Cadillac Records is a 2008 film that I just found on Netflix. It’s set in the 1950s in Chicago where a young Polish immigrant named Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody) opened a recording studio and started promoting the music of Black blues musicians. This fictionalized biopic remains interesting, largely because the music is timeless.
Cadillac Records details the music, the musicians and their lives, the efforts to get blues and rock and roll on the radio, and the theft of the music by groups like The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, and Elvis Presley.
But let’s not talk about the music thieves. Let’s talk about the original creators of the music.
The main musicians featured in the film were Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Howlin’ Wolf (Eamonn Walker), Little Walter (Columbus Short), Chuck Berry (Yasiin Bey), Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer), and Etta James (Beyoncé). Other women characters in the film were wives, played by Emmanuelle Chriqui and Gabrielle Union.
These musicians and this record label changed the world. Sex, drugs, smoking, drinking, racism and other problems felled these pioneers as the years went by. Etta James outlived them all, making records until she was in her 70s. I have six CDs of her music on my CD rack right now, all from before the days when I could add her to my playlists on places like Pandora and Spotify.
The record label was Chess Records. It wasn’t explained, but I assume the Cadillac idea came from the fact that Leonard Chess often paid his musicians with a Cadillac instead of cash money. Many of them were broke.
Even though the film is several years old, I enjoyed it. The music was good and I learned something about the lives of some of the musicians that I didn’t know before.
The film is on Netflix now, but also available from YouTube and other streamers.
2 responses to “Cadillac Records, the music goes on”
I was a fan of R&B when I was a kid in the 50’s. My ears were glued to the one local R&B station in Los Angeles. All the musicians portrayed in this movie are very close to the original ones (RIP). The blues were not as popular or as well appreciated as they are now and I learned a lot from this movie re the history of the blues moving from country to the urban north, mainly Chicago. It’s a big distance from Howlin’ Wolf to Kanye West. But change makes history. Or something like that. Loved this movie, will watch it again.
Glad you enjoyed it. I’ve also reviewed films about Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith you might enjoy. Plus there’s a couple of films out about Billie Holiday.