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4 places to visit that capture Chicago music history


Rosalind Cummings-Yeates profile picture

By Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

13th October 2015

It might be noted for its pizza, but Chicago is also a music lover’s city. It’s a home for blues, jazz, gospel and house music. The Windy City hosts live music every night of the week, but you can also opt for a little history to go with your tunes. Whether you're a music nerd or just a casual fan, here are the key places to experience Chicago music history.

Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation/Chess Records

As the “Home of the Blues,” there's no Chicago music landmark more significant than the original Chess Records building. Iconic Chicago blues and rock artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Koko Taylor, Etta James and Bo Diddley recorded songs that would form the foundation for both genres here. This is also where the Rolling Stones recorded the instrumental song that immortalized the studio - “2120 S. Michigan” - during their first US tour in 1964. Willie Dixon was the main songwriter and producer for most of the Chess catalog, so his widow Marie bought the building in 1997 and transformed it into a museum and foundation that assists blues artists. Visitors can view the original studio as well as artifacts from Chess musicians, including Bo Diddley's hat and Muddy Waters' guitar. In the summer, there’s a series of live, free concerts in the Blues Heaven Garden. The Blues Heaven Foundation is at 2120 S. Michigan. It’s open Monday-Friday 11am-4pm, and Saturday noon-3pm. Closed on Sunday. Admission is $10.

Buddy Guy's Legends

Buddy Guy is widely considered one of the most influential guitarists of the last century. And it was Buddy who taught a young upstart named Jimi Hendrix the tricks of the trade. An original owner of the legendary '70s blues joint the Checkerboard Lounge, he opened Legends over 25 years ago. It remains Chicago’s premiere blues club, but that's not why you should go. Skip the crowds and visit during the day so you can view the roomful of music memorabilia, including Buddy's Grammy awards, Carlos Santana’s guitar and Jimi Hendrix's shoes. After you're done, sample the menu that highlights Buddy's native Louisiana cuisine, including jambalaya and catfish po' boys. Legends is located at 700 S. Wabash, open Monday-Friday 11am-2am, and Saturday-Sunday 5pm-2am.

Buddy Guy

Bob's Blues & Jazz Mart

In an era when downloaded music trumps physical records in popularity, the Jazz Record Mart is an exception. The original Jazz Mart closed down but the owner opened up a new shop shortly after called Bob's Blues & Jazz Mart.

The original Jazz Mart started in 1959 by Delmark Records owner Bob Koester, who's as much of a legend as his shop. Even if you're not into records or tapes, you can hang out at this new shop, browse t-shirts, books and magazines and learn more about music than you would anywhere else. Located at 3419 W Irving Park Road.

Jazz Record Mart

Sunset Cafe

During the 1920s, when the Chicago jazz scene was a mecca for influential artists, a host of jazz clubs lined the city's Bronzeville neighborhood on the South Side. Remnants of that important era can be discovered inside Meyer's Ace Hardware - now a neighbourhood hardware store, but once the home of the legendary Sunset Cafe. In its heyday, the Sunset Cafe showcased performances by Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie and was one of the most significant jazz clubs in the country. Now, up a rickety staircase that leads to the store's back office, you can glimpse remnants of the building’s past, including a vivid mural featuring a drummer that was once the backdrop for the lounge stage. The building gained Chicago historic landmark status in 1998. Meyers Ace Hardware is located at 315 E. 35th St. Store hours are Monday-Saturday 9am-6pm. Call ahead at 312-255-5687 for a tour.


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