Bob Koester

Blues Blast Magazine – 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award

Bob Koester

There may not be another single individual who has impacted the recorded history of blues and jazz in Chicago as much as Bob Koester. Throughout his career, Bob has managed to remain a devoted fan of music despite the constant financial strains of running several businesses based on selling music. His legacy is a testament to his love of music and the musicians who create it.

Born in Wichita, Kansas in 1932, Bob fell under the spell of traditional jazz and quickly developed a bad case of record collecting disease. He used his college dorm room in St. Louis for his mail-order business, selling 78 rpm records when he wasn’t attending classes. Soon he teamed up with a fellow jazz aficionado, Ron Fister to open K&F Sales, a small store. It wasn’t long before the two went separate ways and our enterprising record man opened his own store in 1953 on Delmar Street. That same year Bob issued the first release on his own Delmar Records label, a title by the Windy City Six.

A few years later, Bob started recording blues records featuring area favorites like Big Joe Williams. In 1958, he visited Chicago in hopes of purchasing a dormant catalog of recordings. Instead, he ended up moving his entire operation there to a storefront known as Seymour’s Jazz Mart and eventually changing the record label name to the familiar Delmark Records. His early releases focused on acoustic musicians like Sleepy John Estes and Yank Rachell “re-discovered” by the blues revival in the early 1960’s. He also found a niche purchasing and re-releasing records from labels that were no longer in business.

One high point for the label occurred in 1965 when Bob decided to record a working blues live in the studio to attempt to capture the magic the group was creating on stage in clubs throughout the city. The resulting release, Hoodoo Man Blues by Junior Wells with Buddy Guy, was the first of many classic blues recordings on Delmark. The disc spurred interest in the contemporary Chicago blues scene, introducing the music to a wider audience whose ears had already been open by sweeping changed in other musical genres. Over the years Delmark has released other seminal titles like West Side Soul by Magic Sam, Cold Day in Hell by Otis Rush, and J.B. Hutto’s Hawk Squat.

Bob had a similar impact with his jazz records, releasing titles in the traditional styles that he loved but also having the courage to document the free jazz movement in Chicago, centered on the vibrant AACM organization (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). Delmark introduced the world to the challenging music of Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton and Muhal Richard Abrams.

At the same time, the world famous Jazz Record Mart grew and expanded, making several moves to larger locations as the inventory levels grew. The store became the financial rock that supported Bob’s other business ventures through the inevitable lean, hard times. It also served as a proving ground as his employees learned the intricacies of the record business under Bob’s tutelage. His lessons were instrumental in providing Bruce Iglauer, Jim O’Neal, Michael Frank and Bruce Kaplan with the knowledge necessary to start the Alligator, Rooster, Earwig and Flying Fish labels.

Celebrating sixty years of business, Bob continues to capture the best of the traditional Chicago electric blues from artists like Lurrie Bell as well as fine contemporary blues from artists like Toronzo Cannon. It is hard to imagine what the blues music world would be like without all of Bob’s contributions.

In recognition of his monumental impact as an independent record label owner, producer and retailer on the history of blues and jazz music, publisher Bob Kieser is proud to present Mr. Bob Koester with Blues Blast Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award!

Written by Mark Thompson