Phil Chess, co-founder of the legendary Chess Records, passed away last week at the age of 95.
Phil and his late brother Leonard turned their small indie label in Chicago into a launching pad for top electric blues artists, and in the process helped pave the way for the development of early rock & roll.
The record company gave us blues greats such as Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Little Walter, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Buddy Guy—but also Ike Turner, Etta James, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry (arguably the king of rock & roll).
But what intrigues me most about the story of Chess is how the brothers treated (or mistreated) many down-and-out blues singers. It’s a classic narrative that runs through the history of the music biz but especially the early days of blues, R&B, and rock & roll—where record labels, producers, managers, promoters, and agents have long been accused of exploiting their artists, many of them black.
Over three decades ago I ran an unusual political campaign for the highest office in the land. Looking back on it now, it’s hard to believe I actually did it. I’ve often wondered if alien lizards took control of my brain. But I suppose I should take responsibility for it and admit that the devil made me do it.
The short version of the story is that I appeared on NBC’s Tomorrow Show in 1980 to suddenly announce—four years in advance—that I was a candidate for U.S. President for 1984.
As a result of this appearance on national television, a book contract followed the next day, plus endless radio and newspaper interviews, and I was off and running. I had no illusions about winning, but I guess I wanted to find out what it was like to run for national office—and to show that anyone could in fact run for U.S. President.
I was a rock musician at the time, so I ran a rock & roll campaign—improvising and jamming thoughout. In the end I technically didn’t win (i.e. I didn’t get enough votes—a ridiculous way to measure victory) and Ronald Reagan managed to eke out a 49-state victory. Yet Walter Mondale, who came in second despite spending $27 million, won only ONE more state than I did. And I spent only two hundred dollars (of my own money).
This may infuriate some friends (and even some business colleagues), but I have to say: I’m not a conspiracy buff.
Of course conspiracies exist, but I don't buy into the popular hits. I don’t believe that three bankers run the world, that terrorist acts are inside jobs, that US elections are fixed, that man-made global warming is a prefabricated hoax, or that aliens with reptilian bloodlines are taking over. (Ok, maybe this last one isn’t that far-fetched given the headlines lately.)
My rejection of the above, taken as a whole, likely puts me in the minority among U.S. adults these days. This argues for (among other things) a curriculum overhaul in American schools, addressing our illiteracy in civics, history, science, and more—but that’s another topic for another occasion.
How, you might ask, have I come to embrace such a heterodox worldview, given the ubiquity of urban legends? Well, I was schooled early. I was exposed to many conspiracy theories in my early music days, my favorite of which was the “Paul is dead” controversy surrounding the Beatles.
I was hacked again this week, which gives me a wonderful opportunity to elaborate on an earlier post on the subject.
One nice thing about having your email accounts hacked from time to time is hearing back from old friends and business colleagues around the world whom you haven't been in touch with for years.
In my case I can't say that everyone on my spammed contact list was entirely pleased to hear from me—or who they thought was me—but their responses have got me thinking. Hundreds of folks are now wondering how I've been able to start so many multi-million-dollar home businesses this year AND successfully sell cheap meds on the side (while maintaining a consulting practice & blog and re-launching my music career).
Well I've decided to exploit this opportunity and share my trade secrets in a new book, How You Can Make Millions From Getting Hacked & Spammed In Your Spare Time. (The first step will be "Don't give up that AOL account.") Subtitle: Business Lessons From Viagra.
While we’re on the subject, I’ve been thinking about different kinds of identity theft. One kind has been going on in the music world for decades: bands doing reunion tours with only one member (or NO members) of the original band.
So many thoughts after seeing Eight Days a Week, Ron Howard’s documentary on The Beatles’ touring years! Any Millennials who just don’t get the big fuss about this band should watch it.
Between 1963 and 1966 these four mop-tops generated more fan hysteria on a larger scale than any other musical performers in world history (easily eclipsing the glory days of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley). And this film captures that.
Eight Days a Week also gives us a good idea of what made this band simultaneously the biggest and the best popular music act ever—AND perhaps the most effective small business team in the last half century.
As I’ve been pointing out for the last decade—on this blog and previously on www.tompeters.com—The Beatles did so many things right as a small company:
• The Fabs were radical innovators who took career-threatening risks to promote their “product.” They burned the rulebook for what a band had to look like, sound like, and act like. From image & fashion to song composition to record production to album packaging and more, The Beatles forced rivals onto a new playing field.