Wiley and the Checkmates

Wiley and the Checkmates are the sound of classic soul music. From the their very first dynamic performances, it was clear that The Checkmates were to become one of Oxford, Mississippi's favorite bands. Local audiences now regularly stretch fire-capacities at Checkmates shows, while dozens more listen from outside, unable to resist dancing. Inside, spirits are always high as the band powers through skillful treatments of '60s and '70s classics as well as their own phenomenal originals — ten of which are now available on their debut album "Introducing…". From the James Brown-inspired "Dog Tired" and the moving ballad "Eyes of the World", which singer Herbert Wiley wrote in the mid-sixties for a high school sweetheart, to crowd favorites like "Sweet Breeze" and "You Can't Pull the Wool Over My Eyes", the Checkmates' songs are finally available to a larger audience.

Herbert was born in Oxford. His father was a successful African-American businessman who ran a chain of shoe shops on Oxford's courthouse square. Herbert would eventually take over the family business, but not before a detour into the music business.

The Checkmates formed in 1960 and Herbert was soon leading the band on shows in Memphis bars like Club Paradise and at North Mississippi juke-joints like the Dugout in New Albany, Big Willie's Blue Room in Batesville, and the Backwater Inn outside Oxford. By the start of the '70s, the Checkmates were touring the Southeast and playing behind guitarist Sam Mosely and organist Bobby Johnson. Under the name "Bob and Sam and the Soul Men," the Checkmates released the instrumental single "Mississippi Mud" with Herbert playing bass. The band played behind Cozy Cole of "Topsy" fame and soon met guitarist Gatemouth Brown and backed him on area shows. Soul legend Percy Sledge hired the Checkmates as the house band on a revue-style tour that traveled north from Memphis to Chicago. In Chicago, the band played behind Hi Records artists Otis Clay and Syl Johnson.

In the mid-'70s, the Checkmates went their own ways with band members taking jobs and starting families. Herbert married and raised four children while continuing to run the family business. In 2002, Herbert was overheard playing bass by local musician George Sheldon, who was opening the Longshot bar next door to the Wiley Shoe Shop. Sheldon offered to help build a band around Herbert and, after a 25-year break, the Checkmates were reborn.

Herbert brought together gospel, jazz, and rock musicians and fashioned a modern take on the sound of the original Checkmates. With the Longshot as a home base, the Checkmates were free to develop a repertoire that draws from the best in blues, funk, and R&B. The Checkmates soon had a full set of original music and enlisted the help of Fat Possum Records' producer/engineer Bruce Watson to commit the songs to tape. Recorded at Watson's studio in Water Valley, Mississippi, "Introducing…" finds the Checkmates playing a variety of soul styles from the classic '60s R&B of tracks like "Gonna Find A Way" and "Sixteen Miles" to "Messed Up World", a chaotic tribute to'70s Blaxploitation movie soundtracks.

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