Henry Stone Talks Leonard Chess From Chess Records: “A Lawsuit Killed Him”
“Bein’ from The Bronx, I was great friends with a lot of the New York characters in the record business like Hymie Weiss and his brother Sam from Old Town Records, Morris Levy from Roulette Records, and George Goldner from End and Gone Records. George had this Puerto Rican wife Mona who came to a convention one time and was going from room to room screaming “Where’s that motherfucker George!” Meanwhile Hymie calmed her down, and George was downstairs with some broad. Anyway, the Chess boys were from Chicago, I was in Miami, and my guys were from the Bronx, but we all used to get together at the record conventions and have a ball, but more importantly, do a lot of business.
So, I met Leonard Chess up at a convention and I got very tight with him and his brother Phil. I distributed their Chess Records label. The more of their records I sold, the better friends we became. Leonard used to stay at a motel here in Florida, the Thunderbird Motel. He was in Miami all the time.
He ended up dying too young, Leonard did. I think what put Leonard Chess in his grave is he had a big lawsuit with Don Robey out of Houston (Peacock Records) over a stupid blind boy spiritual group. They were fighting back and forth for nothin, they were nothin. They weren’t worth ten dollars yknow. But it was a thing. That lawsuit’s probably what killed him. Leonard used to come down to Miami and tell me “I’m sick man. I dont feel like goin back to Chicago and goin to court again.” He had a bad heart in those days before transfers and stints and all that we got now. So it affected him. He was only 52 years old when he died. Leonard was a young man.
We used to be on the road all the time just driving through the south finding radio stations, meeting artists, going to clubs, and breaking records, man. I mean really hustlin’. Cause nothin’ existed back then. Over time these little mom and pop record stores started popping up, and toward the 60s, the juke boxes started going away, and the business really grew to be huge. But in the early days, I’d fly to Nashville and meet Lenoard Chess there and then we’d drive through the south and go down to New Orleans and Atlanta and see the distributors and the radio stations. Then I’d fly back to Miami and he’d drive back to Chicago.
We always got our records on the air man. That was… Fuhgettabout it. We’d go all over the south doin’ $50 handshakes and gettin’ records played. Once the jukebox operators heard it on the radio, they had to have it for their machines.”
©Jacob Katel and HenryStoneMusic USA Inc. All Rights Reserved