Chess Studios Chicago

This post is part of a new series of music tourism recommendations for music lovers on their travels. We’ll look at London exhibitions and events of course, but we’ll also go further afield – outside London and even overseas. All reviews are based on actual visits and unless otherwise stated all tickets were bought and paid for by your reviewer London Music Tours’ Tourism Superstar 2022-nominated guide Adam Scott-Goulding.

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 their guided tour did NOT disappoint.

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.

At Leonard Chess’s desk

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.

The plaque

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 (see details below).

Find Chess Studios here…

PRACTICALS

Chicago is an amazing architectural and historic city. To get the most out of this grand old place, book the best guide in town… Hillary of Inside Chicago tours.

Hilary can provide you with an absolutely amazing music tour – when we visited Chicago she was the only guide offering a great music tour. She’s an expert on all aspects of the city and you can get in touch with her here: https://www.insidechicagowalkingtours.com/

GETTING THERE

aerial photography of building city lights
Photo by Nate on Pexels.com

At time of writing (March 2022) British Airways, United Airlines and American Airlines all operate direct flights from London to Chicago. Prices for a return flight (March 2022) start at £458 ($608).

Our experience of O’Hare International Airport was chaotic – long lines the like of which I have never seen anywhere in the world. In conversation with London visitors to Chicago it would seem that such scenes are not unusual at O’Hare. If you are travelling internally (i.e. from another U.S destination) many travellers have found that Midway Airport has shorter lines.

I’ll be returning to Chicago later in the year with the Rolling Stones 60th Anniversary walking tour – which includes a virtual tour of Chicago, Dartford, Richmond and Cheltenham as part of the ticket.

PREVIOUSLY ON #TRAVELTUESDAY I’VE VISITED…

A TRIP TO THE COVENTRY MUSIC MUSEUM

If you’ve visited any great music places, drop me a line using the form below

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