Machers And Rockers

Overview

"Rich Cohen is a born storyteller, and this tale of how Muddy Waters and Leonard Chess helped invent Rock & Roll in Chicago in the 1950s is a tough, funny and smart read. It's a big story, told in a big way." —Jann Wenner
A tour-de-force history of Jews, blues, and the birth of a new industry. On the south side of Chicago in the late 1940s, two immigrants, one a Jew born in Russia, the other a black blues singer from Mississippi met and changed the course of musical history. Muddy Waters electrified the ...

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Overview

"Rich Cohen is a born storyteller, and this tale of how Muddy Waters and Leonard Chess helped invent Rock & Roll in Chicago in the 1950s is a tough, funny and smart read. It's a big story, told in a big way." —Jann Wenner
A tour-de-force history of Jews, blues, and the birth of a new industry. On the south side of Chicago in the late 1940s, two immigrants, one a Jew born in Russia, the other a black blues singer from Mississippi met and changed the course of musical history. Muddy Waters electrified the blues, and Leonard Chess recorded it. Soon Bo Diddly and Chuck Berry added a dose of pulsating rhythm, and Chess Records captured that, too. Rock & roll had arrived, and an industry was born. In a book as vibrantly and exuberantly written as the music and people it portrays, Rich Cohen tells the engrossing story of how Leonard Chess, with the other record men, made this new sound into a multi-billion-dollar business aggressively acquiring artists, hard-selling distributors, riding the crest of a wave that would crash over a whole generation. Full of absorbing lore and animated by a deep love for popular music, Machers and Rockers is a smash hit.

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Editorial Reviews

David L. Ulin
It's a great story, and Cohen is ideally suited to tell it; a contributing editor at Rolling Stone and author of three previous books, including Tough Jews, he grew up in the Chicago suburb of Glencoe and writes with the jagged rhythms of the street. Most important, he understands the mythic fabric of the music, the way blues walks a line between the spiritual and the worldly, between Sunday morning and Saturday night.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In a postscript to his dynamic history of Chess Records, Cohen (Tough Jews) confesses that its tale is one he's been telling since adolescence, "using whatever was at hand to make the case: not only does this song rock, it also has something big to tell us." Cohen's book has something big to say too about how the unlikely marriage of the shtetl and the plantation produced Chicago blues and rock and roll. The music that exploded into the living rooms of America and the world might have remained in the juke joints of the South if not for "record men" like Leonard Chess, whose label is rivaled only by Atlantic for its influence. Sensing an audience where the big labels didn't, Chess carted unvarnished recordings of artists like Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry in the trunk of his Cadillac, getting them in stores and on the air by any means necessary. Cohen weaves the story of the mercurial, lovable but not always entirely ethical Chess with the stories of the artists he recorded and well-judged glimpses of social history. Though written with the energy of his teenage bull sessions, Cohen's history avoids the rhetorical excess nearly endemic to rock and roll books, offering instead a punchy and driven but also sturdy and careful narrative. Agent, The Wylie Agency. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
With the label that bore his (and brother Philip's) name, Leonard Chess changed the business of popular music by introducing some of rock's greatest musicians. Cohen, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, chronicles the Polish immigrant's rise to fame in this entry of the new "Enterprise" series, which seeks to present business stories as literature. Starting out as a club owner, Chess learned the music business from the bottom up; his initial experience taught him how to gain the confidence of musicians. During his 20-year run, Chess launched the careers of Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, and Chuck Berry, profiled here in separate chapters. While these are written with obvious knowledge and affection, they distract from the story of Chess himself. Had Cohen maintained his focus, this book might have filled a need in business collections; as is, it just recycles well-known music history. For a tighter, if drier, portrait of Chess Records, see Nadine Cohodas's Spinning Blues into Gold. For larger performing arts collections only.-Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393052800
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/1/2004
  • Series: Enterprise Series
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 222
  • Sales rank: 1,243,455
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Rich Cohen

Rich Cohen is the author of Tough Jews, The Avengers, and Lake Effect. He lives in New York City.

Biography

Rich Cohen is the author of Tough Jews, The Avengers, and Machers and Rockers, and the memoir Lake Effect. His work has appeared in The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, among many other publications, and he is a contributing editor to Rolling Stone. He lives in New York City.

Author biography courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Good To Know

Some fun and fascinating outtakes from our interview with Cohen:

"I once had a job cleaning dead animals off the road after storms."

"I invented a whiffle-ball pitch still known in the Chicagoland areas as, ‘Cohen's rising sinker.'"

"I can't swim."

"I like the idea of scale-modeling, but have never actually done it. When I was a kid, I had a stamp collection, and a collection of hotel keys."

"I like to watch baseball and hockey, and don't know how anyone can watch golf. Though I like to play."

"I have two small children, and that uses up every bit of free time that might otherwise be used for hobby-ing. And that's fine with me."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Rocket
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 30, 1968
    2. Place of Birth:
      Lake Forest, Illinois
    1. Education:
      B.A., Tulane University, 1990

Table of Contents

1 Today You Are a Man, Go Get Me a Drink 13
2 Jew Street 23
3 The Call It the Blues, but It Makes You Want to Dance 69
4 2120 South Michigan 119
5 The Kids Dig It, but the Kids Are Sick 155
6 The Record Man Pays for Our Sins 179
Sources 199
Suggested Listening 203
Acknowledgments 206
Index 209
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