Bob Koester

Last updated

Robert Gregg Koester (October 30, 1932 May 12, 2021) was an American record producer and businessman who was the founder and owner of Delmark Records, a jazz and blues independent record label. [1] He also operated the Jazz Record Mart in Chicago, which he billed as the "World's Largest Jazz and Blues Specialty Store", [2] and later a record store specializing in blues and jazz in Irving Park, Chicago.


Early life

Koester was born in Wichita, Kansas, [3] [2] on October 30, 1932. [4] He began collecting and trading classic 78 rpm records when he was in high school. He studied business and cinematography at Saint Louis University starting in 1951. [4]


While in university, Koester sold records by mail order from his dormitory room. [4] He subsequently dropped out, [2] and became a founding member of the St. Louis Jazz Club. There, he met Ron Fister, another record collector. The two of them opened a small record store, K & F Sales. On moving to bigger premises they renamed it Blue Note Record Shop. After nearly a year together, Koester and Fister decided to split their business and Koester founded Delmar Records, on Delmar Boulevard. Delmar first recorded a traditional jazz group in 1953 and then searched out and recorded blues musicians of the 1920s and 1930s (Speckled Red, Big Joe Williams, J.D. Short, Barrelhouse Buck McFarland, [5] and James Crutchfield among others) who were living in St. Louis. The name of the label was changed from Delmar to Delmark, partly because of copyright issues. [4]

Koester moved to Chicago in 1958. He purchased Seymour's Jazz Mart, in the Roosevelt University Building, from Seymour Schwartz in 1959. Four years later, he relocated the Jazz Record Mart and Delmark Records to 7 West Grand Avenue. He purchased premises at 4243 N. Lincoln Avenue and moved Delmark there in 1971. [4] Koester was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1996. He became one of only a few non-performers to have been so-honored by the museum. [6]

The Jazz Record Mart moved to 27 East Illinois in 2006. The rent at that location ultimately proved too costly, and Koester closed the store after selling off its entire inventory to Wolfgang's Vault. [7] He reopened the store in the Horner Park neighborhood at the end of April 2016, in the front room of his Delmark Records studio at 4121 N. Rockwell St. [8] Shortly afterwards, he opened a smaller outlet at Irving Park Road called Bob’s Blues & Jazz Mart. [2] [3] He sold Delmark two years later. [2]

Personal life

Koester married his wife, Susan, in 1968. They met at the West Grand Avenue store, located across the street from the American Medical Association where she worked. They remained married for 53 years until his death. Together, they had two children: Bob Jr. and Kate. [2] [3]

Koester died on May 12, 2021, while in hospice care. He was 88, and suffered a stroke prior to his death. His son took over the management of the store on Irving Park Road. [2] [3]

Related Research Articles

Roosevelt Sykes Musical artist

Roosevelt Sykes was an American blues musician, also known as "the Honeydripper".

Alligator Records is an American, Chicago-based independent blues record label founded by Bruce Iglauer in 1971. Iglauer was also one of the founders of the Living Blues magazine in Chicago in 1970.

Arthur Crudup Musical artist

Arthur William "Big Boy" Crudup was an American Delta blues singer, songwriter and guitarist. He is best known, outside blues circles, for his songs "That's All Right" (1946), "My Baby Left Me" and "So Glad You're Mine", later recorded by Elvis Presley and other artists.

Fareed Haque Musical artist

Fareed Haque is an American jazz guitarist, based in Chicago, Illinois.

Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival is a music festival in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that started in 1972 from the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, which itself began in 1969. Although the festival has had a tumultuous history and suspended operations in 2006, it was restarted in 2017.

Bruce Iglauer American businessman and record producer

Bruce Iglauer is an American businessman and record producer who founded Alligator Records as an independent record label featuring blues music.

Byther Smith American blues musician (born 1932)

Byther Claude Earl John Smith was an American blues musician who worked with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Otis Rush and Junior Wells.

Rufus George Perryman, known as Speckled Red, was an American blues and boogie-woogie piano player and singer noted for his recordings of "The Dirty Dozens", exchanges of insults and vulgar remarks that have long been a part of African-American folklore.

Von Freeman Musical artist

Earle Lavon "Von" Freeman Sr. was an American hard bop jazz tenor saxophonist.

<i>Hoodoo Man Blues</i> 1965 studio album by Junior Wells Chicago Blues Band

Hoodoo Man Blues is the debut album of blues vocalist and harmonica player Junior Wells, performing with the Junior Wells' Chicago Blues Band, an early collaboration with guitarist Buddy Guy. Released on LP by Delmark Records in November 1965, the album has been subsequently reissued on CD and LP by Delmark and Analogue Productions.

Norman Mason was an American jazz clarinetist, multi-instrumentalist, and bandleader.

Jesse Fortune Musical artist

Jesse Fortune was an American Chicago blues singer and barber.

Dave Specter is an American Chicago blues and jazz guitarist.

Golden "Big" Wheeler was an American Chicago blues and electric blues singer, harmonicist and songwriter. He released two albums in his lifetime and is best known for his recordings of the songs "Damn Good Mojo" and "Bone Orchard". He worked with the Ice Cream Men and Jimmy Johnson. He was the brother of the blues musician James Wheeler.

James Crutchfield Musical artist

James Crutchfield was a St. Louis barrelhouse blues singer, piano player and songwriter whose career spanned seven decades. His repertoire consisted of original and classic blues and boogie-woogie and Depression-era popular songs.

Delmark Records American record label

Delmark Records is an American jazz and blues independent record label. It was founded in 1958 and is based in Chicago, Illinois. The label originated in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1953 when then owner, and founder, Bob Koester released a recording of the Windy City Six, a traditional jazz group, under the Delmar imprint.

Rockin Johnny Burgin American blues guitarist

Johnny Burgin is an American blues guitarist and harmonica player. Since 1997, he has released ten recordings under his own name and has played on numerous other recordings as a sideman.

<i>Rockin Wild in Chicago</i> 2002 live album by Magic Sam

Rockin' Wild in Chicago is a live album by the American blues musician Magic Sam, compiling tracks recorded in Chicago between 1963 and 1968, that was released by the Delmark label in 2021.

<i>Feel Like Blowing My Horn</i> 1973 studio album by Roosevelt Sykes

Feel Like Blowing My Horn is an album by blues musician Roosevelt Sykes, recorded in 1970 and released by the Delmark label in 1973.

Thomas F. McFarland, known professionally as Barrelhouse Buck McFarland was an American blues and boogie-woogie pianist, singer and composer. He first recorded material in the early 1930s, but had to wait until three decades later, before providing his 'barrelhouse' swan song.


  1. Zimmerman, Karla; Dunford, Lisa; Cavalieri, Nate (2008). Chicago City Guide. Lonely Planet. p.  32. ISBN   978-1-74104-767-7. The oldest independent jazz and blues label in the country, Delmark Records has inspired countless small startups around the world determined to promote the pioneers and mavericks of the two genres.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 O'Donnell, Maureen (May 12, 2021). "Bob Koester, who ran Chicago's Jazz Record Mart, Delmark Records for decades, has died at 88". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Metz, Nina (May 12, 2021). "Bob Koester, known for his famed Jazz Record Mart and founder of Delmark Records, dies at 88". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Huey, Steve. "Bob Koester – Biography & History". AllMusic . Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  5. "Barrelhouse Buck McFarland - Alton Blues". Retrieved March 20, 2021.
  6. Rohter (2009).
  7. Reich, Howard (February 15, 2016). "Jazz Record Mart closes". Chicago Tribune . Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  8. Reich, Howard (May 2, 2016). "Jazz Record Mart founder opens new store". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 18, 2020.

Works cited

Further reading