TUCSON, AZ (CelebrityAccess) — Phil Chess, the co-founder of the legendary Chicago-based R&B label Chess Records, died Tuesday at his home in Tucson, Arizona. He was 95.
Chess's nephew Craig Glicken told the Chicago Sun-Times that Chess died overnight at his 30-acre ranch and said his uncle had been in good health.
Phil Chess and his brother, Leonard, founded Chess Records in Chicago in 1950. The label would go on to launch the careers of a who's who of blues and rock artists, including Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Etta James, and Chuck Berry.
Chess (whose birth name was Fiszel Czyż) was born in Poland but emigrated to the US with his family, changing their name to Chess in the process.
After a stint in the army, Phil joined his brother Leonard in business, starting with a liquor store before running a nightclub and eventually taking over Aristocrat Records and re-launching it as Chess.
From its start, Chess Records focused on the African-American audience, with their second release the Muddy Waters hit 'I Can’t Be Satisfied ' which sold out its first pressing in a single day.
“Phil was the rock of the company. He held down the office and took care of financial matters,” Alligator Records head Bruce Iglauer told The Guardian. “Leonard was known to be emotional, mercurial, and sometimes difficult to deal with while Phil was always the solid one. He was the go-to guy when business had to be dealt with.”
The two brothers sold Chess in 1969, shortly before Leonard died of a heart attack. Phil moved to Tucson, where he lived until his death with his wife of 70 years Sheva Jonesi. – Staff Writers