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When The Rolling Stones Recorded At Chess Studios, Chicago 1964

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June 10-11, 1964: The Stones’ first recording sessions in the U.S. at Chess Studios in Chicago, where they recorded their next single It’s All Over Now, as well as material for their next EP.
*By Marcelo Sonaglioni


rolling stones chicago 1964

As history has it, back in 1947, since the company didn’t have a recording studio at the time, Chess Records (then known as Aristocrat) recorded the majority of its artists over the following ten years at Universal Recording Studio, which had several locations in Chicago. Seven years later, in 1954, Chess built its first rehearsal studio at 48th and Cottage Grove, one block north of its previous location on Chicago’s 49th Street. However, due to the studio’s subpar quality, the company was forced to continue relying on Universal for the majority of its recording production. When the business moved to 2120 South Michigan Avenue in 1957, it established a top-notch internal recording studio known as Chess Studios and leased the second floor to engineer Jack Wiener’s Sheldon Recording Studios, which was a Chess subsidiary. An identical pair of echo chambers were present in the studio.

Leonard and Phil Chess, two brothers of Polish descent, primarily released music through Chess Records. The Chess brothers opened up shop in 1950 (they had previously worked in their father’s liquor company before attempting to run jazz nightclubs for the black community in the vast South Side of Chicago), and it was then that they made the crucial choice to switch from black pop and jazz to blues music.

Sheldon received a lot of outside work from Wiener, including recording sessions for Mercury and Atlantic, for example. Malcolm Chisholm, who had been the sound engineer for a sizable number of recordings for Chess when the company was recording at Universal, was hired by Chess to take over the studio directly in 1958. When he left, Ron Malo took over, and he remained with the studio until its closure in 1975. Malo improved the studio and routed the audio into two echo chambers in the cellar. Almost all of the Chess musicians were recorded using echo, sometimes excessively. Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley are just a few of the illustrious blues and rock ‘n’ roll musicians who have recorded in this facility.

Malo oversaw the engineering at the recording sessions for the majority of the company’s artists, which by the 1960s mostly consisted of soul musicians like Etta James, the Dells, and Billy Stewart. He also served as the engineer for numerous sessions involving outside artists, including the Rolling Stones, who visited Chicago in June 1964 to record at the Chess studio in an attempt to capture the sound of their legendary blues musicians. The studio contributed to half of the tracks on the Rolling Stones’ LP, 12X5. In fact one of those songs was titled 2120 South Michigan Avenue in honor of their heroes. Over the course of 1964–1955, The Rolling Stones recorded about twenty additional songs at Chess.

The Chess Sessions may have been the pinnacle of The Rolling Stones’ blues era, but it also appears to have been the beginning of the band’s reputation as the bad boys of rock and roll music. Indeed by the end of these sessions, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had begun writing their own songs, and Keith had created the Satisfaction riff.

From Bill Wyman’s book Stone Alone:
“Our next move seemed historic to us. We went to a recording session at 2120 South Michigan Avenue, home of the legendary
Chess Studios. We set our equipment up and my bass guitar lead was plugged into a wall socket, of all things! The engineer there was Ron Malo (who did the recording for most of our idols) and Andrew was producing. It was a milestone event for us to be in an American studio, recording on 4-track. We knew the sound we were getting live in clubs and concerts was not what came across on the records we had cut in England. People were not used to that kind of roughness; a really good, funky American feel was what we were after. We’d known that our best move was to get to America as quickly as possible and record there. The big trouble in England was that for a rock group the studio acoustics were bad, because you couldn’t play loud.

When we recorded at Chess, Ron Malo knew exactly what we wanted and got it almost immediately. We felt we were taking part in a little bit of history there. We knew pretty well what numbers we wanted to get in the can and the atmosphere was so marvellous that we got through them in double-quick time. In four hours we cut four tracks: the Valentinos’ ‘It’s All Over Now’, Muddy Waters’ ‘I Can’t be Satisfied’ and a jam that we called ‘Stewed and Keefed’, and ‘Time is on My Side’. During the session we were thrilled to be visited by blues guitarist Buddy Guy and songwriter Willie Dixon (who tried to sell us some of his songs).

Thoroughly pleased with ourselves, we went on to do a TV appearance in Chicago, and then a radio show. After that we wanted to visit some of the black music clubs on the south side, but were advised against it because of recent troubles. Next morning we went to a traffic island in the centre of Michigan Avenue, where we proceeded to hold a press conference. This was one of Andrew’s brilliant publicity stunts and it worked like a dream.

A bunch of shrieking girls and many onlookers caused quite a stir, and traffic began piling up. Soon we were forced to move on by police. We did, however, achieve what we set out to do, and that was to hit the TV news and papers. We moved to the sidewalk just north of the bridge, where we did TV, radio, photos and interviews. Elated, we then headed for our second recording session at the Chess Studios. On arrival we were helping Stu unload the equipment and instruments from the van when we were flabbergasted to see the great Muddy Waters himself. We were even more shaken when he proceeded to help us carry in our guitars. Stunned, we recorded all afternoon and evening and finished at midnight.

We first cut two tracks: Chuck Berry’s ‘Confessin’ the Blues’ and ‘Around and Around’. Berry himself walked in and stayed a long while, chatting to us about amps and things. ‘Swing on, gentlemen!’ he told us. ‘You are sounding most well, if I may say so.’ This was the nicest I can remember him ever being, but then, we were making money for him! I do remember feeling pleased when, while we were recording ‘Down the Road Apiece’, he said to us: ‘Wow, you guys are really getting it on!’ We then cut another seven tracks: Solomon Burke’s ‘If You Need Me’, Tommy Tucker’s ‘High-Hell Sneakers’, Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Down in the Bottom’, Mick and Keith’s ‘Empty Heart’, and ‘Tell Me, Baby’, and a song I started with a bass riff, later called ‘2120 South Michigan Avenue’, which was credited to the band”

June 10 and 11 Chess sessions
*Data taken from The Complete Works Website

10th June: Chicago, Illinois, Chess Studios.
Producer: Andrew Oldham.
Sound engineer: Ron Malo.
Don’t You Lie To Me I (Hudson Whittaker) -STU on piano; unverified
Don’t You Lie To Me II (Hudson Whittaker) -Vic Steffens on piano; Metamorphosis-version
I Can’t Be Satisfied (McKinley Morganfield) -NO.2-version
It’s All Over Now I (Bobby and Shirley Womack) -7“-version
It’s All Over Now II (Bobby and Shirley Womack) -US-single-edit
It’s All Over Now III (Bobby and Shirley Womack) -German promo-edit
Stewed And Keefed (Nanker Phelge) -STU on piano; instrumental
Time Is On My Side I (Jerry Ragavoy/Jimmy Norman) -with organ intro by STU; unverified early version

11th June: Chicago, Illinois, Chess Studios.
Producer: Andrew Oldham.
Sound engineer: Ron Malo.
Around And Around (Chuck Berry) -STU on piano; Five By Five-version
Confessin’ The Blues (Walter Brown/Jay McShann) -STU on piano; Five By Five-version
Down In The Bottom II (Willie Dixon)
Down The Road Apiece (Don Raye) -STU on piano; NO.2-version
Empty Heart (Nanker Phelge) – Five By Five-version
Hi-Heel Sneakers (Robert Higginbotham)
If You Need Me (Wilson Pickett/Robert Bateman) -STU on organ; Five By Five-version
Look What You’ve Done (McKinley Morganfield) -STU on piano; December’s Children-version
Reelin’ And Rockin’ (Chuck Berry)
Tell Me Baby (William Broonzy) -The Rest Of The Best-version
2120 South Michigan Avenue I (Nanker Phelge) -STU on organ; instrumental; long version (f.e. on German Around And Around-album)
2120 South Michigan Avenue II (Nanker Phelge) -STU on organ,instrumental; edited version of version #1; Five By Five-version

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