It was May of 1955. The record business was about to undergo a sea change.
Six major labels dominated the industry with established crooners like Frank Sinatra and instrumental bands like Mitch Miller and His Orchestra. The popular music scene was as racially divided as the country at large; black artists were largely limited to the R&B charts while white musicians got all the attention on the mainstream Top 40.
But smaller independent companies were making their mark with lesser known niche artists who enjoyed some success on a regional basis with narrower audiences. One of these was Chess Records in Chicago, which specialized in blues and R&B music with artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, The Moonglows and Ike Turner.
Label honcho Leonard Chess was eager to find a “crossover” act — a black musician who could take the energy of R&B and make it acceptable to white radio stations and audiences. “What I need,” he mused, “is someone who can successfully merge country music with blues music.”
And into the studio one morning walked Chuck Berry.