Checkered Past Records -- A Brief History
Few independent record labels on the scene today have enjoyed as auspicious a beginning as has Chicago's Checkered Past Records. Founded in March of 1997 by Larry Lipson and Yvonne Jones, along with the assistance of consultant / first staff member Eric Babcock (who was a founding member of the seminal Bloodshot Records a few years earlier), CPR set out to provide a suitable home for the finest roots musicians from the underground.
Right out of the starting gate, CPR proved its devotion to quality music that wasn't getting a fair shake from other labels. That devotion has continued, whether it be to bands with strong regional followings that deserve national exposure or bands with the kind of cult following that can't be immediately embraced by a typical marketing campaign. The first CPR release was Town of Ten by the Old Joe Clarks from San Francisco, followed by several of Nashville's finest misfits, including Paul Burch and Lonesome Bob. Releases from The Schramms (the side project of former Yo La Tengo guitarist Dave Schramm) and (ambient-country) critics' darlings Souled American offered a glimpse of what CPR could accomplish. The release of The Silos' Heater in 1998 was proof that CPR was definitely here to stay. The Silos, a well-respected act with an auspicious history, helped to move CPR up to the next level of development. The addition of the Silos gave a new relevancy to the label and set the stage for the future signings of equally noteworthy artists such as Ass Ponys, 16 Horsepower and the Spanic Boys.
CPR takes its slogan "The Company That Loves Misery" seriously. Checkered Past artists tend to write about the darker elements in life -- music from America's underbelly. CPR's roster of artists have lived life and lived it hard. Somehow, they've lived to tell about it. This tone was aptly set early on with the release of Wrong Side of Memphis by Johnny Dowd, a critically-acclaimed album of "minimalist lo-fi country-scaro-blues" that's best listened to with the lights off for full effect (or on, for the faint hearted).
In its continuing commitment to avoid being pigeonholed, CPR has made a conscious effort to expand outward from the more traditional folk/country/roots-influenced stylings of the Old Joe Clarks, Tom House and Paul Burch to include the rockier sounds of the Silos, Botanica, and The Great Crusades. Several bands have managed to ride the rail between these genres (Red Star Belgrade, 16 Horsepower, and Ass Ponys for example). Big plans are in store for 2001, including new releases from the Silos, Spanic Boys, 16 Horsepower, and Ass Ponys. Checkered Past has been fortunate to amass a collection of faithful followers, and it remains committed to it's original vision of bringing the finest music it can unearth to the surface.