Jerry

These remarks were given, in somewhat edited form, by Bob at a Memorial Service for Jerry Wexler in New York, October 30, 2009.

Jerry Wexler joined Atlantic Records in June 1953. He didn’t come in with a job, he came in as a partner. He had been a successful song-plugger in the music publishing business and had also worked as a Billboard reporter where he coined the term, “Rhythm and Blues” He had never produced a record.

He always credited his partner, Ahmet Ertegun, with showing him the way yet Jerry had an impact almost immediately: the accompaniment got better. It was Jerry who brought in Sam “The Man” Taylor, Mickey Baker and Lloyd Trotman, not on an occasional basis but to be part of a house band-years before The Funk Brothers at Motown. These three men joined Harry Van Walls and Connie Kay in the evening musicales that took place at 236 W. 56th Street. Throughout the entire period of the Ertegun-Wexler producing partnership, they always chose the musicians.

The music they produced was the greatest Rhythm and Blues of its time. Think of the storied names: Ruth Brown, Lavern Baker, Clyde McPhatter-with and without The Drifters, The Clovers, Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles. Jerry’s partner, Ahmet, was very much a night creature. He could usually be found late at night in a Village jazz club, listening to blues in Harlem or chatting up his high society friends at El Morocco. He rarely showed up at the office before noon. It was left to Jerry to mind the store: to deal with suppliers, pound on the distributors and sweet-talk the disc jockeys. When Ahmet’s older brother, Nesuhi, joined the firm in January 1955, Jerry’s duties remained the same. It would be Nesuhi who was charged with creating an LP catalogue and developing a jazz roster. When tastes began to change, it was Jerry who brought in arranger Ray Ellis and did the first independent production deal with Leiber and Stoller. Yet when things began to slow down, as they inevitably would, Jerry was known to lament that, “The Coasters were drifting and The Drifters were coasting” The situation couldn’t last-and didn’t last. The company had grown so successful that Ertegun and Wexler could no longer work together. The division of responsibilities was broken out so that Nesuhi would be involved with International A&R while Ahmet took the lead on the California pop and English rock. Jerry stayed with what he loved best: Rhythm and Blues. When Jerry signed Solomon Burke in 1960, he began anew. In time he would nurture the next generation of Atlantic producers: Bert Berns, Tom Dowd, Arif Mardin and King Curtis. He made a distribution deal with Stax.The music he produced, co-produced, executive-produced or did deals for generated another list of storied names: Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex, Ben E King-with and without The Drifters, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin. In later years, Jerry would reflect on his term “Rhythm and Blues” suggesting that he should have called it “Blues and Rhythm” or, on another occasion, “Rhythm and Gospel”.

Now it had a new name, “Soul Music”. The name Jerry Wexler may have been linked with others in shared credits but there was never any question as to the identity of the lead dog. Make no mistake about it, it was Jerry Wexler and no other who was most responsible for bringing Soul Music to America.

2010-03-31