The way the story is usually told to -- or, at least, heard by -- neophytes, Chess Records only ever got its toe into rockabilly, by way of Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" and Dale Hawkins' "Suzie Q." This 21-track CD -- which includes Hawkins' work in its lineup -- shows how inadequate that understanding is, from the output of white rockers like Eddie Fontaine and black bluesmen like Johnny Fuller, all of whom passed through the Chess rosters, on offshoot labels such as Argo and Checker. And among the true rarities here is "Cool Off Baby" by Billy Barrix, a frantic piece of rockabilly that sounds like Elvis' Sun stuff cranked up 50-percent faster, with the singer on stimulants. The amazing aspect of this collection is not so much its quality, but how unknown many of these artists are, at least within the contexts in which they're heard here. Fuller made a name for himself working in other music idioms, and some of the people represented here got their moments of glory, but the records here, though mostly first-rate, seldom got heard or made a lasting impression. And Barrix did succeed as a disc jockey, a little later in life. Put simply, this CD is an essential acquisition, and if the music alone isn't enough of a reason, the extensive annotation should seal the deal, along with the high-quality sound and overall packaging and production. And that's not even taking into account some of the gaps closed in one's understanding of the history of Chess Records by this disc -- this is some of the huge amounts of history that they never even hinted at in Cadillac Records. And it's all not just rare, but also first-rate music -- any of these people could have become major stars, and at least one, Russell Bridges aka Leon Russell, did; just not with his stomping shouter "All Right," a piece that very much shows the influence of Bridges' then-recent employer Jerry Lee Lewis.
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