2120 South Michigan Avenue, home of Chicago’s Chess Records, may be the most important address in the bloodline of the blues and rock ‘n’ roll.
That address – immortalized in the Rolling Stones’ like-named instrumental, recorded at an epochal session at Chess in June 1964 and included on the band’s album 12 X 5 – serves as the title to George Thorogood’s electrifying Capitol/EMI salute to the Chess label and its immortal artists.
Thorogood has been essaying the Chess repertoire since his 1977 debut album, which included songs by Elmore James and Bo Diddley that originated on the label. He has cut 18 Chess covers over the years; three appeared on his last studio release, 2009’s The Dirty Dozen. On 2120 South Michigan Avenue, he offers a full-length homage to the label that bred his style with interpretations of 10 Chess classics.
The album also includes original tributes to the Windy City and Chess’ crucial songwriter-producer-bassist Willie Dixon, penned by Thorogood, producer Tom Hambridge, and Richard Fleming, plus a cranked-up version of the Stones’ titular instrumental.
Chess Records had been making musical history for a decade before it moved into its offices on Michigan Avenue, in the heart of the Windy City’s record business district, in 1957. Leonard and Phil Chess, sons of a Polish immigrant family and South Side nightclub operators, bought into a new independent label called Aristocrat Records in 1947. The brothers bought out their partners in 1950 and gave the label the family name; by that time, they had racked up blues hits by Muddy Waters, Sunnyland Slim, Robert Nighthawk, and St. Louis Jimmy.
Chess’ studio spawned timeless ‘50s and ‘60s recordings by Waters, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Howlin’ Wolf, which served as inspiration for the Stones and their blues-rocking brethren, and then lit a fire under their successors George Thorogood and the Destroyers.