Wednesday, 17 July 2019

The Musical Traveller No.1. Chess Studios, Chicago

Over the course of this summer I’ll be sharing a few tips for the music fan on holiday.

Famous places, record shops, museums and tours to look out for on your travels…

If you want to share a recommendation for a great musical place to visit, drop me a line or get in touch via the London Music Tours Facebook Page

No.1. Chess Studios, Chicago USA

I had always wanted to visit the historic Chess Studios at 2120 Michigan Avenue Chicago.

When I was 12, I acquired the compilation album Rolled Gold – The Rolling Stones' Greatest Hits package from 1975 comprising all their 60s classics. 

I played it constantly and read, over-and-over, Roy Carr's sleeve notes.

And on the track listing credits, I read the words, "Chess, Chicago"

… and resolved to find this mythical place at the earliest possible opportunity.

It only took me 38 years. But I got there.

It’s a shrine. A devotional place for music fans and for blues fans in particular....

That’s a LOT of high expectation to manage.

And the tour did NOT disappoint.

Pretending to BE Leonard Chess at the great man's desk. Why didn't I sit in his chair? For the same reason that you don't wash your feet in the font at the St Peter's in Rome, of course.

This is the place where the young Stones first met Muddy Waters. Keith Richards tells the tale that the great bluesman was up a ladder whitewashing the ceiling when they arrived.

Chess Records was founded in Chicago in 1950 by brothers Leonard and Phil Chess – Jewish immigrants from Poland – and went on to become the greatest blues label of them all. Muddy Waters, Memphis Slim, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley and Etta James all recorded for Chess.

Catch up with a few Chess classics here…

In the mid 20th Century, Chicago was home to a number of famous labels – including VeeJay (John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, The Four Seasons and, when Capitol rejected them, the early Beatles). Sadly all of their historic buildings are long gone. Which makes 2120 South Michigan Avenue all the more important.

Our guide Ben showed us around with a quiet pride in the place that really made the visit memorable. Great storytelling combined with lovingly restored period detail make this a MUST when in Chicago.

If you're visiting in the month of June the Wille Dixon Foundation stage live events in the garden that they've created in the lot adjacent.

A special tour of a very special place for music fans.

Chess Studios (at Blues Heaven Foundation)
2120 S. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60616

Tues - Sat:  12 - 4pm
Sunday & Monday:  closed

Tours every hour at 12, 1, 2 & 3pm!**

​​​$15 per adult
$10 for youth (ages 5-17)
$13 per person for groups of 20+ (except for youth prices)

You can visit Chess Studios under your own steam – but our trip was part of a bespoke music experience curated and guided by the wonderful Hilary of Inside Chicago Walking Tours.

Get in touch with Inside Chicago here…

Twitter @InsideChiTours

Instagram @insidechicago

I'll be reporting from Chicago again later in this series.

For musical travellers coming FROM Chicago – particularly Chicago Bears fans coming to visit london for the NFL game in October – why not add a London Music Tour to your big trip? Beatles, Stones, Hendrix and MORE. 

Book a private tour or book on to one of our regular, scheduled trips.  

Keep In Touch…


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