Marshall Chess, son of the late Leonard Chess and co-founder of iconic blues label Chess Records, is set to release his album “New Moves” this spring. The album comes in the wake of various challenges stemming from record-business drama that began in the late 2000s when Chess wanted to make an album with classic blues samples mixed with contemporary electronic music. Chess sought permission from publishers to use samples of the music from his family label, which Universal Music Group had taken over, but the executives blocked the project. Chess and collaborator Keith LeBlanc worked on an alternate version of the album and approached BMG for administration. The project was put on hold due to Chess’ two spinal surgeries and the COVID-19 pandemic making it impossible to work on the project together. They were later able to revive it through their ingenuity, resulting in the creation of another album using a different approach.
New Moves contains no actual Howlin’ Wolf vocals, Muddy Waters guitar solos or Little Walter harp riffs, but LeBlanc’s Chess Project crew surrounded Fowler’s moans and murmurs with blasts of electric guitars and harmonicas so they capture the vibe of what happened so many years ago at Chess in Chicago. Marshall Chess describes physically summoning the spirits of Leonard and Phil Chess to get to the heart of a track on the album during the creation process.
Chess initially steered the family blues label, Chess Records, into the psychedelic counter-culture in 1967, starting his own imprint and moving Waters and Wolf into stretched-out, funky blues with their respective albums Electric Mud and The Howlin’ Wolf Album. Traditionalists hated the albums, while Electric Mud was a top label seller for years and went on to inspire a generation of rappers, including Public Enemy’s Chuck D. Chess’ vision was appreciated by Robert Gordon, a Memphis blues historian who wrote the definitive Waters biography, 2002’s Can’t Be Satisfied.