Muddy Waters. Bo Diddley. Willie Dixon. Koko Taylor. Buddy Guy. Howlin’ Wolf. Chuck Berry. The Rolling Stones. Etta James. A small building at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue was the place where some of the biggest blues and rock artists launched their careers. World famous artists still pop in to this day to pay homage to Chess Records, (now Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven) where countless hit songs and albums were recorded.
History of Chess Records
Chess Records was founded in 1950 by Polish-Jewish immigrants Leonard and Phil Chess. The most famous address was at the 2120 S. Michigan address, which was immortalized in a song with the same name recorded by The Rolling Stones in 1964. They were at that location from 1956 to 1965.
Touring the Studio
For US$10, it’s possible to get a tour of the studio. The highlights of the tour aren’t the studio or the memorabilia, but the incredible personal stories told by Willie Dixon’s own grandson, Keith. He even gave me a chance to pose with Willie’s bass.
After listening to Keith’s stories, we had some time to wander around the studio. In the studio itself, there’s a picture of Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy recording a song there, drums played by Charlie Watts, and a piano played by Willie Dixon.
Behind the studio are glass cases holding memorabilia from Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy.
Downstairs is a museum that holds different exhibitions. At the time we visited there was a photo exhibition of various blues and rock musicians along with a wall with life masks of many different artists.
There were also more glass cases with memorabilia, including items from Koko Taylor, Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, and Bo Diddley.
Finally, before exiting through the gift shop, we walked past the offices used by the Chess brothers.
My hour at Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven gave me a nice look into the music world in the 1950s and 60s. I learned a lot about the artists at Chess Records and their influence on music that lasts to this day. This small building is a Chicago treasure that music lovers should make a point to visit.
One final note: every Thursday night during the summer, free concerts are held from 6-7pm in the lot adjacent to the building. The studio is open Monday to Friday from 11am to 4pm and Saturday from noon to 3pm.