Sun Records vs Chess Records Open Mic Jam at Red Light Cafe

Pitch a Wang-Dang Doodle

On Tuesday, January 26, 2016, Atlanta’s Red Light Cafe hosted the BadAsh Allstar Team’s theme jam session called Sun vs. Chess, wherein 16 local musicians came together to perform three hours of the earliest hits of Chicago blues and this new thing called rock and roll, circa 1951 through the mid-1960s. They featured the music of tiny Sun Records in Memphis, and the much larger Chess Records in Chicago.

Vince Alexander on Harmonica
Vince Alexander on Harmonica; Alan Dynin on piano

You can throw around words like “electric blues” and “rockabilly” and “raw, primal energy”. You can howl at the moon, moan at midnight, and shout, “Go, cat, go!”, while refraining from treading on the indigo-stained textured leather footwear of your neighbor. But there’s nothing like a roomfull of musicians passionate about the music that was a formative influence on most everything they’ve done all their lives. The howl of the harmonica through the vacuum-tube amplifiers, the crack of the drums, the slap of the upright bass, the stomp, the swagger, the sweat. You shoulda been there.

I’m Wheat Williams, and I was one of the singers on the bill that night. Artists fêted in this wang-dang-doodle included Elvis Presley, Etta James, Little Walter, Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, Willy Dixon, Carl Perkins, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, Ike Turner, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Otis Spann.

Sun vs Chess Jam at Red Light Cafe
Wheat Williams

I got to sing some Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins, and what the historians call the very first rock and roll song, 1951’s “Rocket 88”, credited to the African-American band “Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats” which was actually Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm – boy, that’s a long story. It was recorded in Memphis at the studio of Sam Philips that would later be known as Sun Records; it was released by Chess Records in Chicago.

Open Mic Jam at Red Light Cafe Photos

The Bad Ash Allstar Team (BAAT), a community of Atlanta musicians.

  • Gray Sartin with vocals and rhythm guitar
  • Howard Shevitz on a cherry-red sunburst Gibson ES-335
  • Ted Baumann on a Fender Telecaster
  • Adrian Ash on upright bass and electric bass
  • Tim Snapke on electric bass
  • Alan Dynin on piano
  • Vince Alexander and Stephen Carusos on harmonica
  • Bobby Andre and Hal Eisenbergon drums
  • Jason Passmore on saxophone
  • Chicago Joe Jones on guitar and vocals
  • Mark Michelson, Wheat Williams and Rebekah Ellis on vocals

View more photos, commentary and music in Part II of the Sun Records vs Chess Records Open Mic Jam at Red Light Cafe.

Sun Records on Spotify

Founded in 1952 by Sam Phillips, Sun Records discovered and first recorded many influential musicians. Some of the artists that released music on Sun Records include: Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jackie Brenston, Ike Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Rufus Thomas, Little Junior’s Blue Flames, Rosco Gordon, Billy ‘the kid’ Emerson, Otis Spann, Roscoe Gordon, and many more.

Chess Records on Spotify

Two Polish born immigrants, Leonard and Phil Chess, founded Chess Records.  Located in several different locations on the south side of Chicago, Illinois, the Chess Records label became the pre-eminent blues, jazz, rock and roll and soul labels of the 50s and 60s.  Their first national hit was Muddy Waters, ‘I Feel Like Going Home’ in 1948.  Othere artists that released music on Chess Records include: Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, Little Walter, Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Robert Nighthawk, Etta James, and more.


View more photos, commentary and music in Part II of the Sun Records vs Chess Records Open Mic Jam at Red Light Cafe.


Wheat Williams Written by:

Wheat Williams’ grandparents moved to Decatur, Georgia in 1920. Wheat completed his Bachelor of Music degree at Georgia State University following ten years on the music scene in Nashville, Tennessee. He has been a freelance music journalist for national print magazines going back to 1987, covering music technology, classical, rock, country, and jazz. For awhile he wrote publicity and marketing materials for Sony Music Nashville. Despite all this, he’s always been a traditional church choral musician and light opera singer. He was a founding consultant and volunteer with the Bob Moog Foundation. For three years he was the business manager for the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra. His blog, “Music and Beyond”, is at