Kings of Chicago After an exhausting journey covering thousands of miles, the Cheque family arrived in Chicago on the 15th of August 1928, emigrating from an unsettled Germany. With only a handful of possessions & very little knowledge of their newly adopted country, Samuel & Edith Cheque, with their two sons & three daughters settled apprehensively in the Jewish section of S.Bileov. At the time the Cheque family decided to start a new life, America was as prosperous as ever & reaching it's financial peak. After only a few months, however, the country was to experience the greatest financial crash it had ever known - thousands of people soon found themselves on the bread lines & the future looked bleak. Not, however, for the Cheque family. At first the Cheques had their fair shiar of hard times - on the second day of their arrival, Sam Cheque, armed only with a second-hand Singer sewing machine, an order book & two matzoh sandwiches set out into his strange new world to try & bring home a little money. At the end of the day he returned to his family a dispirited man. Hours of walking the endless streets had netted no more than a chain of fifty drapery stores in Cicero & Aurora & a 50% share in an Afghanistan Boot Blacking Company brought with his last fifty cents. It was a hard blow but Sam was a determined man. By the late 1940's the family business had become one of the most well known organisations in the Chicago Drapery Trade. Sam's great skill & inventiveness had earned him the chairmanship of the Chicago Weaving & Things To Do With Making Clothes In General But Not Particularly Footwear Unless of Course You Mean Socks In Which Case Yes Guild. It was in 1945 that his two sons Len & Phil joined their father & not long afterwards changes were to be made. Len recalls an incident that was to have far-reaching affects: "Phil & I were working in the shop one day, & right across the street was a record store. We'd see these guys goin' in on a Friday night & comin' out again while carryin' big piles of records. Never in boxes you know, they'd come staggerin' outta that joint with 'em all in their arms, & sometimes they'd trip & fall & break all the records, which I guess had the effect of kinda spoiling the weekend some. So it was then that Phil had the idea of making a special jacket with big 10" pockets on both sides, & also on the inside so that you could were this into the shop, load up your jacket & come out again. Seemed like a good idea, so we started making just a few, see how they'd sell, you know. So, they sold pretty good, we made some more & pretty soon most people who bought records around the South Side had one. We made a lotta money from that line". This garment was, of course the famous "Illinois Jacquet", worn for years around the South Side, & when loaded with records helped to preserve for all time the legend of the Groucho Marx walk. The successful marketing of this product made Len & Phil aware of the potential in the record trade. The coats sold well to other record shops around the South Side & in this way the brothers found an entry into the world of R&B music. It soon occurred to them that they could have a healthy slice of two good markets if they sold the records to go with the coat. The astute Len began to cast his eye around for likely looking talent. It came in the shape of two young lads working in a local laundry. Len passed them in the street one day while they were playing their instruments in their lunch hour. Within a few days Len had arranged a studio session & three weeks later the Cheque brothers first record on their own label, named after the little old lady who pressed trousers for them three mornings a week, was launched. Albert Laundry & McKinley Manglewheel had been working local blues joints around the South Side for three or four years. Now, finally they had a record to there name. It sold well enough to encourage Len & Phil to make more records & the search for further talent began in earnest. Within a year, Alice Toecrat records had several fine blues singers signed up & releases appeared within increasing regularity. Particularly interesting was Leroy Fosterslager, & his Wobbleboard, who had a fine release on Alice Toecrat 4321 "Rare Record Boogie" b/w "This'll Go Down Well in Europe 30 Years From Now". When, in 1950 Alice Toecrat herself died tragically in the great South Side Fairy Cakes disaster, the two brothers discontinued the label name & formed Cheque records, with a completely new logo. By this time they had outstripped the local labels like Timpo-Tune, Plunket, Old Scratched Masters, Pratway & Rizla, to become unchallenged in the field of R&B in Chicago. Parellel to this growth had been the agreement between Cheque & Sam Echochamber in Memphis to lease masters cut for Echochambers studios. Soon, a new voice was to be heard on Cheque. The wavering vibratto of the unique Ailing Wilf, or "The Mighty Wilf: as he liked to be called. In the years 1951-1960 the Cheque empire grew & flourished. They had hit after hit. Jackie Banjo & Uke Tuner had several hits, as did a smoother city singer Wally Maybe with his big hit "I Don't Knoe Either". One of the stalwarts of the Cheque stable was a pianist & singer Eddie Yobbo, whose pleasant style found favour around Chicago at that time. His big hit "It's So Miserable To Be Tickled by Rosalee for 24 Hours In A Hotel" ensured a long career for him. Emboldened by the success that met them at every turn the Cheque Bros. enlarged their operation in 1954 with the new subsidiary label Exchecker. The first few releases were largely unremarkable city blues by artists like Clinton Ford & Edmund "Mr.Blues" Hockeridge, but with the release of Exchecker 758 they had a hit on their hands. Little Noddy, a superb harmonica player from Outrageous, Louisiana had been heard before, but only as an accompanist to Suddy Waters. Now, for the first time he had his own record out. Backed by his group the Kosher Kats he played "Puke" b/w "I Can't Hold That, It's Too Long". Such was the success of this initial release that they subsequently billed themselves "Little Noddy & the Pukes". For the next eight years Noddy had hit after hit, his popularity rivalling & some times overtaking that of Suddy Waters. Wally "Naughty Boy Williamson came to Chicago to record for Cheque on the strength of his popularity in the south. By the time he reached Chicago he had already made a considerable number of records for the Flaxon, Mississippi based Strumpet label. For Exchecker he had hits like "Flattening Frogs With Slats", "Cross My Fart", "The Stoat" & a remarkable blues dedicated to a visiting Swedish drunkard, "Bjorn Blind". The musicians who backed Naughty Boy & indeed many other bluesmen deserve a mention. Guitarist Robert Licquorice Jr. famous for his guitar "runs", Wally Dickson - bassist on almost everything recorded in the Cheque studios, drummer Freddy Above, & of course Otis Spam, the pianist, Spam himself had a remarkable issue on Exchecker "Jive Plot", featuring the stinging power chords of Burt Weedon on guitar b/w "It Must Have Been The Corned Beef, Uuuurrpp". In 1956 Len & Phil turned their attention to New Orleans with a view to getting a slice of that market. They contacted Paul Gatecrasher & asked him to scout around for talent. Gatecrasher thre himself into this task with unequalled enthusiasm & visited several houses of note in the French Quarter, notably the one on Bourbon Street known as "Creole Lil's Juke Joint". However, the Cheque's wouldn't foot the expense accounts & sent three genetlemen in double breasted suits down to see Paul about his bookkeeping. When, a few months later he got out of hospital he ran across a local singer Terence "Clogman" Henry. They went into the studio to cut "I Don't Know Why I Clog You But I Do" b/w "You Always Thump The One You Love". Gatecrasher himself had some success with numbers like "Oi-Vay Walk" & "Nostril Bogey". Gatecrasher also found & recorded the white R&R singer Charley Boobs who had some limited success with "On Bended Rectum". Meanwhile back in Chicago things were changing rapidly. The blues market that Cheque had dominated for so long was being invaded from two seperate quarters. First, a rival Chicago company CeeBee records run by Vivian Bracken & Jimmy (No Relation) Carter had provided the first real competition on the blues scene with singers like Jimmy Peeved, Eddie Thirtybobsuit, Snooky Topping & Billy Boy 'Erbert. Second, & more importantly, was the advent of Rock & Roll. Cheque was not slow to reaqct to this new phenomenon & contributed two major artists to this field. Suddy Waters brought to the attention of Cheque a recent arrival by the name of Chuck Upyerdinner. He had made a demo of "Ida Bigun" an old C&W song. Len & Phil saw great potential in this, had Upyerdinner rewrite it & it was issued as "Vaseline", a classic R&R car song. Upyerdinner cored hit after hit for Cheque with songs like "The Downtown Drains", "Cross Eyed Handsome Man", "Roll Over Shostakovich", & "Johnny B.Mediocre". Upyerdinners lyrics set him apart from most other Rock'n'Rollers. They seemed to catch the innocence of growing up in the States in the mid fifties, &, moreover, were a Godsend to a great number of boring rock pundits some twenty years later who made much mileage out of lyrics such as this: Gonna write a little letter, gonna mail it to my local Chip Shop, Gonna ask 'em for a lump o' cod to nosh at the Record Hop Roll over Shostakovitch in case this disc is a flop You know my chips have gone soggy, I shoulda eaten em sooner than this I can't find the loo an' I'm really busting for a piss Roll over Shostakovitch & give that poove Elgar a kiss Well if your feelin' like it, go get some pud and then eat it up quick like you should then you can move on up to a trifle, further then chuck up all over one another Roll over Shostakovitch or I'll throw up over your shoes The second artist Cheque signed was Bo Peep, a unique singer/guitarist who, like Upyerdinner had come to the Cheque studios with a demo. The song was "Bo Peep" but the Cheques felt this was somewhat egoccentric & so it was rewritten & issued as "Dirty Motha Fuyer". Bo's engaging rythm, known as "Shave & a circumcison Four Dollara plus tax" had instant appeal. By the early sixties Cheques was still the top company in Chicago & the distribution of it's records was nationwide. A new generation of bluesmen in Chicago where making themselves heard & Len & Phil signed one of the most important new talents, Friendly Chap. Chap's "First Time I Bought Some Glue" was a ringing, intense number that typified the new Chicago blues. Cheques main producer, Ralph Shark, takes up the story: "Shitwewuzlookinaroun'fersumnootalant'onedayLencomesinsez"HEYRALPHYAGOSSAMASS HOLEWHENYAGONNAGITOFYORASSANGITSOMEHITSMADEHUH?YATHINKMONEYGROWSONTHREESWEGOT BILLSTAPAYSONUFABITCH. SoifiguredI'dbettergitsomeactionmovinanwentoutonth'sst reett'seeifIcouldfindanytin. Shitmansowefinsthiscatheseemedlikeagoodsingeran'Ilikedhimhewasprettygoody'know infactIremembersayinatthetimeshitmanwehadawayo'sayinthingslikef'risntanceif someonewasOKyouknowwe'dsayhewas"buddy"meaninghewuzOKy'knowman,sothiscatseemed likeabuddysorto'guytome!Soanywaysshitmanwejustlikegothimintathastudioandshit thewasshitotmanImeanholyshit". Cheque Records continued trading throughout the sixties but found themselves surrounded by a changing market. Things were not the same as they had been ten or fifteen years before. The days when Len would go into a Radio station with a pile of money & have the DJ's rip it eagerly from his hands were gone. A younger member of the family had entered the business, brining with him new ideas & fresh approaches. Dudley Cheque, known throughout the South Side as "Dud Cheque" was taking an increasingly important role in the business. In 1972 the family business was taken over by the Get Rich Twice Co. Ltd, & the family took a back seat in the operating. The golden age of post-war blues recording had come & gone, but while it was here, the Cheques had been a major force, helping to shape & mould it. Things would never(sob) be the same (boohoo) again. (Sniff) To get some idea of the flavour of these golden days it is necessary to listen to the tapes recorded in the studios during a session. Here, then is a transcript of one of those recordings, complete with studio chat: BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Clink. PTANG! WOKAWOKAWOKAchgchgchg. Pfftt. Len Cheque : Shit Ralph turn that goddam thing off willya? Ralph Shark: OKOK, jusgettinittogethermanshitgimmeabreakman LC: OK, Noddy, you ready? Little Noddy: Uh? er..huh hmm. Any snuff jouice, man? LC: You git that after the goddam session, you ready? LN: Yea. LC: Everybody ready? Mixed Voices: Uh? yea...hmmm...shit! bent ma symbol man, Uh? Eerrp! Scuse me... LC: OK, Goin' Down To Big Ears House take one. Hit it! Band: (3.25 bars in keys E, A & C. Tempo's various) LC: HOLD IT HOLD IT. Hey, wazzhappeningoutthere, huh? Drummer: We's all tone deqaf. HAHAHAHOHOHO LC: You wanna get paid tonight? Drummer: Er...yea LC: Then shaddup. What's your name anyhow? Drummer: They call me "Porkchops" LC: Whatkindahellname izzat? PORKCHOPS?! This here is a good kosher studio. We're under Beth Din here man, Damned trouble maker, get that bum outta here (various crashes, bangs, punches being thrown etc.) LC: OK, I'm gonna come doen there an' play the drums myself man, Gimme a minute, OK? - tape stops - restarts again. LN: ..So this guy sez "yea man, well you shoulda hadda rubber on th'end o' yours an' you wouldn't be in this kinda shit HAHAHA (general laughter from band) LC: OK, that's enough with the jokes man, OK, Going Down To Big Ears House, take 2. Hit it! (16 bars of musci. Sudden shout of pain) RS: Heywazzhappeningdownthereman? Robert Licquorice: Noddy swallowed his harp man! RS: Shitmanwottabummer. RL: Could be, depends how far down it goes. LC: You OK, Noddy? LN: (Chromatic belch) LC: OK you guys, turn him upside down an' jiggle him around some. (various painful noises) RL: No good man, won't come out. Gone down too far, like I said. What we gonna do? LC: Give him some Ex-Lax an' lock him in the john. LN: (Chromatic fart) LC: Hey! That sounds good man! Yea, listen turn him over, give him a couple a beers an' lower that mike! RL: Ok, Len, got it. LC: Ok Noddy, now when I point at ya, strain, OK? LN: Eerrp. LC: Goin' Down To Big Ears take 3 (Complete take) LC: Good, it's in the can,man. LN: It's all over the floor too. RS: Shitmanwazzgoinon? RL: That's just what IS goin' on man RS: HAHAHAHAHA. (door opens) Rabbi Goldstein: Alright lads, now what's going on? LC: Hiya Abe. RG: Don't Hiya Abe me, man. Dya know what time it is? LC: No RG: Five past six. Dya know what day it is? LC: (worried) Er,no. RG: FRIDAY! What's a good Jewish boy like you doing here at five past six on a friday? LC: Sorry Abe. Didn't realize. RG: You get your ass into that Synagogue fast man, before some cuttin' gets done. RS: He aintfoolinman,RabbiGoldsteinthefastestmanwithabladeIknow LC: OK OK I'm going. RS: NotmemanI'mabuddhist LN: OiVay.