Phil Chess, Co-Founder of Chess Records, Dies at Age 95

2120 S Michigan Ave Chicago, IL 60616. Photo courtesy of Zol87 from Chicago, Illinois, USA
2120 S Michigan Ave Chicago, IL 60616. Photo courtesy of Zol87 from Chicago, Illinois, USA

The founder of one of the most important music labels when it comes to blues died yesterday at the age of 95. Phil Chess founded Chess Records in 1950 with his brother Leonard. The label helped form the strong association of Chicago with the blues of artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and many, many others. The label also recorded the music of early rock ‘n’ roll stars such as Chuck Berry and the rich voice and style of Etta James.

Buddy Guy explained how Chess Records created Chicago as the place in the US where the blues found its home.

“Phil and Leonard Chess were cuttin’ the type of music nobody else was paying attention to — Muddy, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy, Jimmy Rogers, I could go on and on — and now you can take a walk down (Chicago’s) State Street today and see a portrait of Muddy that’s 10 stories tall,” Guy, who recorded at Chess, said Wednesday in an emailed statement. “The Chess brothers had a lot to do with that. … I’ll always be grateful for that.”
The first release that came from Chess Records was a Gene Ammons’ cover of “My Foolish Heart.” Their next offering was a song called “Rollin’ Stone” by Muddy Waters. This song became so influential that a rock band from England took the song’s name as its own, and a music journal also borrowed the name for its own use.

Phil Chess was born in Motol, Poland in 1921 as Fiszel Czyz. He changed his name after he moved with his family to the US.

From 1950 until 1969 Phil and his brother Leonard recorded a huge list of America’s best blues, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll musicians from a two-story building on Michigan Avenue. Keith Richards referred to the location of Chess Records as “hallowed ground.” That is where the Rolling Stones recorded their first Number 1 hit, “It’s All Over Now,” back in 1964.

“Neither played an instrument. Neither had even a bent for music,” author Nadine Cohodas wrote of the Chess brothers in her 2000 book “Spinning Blues into Gold: The Chess Brothers and the Legendary Chess Records.” ”But they were entrepreneurs, and through the indigenous sounds of America — blues and its progeny, Jazz, rock and roll, and soul — they found their fortune.”

In 1969 Leonard had a heart attack and died. Phil sold the business and moved to Arizona, where he worked in radio. Leonard was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Both brothers are in the Blues Hall of Fame.

Camping World IPO Raises $250 Million

Ford E-Series RV photographed in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Photo courtesy of Bull-Doser
Ford E-Series RV photographed in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Photo courtesy of Bull-Doser

Benefiting from the aging baby boomers and now-retiring generation Xers, Camping World, the biggest recreational vehicle retailer in the US, has been growing, and is a profitable venture.

Based in Lincolnshire in the Chicago area, Camping World Holdings is run by Marcus Lemonis, a CNBC reality TV show entrepreneur. The company just went public, raising about $250 million in an initial public offering of its stock, mostly to pay off debt.

Now that the baby boomers and generation Xers are either downsizing or wondering what to do with their considerable disposable income, Camping World is an answer for many. Since 2011 the firm opened 13 new locations as well as taking possession of over 30 other locations and integrating them into their company universe.

Just last year the company had revenue amounting to $3.3 billion, over double what they brought in in 2011. Sales at locations that have been open for a year or longer showed an increase of about 13 percent.

Camping World’s corporate and dealership headquarters is in Lincolnshire, in 26,000 square feet of space, with a lease expiring in 2024.

New American Airlines Uniforms Causing Headaches, Literally

An American Airlines Boeing 777-223/ER. Photo courtesy of Sergey Kustov.
An American Airlines Boeing 777-223/ER. Photo courtesy of Sergey Kustov.

Less than two weeks ago American Airlines rolled out, with great amounts of publicity, new uniforms for its employees. But the excitement is fading fast, as the world’s largest air-carrier fields complaints from over 400 flight attendants complaining that the new wardrobe is causing hives, itching, and headaches.

The new design is the first for the many in the company in decades, and the problems are not being taken lightly. The first explanation has been that some of the complaints stem from wool allergies, and the company is giving those sensitive to wool the option to choose polyester fabric. However, there seems to be problems even aside from the issue of wool. Employees wearing purely cotton pieces of the uniform are also complaining of distressing symptoms.

American Airlines had the uniforms tested by Intertek, a London-based product testing firm. In addition, the union that represents AA flight attendants, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, have also taken the step of sending the uniforms for additional testing.

Some other flight attendants complained that the cotton blouses were made of a cotton fabric too sheer to be considered professional, and the company made adjustments.
The new uniforms have been in the development and production stage for three years. The updated uniforms were meant to show the company newly energized in the wake of the merger of US Airways and American.

A spokeswoman for American said the fabrics were tested extensively before they were incorporated into the new product. She said the materials “all ended up testing far better than other fabrics in the industry.”

The uniforms were manufactured in a number of different countries such as Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia. They are made of wool blends, polyester for men’s shirts, and 100 percent cotton for women’s blouses.

Until the health problems associated with the uniforms is straightened out, AA management has requested that flight attendants with health issues caused by the uniforms fill out injury on duty paperwork. No time off has been given in response to the issue.

Cars Losing Luster in Chicago

Photo courtesy of Minesweeper.

All the data points to the end of the love affair Chicagoans used to have with the automobile. Total number of miles driven-down; number of newly issued driver’s licenses for young people-down; alternative methods of transportation around town-up.

A new report issued by the federally mandated Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning explored the issue of driving and cars in Chicago in order to prepare the city for the future and plan its budgets through the year 2050.

Head author of the report, Elizabeth Irvin, explained that, “After decades of persistent growth in commuting patterns, we seem to be at an inflection point.” She added that although we cant be certain that the trends we are seeing will be permanent, at least knowing those trends can enable us to discuss the issues and set priorities for spending.

The most interesting news in the report is that over the last ten or more years the total number of vehicle miles driven is in decline. The other notable trend is the decline in the acquisition of driver’s licenses, especially among teens. In 1990 55 percent of teens had licenses. In 2014 that number dropped to 48 percent.

Based on the data collected CMAP will develop a spending plan over the next two years. A first discussion is scheduled to take place at Northwestern University’s McCormick Foundation Center in Evanston. The question that will be discussed? “Have we truly passed peak driving or did recent economic conditions merely hit the pause button?”

Chicago City Council Considering Ban on Autonomous Cars

Stanford University driver-less car. Photo by Steve Jurvetson.
Stanford University driver-less car. Photo by Steve Jurvetson.

In what appeared to be a response to the launch of a driver-less service by Uber in Pittsburgh, two aldermen in Chicago proposed an ordinance in the windy city to ban such self-driving vehicles.

Ed Burke, one of the aldermen, said that since no technology is 100 percent safe, he would not like to see “The streets of Chicago used as an experiment that will no doubt come with its share of risks.”

The ride-sharing taxi service, Uber, initiated a pilot program in which the general public in Pittsburgh could use self-driving vehicles as an alternative to the traditional driver-operated cars. The driver-less cars all had drivers as back-up if anything indeed went wrong.

The proposal bans the operation of autonomous vehicles on any road, with a $500 fine for violations of the ordinance.

A hearing date for the proposal has yet to be scheduled, but the ordinance would first have to make its way through the finance and transportation committee of the Chicago city council.

Tentative Agreement Reached Between Southwest and Flight Attendants

Photo by Ken Lund

Three years of steady negotiations between flight attendants and Southwest Airlines have ended as the two sides came to a tentative agreement. The Transport Workers Union of America Local 556, consisting of over 14,500 flight attendants, said they will not release the details of the agreement until the union’s executive board reviewed it, a necessary step before the agreement can be finalized.

Over a year ago over 87 percent of flight attendants voted against a previous tentative agreement. Southwest’s largest hub is at Chicago’s Midway Airport, and has 1,800 flight attendants housed in the Chicago area.

In the last few weeks Southwest has come to a tentative agreement with one of its labor unions three different times. All three agreements came after the departure of Randy Babbitt in late August. Babbitt was Southwest’s senior vice president of labor relations.

One reaction to Babbitt’s departure came from Southwest Airlines Pilots’Association President Jon Weaks, who said,

“We are glad to see his departure. His presence was a hindrance to negotiation progress.”

Cards Against Humanity Launches Blackbox Shipping Service

The Chicago-based company which created the popular parlor game “Cards Against Humanity” is starting a new business. Blackbox is a shipping-fulfillment service for independent artists.

Co-founder Max Temkin explained that Cards Against Humanity had already created the software and infrastructure to ship the game to customers in an efficient and affordable way. “Eventually that system got so good that word got out. Our friends started asking to use it.”

Temkin has a brand new political board game, “Secret Hitler” which required a massive shipping effort just last week. With a budget of $1.5 million raised on Kickstarter, “Secret Hitler” was sent by FedEx via Blackbox from its warehouses in Illinois, New Jersey and California to about 34,000 customers.

Blackbox works on a similar principal to a co-operative business, says Temkin. “The idea is that if every indie producer buys their own postage, warehouse space and packing materials, no one creator will ever have the scale and leverage of a big company like Amazon,” he says. “But if we all pool our resources; we get the best rates on everything. That lets Blackbox pass pretty huge cost savings on to the creators.”

Artists and product creators using Blackbox get a “buy” button for their websites. Temkin’s Blackbox then steps in and handles the checkout, sales tax, credit card processing, shipping and customer service. If you check out Blackbox’s website, you will see that the company has “warehouses all around the world and we figure out where to put things on a case-by-case basis.”

The cost of shipping using Blackbox is $5 per item plus 5% of the retail price to ship one item weighing one pound. That price includes everything, as well as customer service.

“Nobody has to pay upfront to use Blackbox,” Temkin says. “We handle payment processing for sales, so our fees and commission comes right out of that in real time.”

John Carrol Former Publisher of Chicago Social, Dies at 59

After serving for over 20 years as publisher of Chicago magazine, John Carroll died at the age of 59, on August 24.

Last year Carroll resigned from his job as president and group publisher at Modern Luxury Media. MLM publishes Chicago Social and a group of other similar, large format glossies all over the US, which specialize in cultural events and the social scene.

In order to sell his wares meant Carroll was a frequent attendee at art shows, gala dinners, and other Chicago social events. Owned by Atlanta-based Dickey Publishing, Modern Luxury also has magazines in Los Angeles, Aspen and Houston. They also have other magazines with their emphasis on interior design and wedding planning.

Carroll joined MLM in 2004. Before that he worked at another publication focused on social events, Chicago magazine, from 1992 to 2004.

Before resigning last year Carroll took leave from his job to deal with a serious health issue. According to Carroll’s daughter Megan Kulick, 31, her father had a terminal, degenerative disease, frontotemporal dementia, which effects speech and judgement.

“Even people who really aren’t people-people liked him,” Kulick said of her father. “We feel how much the city misses him.”

Healthy Salad Chain Sweetgreen Growing in Chicago Area

The line features over 30+ items that rotate all year long. Customers can choose from the 8 signature salads, 3 seasonal salads or customize and make their own. Photo by Eestroff.
The line features over 30+ items that rotate all year long. Customers can choose from the 8 signature salads, 3 seasonal salads or customize and make their own. Photo by Eestroff.

Come August 23rd, 2016, Chicagoans will be able to enjoy the good, healthy salad offerings at the healthfood and salad chain Sweetgreen.

The newest branch of this corporate-owned chain which has its roots in Washington, DC will be opening its doors on State Street in River North.

A second store is scheduled to open in the earlier part of 2017, at 1000 Randolph Street, in West Loop. Reports have it that a third location is being scouted in the Loop or another city area. The final goal is to have three Sweetgreens by next year in the greater Chicago area.

“We think it’s going to be a great market for us,” said Sweetgreen co-founder Jonathan Neman.

The company was launched in 2007 and is based in Los Angeles. It is backed by investors Danny Meyer of Shake Shack, David Chang of Momofuku and Steve Chase, founder of AOL. Sweetgreen is also located in Maryland, Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, as well as California and Washington, DC.

The River North location is the first branch to open in the Midwest, and the 50th store to open, period. Customers can expect to pay between $7 and $12 for a hand built salad with dressing and bread. Sweetgreen prides itself on its dealing directly with local farmers and having a supply chain that provides ingredients as fresh as possible. Each day food is prepared fresh, including the dressings, and the chain changes its menu five times per year.

Robert Jordan Retiring as WGN News Anchor

WGN-TV's Bob Jordan with Luella's Southern Kitchen general manager Tyris Bell. photo by Cindy Kurman, Kurman Communications, Inc.
WGN-TV’s Bob Jordan with Luella’s Southern Kitchen general manager Tyris Bell. photo by Cindy Kurman, Kurman Communications, Inc.

Popular Chicago TV weekend news anchor Robert Jordan announced his intention to step down from his job at Tribune Broadcasting WGN-Channel 9.

In an email to his colleagues Jordan, who is 72, expressed “deep and ambiguous feelings” about the move.

“There are not sufficient words to express my profound gratitude for your wonderful friendships to those of you whom I have known for so long,” he wrote. “It has indeed been my pleasure to have known you and to have been able to call you a colleague and friend.”

Jennifer Lyons, WGN news director, said about Jordan that he, “…has dedicated his career to informing Chicago for more than four decades. His dedication is unparalleled; he is truly a legend in Chicago broadcasting.”

His last weekend news broadcast is scheduled for September 25th, but viewers can expect to see him from now and again filling in for anchors who may be away on vacation during what is left of his year-long contract.