Willie Dixon's Blue Heaven
Willie Dixon's Blue Heaven
Billie Jean's Place
The historic building at 2120 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago is more than the site of the old Chess Records Studio; it's also the home of Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation, which provides scholarships, royalty recovery advice, emergency assistance to blues performers in need, as well as sponsoring a "blues in school" program.
But there's more: besides housing the foundation's charitable operations, Blues Heaven also preserves and perpetuates the blues through performances and displays.
Outside the building is Willie Dixon's Blues Garden, an open air performance stage surrounded by banners and silhouettes of famous blues performers.
For those who are a little rusty in recognizing silhouettes, those on the fence represent, from left to right, Bo Diddley with his trademark square guitar, Albert King with his pipe, and Koko Taylor, who we would call today "a blues diva". During the warm weather, seasoned and aspiring musicians perform their interpretations of the blues on the stage at the rear of the garden.
Inside the building, in the room where Chess used to press, package and ship its records, various rotating memorabilia displays of Chess performers stand in tribute of the music created within its walls.
When I visited, the first case in the room contained items from Bo Diddley's career including a test 45 rpm record pressing of his 1965 "Hey, Good Lookin' " recording, his on-stage performance outfit from one tour, and his trademark badge hat and boots. The law enforcement-related badge was from the South Carolina Military Academy Police.
Any one who doesn't believe Bo is a prolific recorder would become a believer just seeing this pile of 33 rpm record albums laying in the case!
I have a few of these records, but also have quite a few more that are not on display like "Where It All Began ", "Bo Diddley - 24 Hits ", "The Bo Diddley London Sessions " and the famous live album from a 1960s concert, "Surfing With Bo Diddley " album.
Several rows over from this case was another one displaying items from Koko Taylor's career including a set of her trademark sequined shoes and earrings she wore on one concert tour.
If you look closely, you will notice a 33 rpm record which is the first test copy of her biggest hit, the Willie Dixon-written " Wang Dang Doodle ". It's original condition is highlight by the lack of a label of any kind--someone used a pointed instrument such as an awl to scratch into the record's center section: " Koko Taylor Wang Dang Doodle ". (For you youngsters, a 33 rpm record was wide with a small spindle hole; a 45 had a two inch hole in the center spindle area!)
Back in the old front office for the Chess Studios, now the front office for Blues Heavens, in a crystal case, resides the recording industry's silent and permanent acknowledgment of Willie Dixon's role in influencing blues music while also becoming the record holder for the most musical copyrights--his Grammy award.
(Willie's nearest nearest competitor is Prince who is a distant second in the number of songs written and copyrighted).
Upstairs, across the hall from the studio, hangs Willie's performance suit, hat and guitar in the room where the recording artists used to wait and warm up for their sessions.
Note Wille's hat, often seen in photographs of him, hanging on the wall...
...well, look who got to try it on! (even if it did fade into the photograph's background a little bit!)