and Bruce Brand to form Thee Headcoat Sect. They toured extensively and recording two acclaimed LPs.

Don and Keith played together for 60 years. They agreed that, whatever happened to either of them, the group would carry on. With the loss of Don in February, Keith, as promised, carries the name Downliners Sect on. This concert is a tribute to Don.  Tickets are £10. All proceeds will go to Macmillan Cancer Support.

The Masonics and Fallen Leaves as long term fans are honoured to play this tribute as guests of the Sect. Inspired and influenced by the Downliners Sect, both groups recognise the Sect as pioneers, they just follow.

The Masonics, featuring  Bruce Brand of Thee Headcoat Sect, Mickey Hampshire, John Gibbs and Miss Ludella Black are influenced by Chuck Berry, Link Wray, the Sonics, Bo Diddley, Johnny Moped and the Beatles.

The Fallen Leaves, formed from members of Subway Sect and the Chords, are Champions of the Glorious Underachievers.  Believing a good idea played badly supersedes a bad idea played well, they play simple songs for complex people. They are Punk Rock For Gentlemen.

“This valve amp, treble-to-the-max rave-up would have had the mid-’60s Who or Pretty Things bricking it backstage at the Embassy Club”  – Mark Paytress (Mojo)

Tickets at: