After spending a few years in limbo after scoring her first R&B hits "Dance With Me, Henry" and "Good Rocking Daddy," Etta James returned to the spotlight in 1961 with her first Chess release, At Last. James made both the R&B and pop charts with the album's title cut, "All I Could Do Was Cry," and "Trust in Me." What makes At Last a great album is not only the solid hits it contains, but also the strong variety of material throughout. James expertly handles jazz standards like "Stormy Weather" and "A Sunday Kind of Love," as well as Willie Dixon's blues classic "I Just Want to Make Love to You." James demonstrates her keen facility on the title track in particular, as she easily moves from powerful blues shouting to more subtle, airy phrasing; her Ruth Brown-inspired, bad-girl growl only adds to the intensity. James would go on to even greater success with later hits like "Tell Mama," but on At Last one hears the singer at her peak in a swinging and varied program of blues, R&B, and jazz standards.
Generations of chess players have grown up on Fred Reinfeld’s books. He has a way of reducing the most intricate, complicated combinations to their basic components. After Reinfeld explains a combination, it makes sense.
It is no exaggeration to call Little Walter the Jimi Hendrix of the electric harp: he redefined what the instrument was and what it could do, pushing the instrument so far into the future that his music still sounds modern decades after it was recorded. Little Walter wasn't the first musician to amplify the harmonica but he arguably was the first to make the harp sound electric, twisting twitching, vibrant runs out of his instrument; nearly stealing the show from Muddy Waters on his earliest Chess recordings; and so impressing Leonard Chess that he made Muddy keep Walter as his harpist even after Waters broke up his band. Chess also made Walter into his studio's house harpist and started to release Little Walter solo records with the instrumental "Juke" in 1952. "Juke" became a smash hit and turned Little Walter into a star, making him a steady presence on the '50s R&B charts.
Road Runner, the second volume of Hip-O Select's ongoing chronicle of Bo Diddley's complete Chess/Checker master recordings, covers roughly one calendar year whereas its predecessor, I'm a Man, spanned four — a good indication that 1959 was an eventful year for Bo. During this one year, he had his biggest pop hit in the jive-talking "Say Man" and had another sizable R&B hit with "Crackin' Up," but both these sides were cut in 1958 and released as a single in 1959.
In May 1955, an unknown Mississippi-born blues singer stormed up the US R&B charts with a song called Bo Diddley, a mesmeric combination of chanted vocals, choppy tremolo guitar and pounding tom-tom drums. Raw, primal, and boasting a refrain as addictive as heroin, it was unlike anything that had been heard before. Record buyers may have been a tad perplexed by the fact that the artist’s name was also Bo Diddley, but that didn’t stop them buying enough copies to send it rocketing to No 1.