The deep grooves of Chicago's Record Row will never go away.
Like waves from Lake Michigan, American roots music roared out of South Michigan Avenue from the late 1950s through the 1970s.
Popular music would be changed forever.
Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters recorded at the Chess Records Studio, 2120 S. Michigan. This is where the Rolling Stones made their 1964 album "12 X 5," birthing blues into rock n' roll. Further on up the road the Vee Jay and Brunswick offices and studio were established at 1449 S. Michigan.
The Beatles first American exposure was on Vee Jay; the single "Please Please Me" being released in February, 1963 as the Beattles. Chicago treasures the Staple Singers recorded their first gospel hit "Uncloudy Day" with Vee Jay in 1962. After Vee Jay went bankrupt in 1966, the building was sold to Brunswick Records, who recorded the Chi-Lites, Jackie Wilson, Tyrone Davis and the Young-Holt Trio.
In May of 2011 I learned the Vee-Jay/Brunswick building was for sale.
This led to a series of seven stories and a Sun-Times editorial, which are all chronicled here:
- Big Plans for Studio
- Chess Piece in place for landmark attraction
- Chess Records hoping to get legendary studio on tourists' radar
- George Thorogood Tribute Honors Chess
- Sun Shines on Chess
- Chicago Sun-Times Editorial, Time for Music Row to Showcase the Blues
- Two sidemen play at Chess Once More
- Cheap Trick moving to Record Row
The Sun-Times stories have helped inspire redevelopment in the neighborhood, which stretches as far south as 2300 South Michigan. The rock band Cheap Trick plans to open Cheap Trick Chicago, an eatery, museum, radio station and performance space at 2245 S. Michigan. The proximity of the McCormick Place makes the new Record Row attractive to developers and tourists.
The Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau is making a major push to increase the number of overseas visitors to the city in 2012. Expect television ads, online campaigns and even overseas offices. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Chicago currently ranks 10th (even behind Boston) with 1.1 million overseas visitors in 2010. I've read a great deal about how the tourism bureau plans to spin this and there's emphasis on shopping, the lake and great restaurants.
USA Today has just published a 56 page guide to Chicago on how to "Be The Ultimate Insider." There's a section on shopping, literary tours and even Chicago as a "destination for movie buffs."
There is not one word in the guide about Chicago music.
And there's an ad with Dolly Parton promoting Sevierville, Tn. on the back of the special edition.
I never read about music as a tourism tool for Chicago.
The city is missing the boat.
Look what is has done for Austin, Tx., Memphis, Nashville, Tn. and New Orleans.
Chicago has one of the most diverse pedigrees of American music. The sound was born in the south and in Bronzeville, just several blocks south of Record Row.
But it came of age along this historic gateway.
Come along to see how it develops.