Get The Drum Sounds Of Chess Records | Reverb Studio Sampled Sounds

Brothers Leonard and Phillip Chess got their start in the music business by running a series of jazz nightclubs on Chicago's South Side for about 10 years. In 1947, Leonard (by himself, at first) was offered an investment into a local label called Aristocrat Records, which specialized in jazz and pop music.

Leonard quickly brought his brother on board, and by 1951, they had bought out all of the other partners. They changed the name to Chess and began to focus on Chicago's emerging electric blues scene. Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf were early artists, and throughout the early and mid-'50s, they'd sign Bo Diddley, Sonny Boy Williamson, Willie Dixon, Little Walter, and Chuck Berry, among other future luminaries.


Studio Sampled Sounds
Drum Series Vol. 4 | Chess Records Studios - Chicago, IL
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Through the early '70s, Chess Records pushed out gem after gem from their studios. Though they moved a few times, 2120 S. Michigan Ave. became the most prolific and iconic address. And an important ingredient to the driving and rhythmic blues, R&B, and early rock 'n' roll that made the label's reputation were the drummers behind the marquee names.

Reverb has launched a collection of re-recorded drum sounds and beats that emulate the iconic grooves and tones captured at 2120 S. Michigan: Studio Sampled Sounds - Drum Series Vol. 4 | Chess Records Studios - Chicago, IL.

This collection contains drum sounds modeled in the fashion, tuning, mic placement, and grooves of Fred Below, Maurice White, and Morris Jennings. This pack covers notable hits that they played on, such as "Smokestack Lightnin" by Howlin' Wolf, "Susie-Q" by Dale Hawkins, "Wang Dang Doodle" by Koko Taylor, and many more.

Get the Studio Sample Sounds sample pack and listen to our audio demo of just some of the drum sounds available below. Keep reading to learn more about the drummers and techniques behind these classic Chess drum tracks.

The Chess Records Drum Sound

The drum sound of Chess Records was forged by three particular musicians, who helped propel the rhythm sections during their respective tenures at the label. The first drummer to lay this blueprint was Chicago native, Fred Below.

Fred Below (Early '50s to Early '60s)

Fred Below

After returning home from military service, Fred Below joined Little Walter's band in 1952, before going full-time with Chess in 1955, and staying on through the early '60s. His unique "blues backbeat" style of playing incorporated the swinging shuffle of Jazz, all while staying in the pocket. The combination kept him high on the call list for many groups and sessions outside of his full-time work with Chess.

Below's playing can be heard on significant recordings from "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man" and "I Just Want to Make Love to You" by Muddy Waters, "My Babe" by Little Walter, "Walkin' The Blues" by Willie Dixon, "Spoonful" and "Wang Dang Doodle" by Howlin' Wolf, as well as hits from Chuck Berry, such as "School Days," "Johnny B. Goode," "Memphis, Tennessee," "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Too Much Monkey Business," "Havana Moon," "Rock and Roll Music," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Reelin' and Rockin'," "Guitar Boogie," "Sweet Little Rock and Roller," and "Let It Rock."

Below got his drum sound in the '50s by a combination of two room mics and one spot on the kick, muffled for studio sessions, but never muffled live. He used well-tuned Ludwig, Slingerland, and, later on, Gretsch kits.

Maurice White (Mid-'60s to Early '70s)

Maurice White

The second major contributor to the Chess Records rhythm section was a Memphis-born music student at The Chicago Conservatory of Music. His short time at Chess was just the beginning of a highly awarded career. His mother and stepfather lived in Chicago and he made frequent trips from Tennessee to visit them. Finally, he decided to make the move to big city, while still in his teens, to attend the challenging Chicago Conservatory. While still in school, he got an opportunity to try out for Leonard and Philip.

While at Chess he led the rhythm section and sessions on records for artists such as Etta James, Chuck Berry, Sonny Stitt, Muddy Waters, The Impressions, The Dells, Sugar Pie DeSanto, and Buddy Guy. Songs he helped create include "Rescue Me" by Fontella Bass, "You're No Good" by Betty Everet, "Summertime" by Billy Stewart, and "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" by Jackie Wilson.

In 1966, he was invited to join Ramsey Lewis in the pianist's high-profile trio. He continued to do some session work for Chess during this period. Soon, he left Lewis' band to do a short stint in jingle writing, before ultimately moving to California to construct the ensemble of Earth, Wind & Fire in 1970.

By the middle of the 1970s, Earth, Wind & Fire had had already become one of the most influential forces in popular music. Maurice White received 22 grammy nominations and seven wins for his work as the primary songwriter for Earth, Wind, & Fire. He has also been inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, The Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and The Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Morris Jennings (Late '60s to Early '70s)

Morris Jennings

A self-taught musician from Chicago, Morris Jennings was a third and final driving force of the Chess Records rhythm section. As a full-time staff member at Chess, Jennings was a versatile drummer, capable of playing, jazz, R&B, rock 'n' roll, and his speciality: Chicago blues.

Regarded for his impeccable timing and in-pocket style, his playing can be heard on the Electric Mud by Muddy Waters, The Howlin' Wolf by Howlin' Wolf, the Superfly soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield during his tenure leading the Chess Records rhythm section.

In 1969, Morris Jennings replaced his former co-worker Maurice White in the Ramsey Lewis Trio, playing on six of Ramsey's album during that period. Throughout the '70s, he would continue to do session work for artists such as Linda Clifford, Willie Dixon, Melvin Jackson, Ahmad Jamal, Woody Herman, Diana Ross, and the Staples Singers.


The Studio Sampled Sounds - Drum Series Vol. 4 | Chess Records Studios - Chicago, IL sample collection explores the great drum sounds of each of these players. Check out our audio demos below. And click here to download the sample pack now.


Studio Sampled Sounds
Drum Series Vol. 4 | Chess Records Studios - Chicago, IL
Buy Now on Reverb

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