Jerry Wexler: 1917-2008
Jerry Wexler, Atlantic Records executive, producer, and one of the key architects of the rhythm and blues sound in the 20th century, passed away today in Florida at the age of 91. Wexler, along with the late Ahmet Ertegun, transformed Atlantic into the industry standard for a variety of musical genres stretching from Aretha Franklin to Led Zeppelin. Jerry brought a rare combination of creativity, said Atlantic Records in a statement issued today, intelligence, wit, artistic sensibility, and business savvy to the evolution of Atlantic from a small independent label into a major industry force.
Wexlers dynamic abilities and personality, along with his relationship with Ertegun helped build the label into an R&B force with releases from legendary artists such as Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, and the King of Soul, Ray Charles. He also signed and nurtured the artistic direction of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Indeed, Wexler is credited with inventing the phrase rhythm and bluesthereby negating the outdated race records term that was out of fashion in pre-Civil Rights 1950s Americaearly on in his career as a journalist for Billboard magazine, before he and Ertegun blazed the Atlantic trail that led to the height of Southern Soul music in the 1950s-70s. This development led to his Muscle Shoals, Alabama recording home base for sessions.
The music pioneer was born in the Bronx, New York on January 10, 1917. A member of a Jewish family of Polish immigrants, he craved the jazz and blues music he found in Harlem. Wexler served in the U.S. Navy in World War II, before graduating from Kansas State University. He worked as a music journalist, and began his career with Ertegun in 1953 at Atlantic Records as a full partnera role he insisted upon before joining the label. The duo, along with Nesuhi Ertegun, was instrumental in not only cultivating the careers of Charles, Franklin, and other R&B artists, but established a key relationship with the formation of Stax Records in the mid-60s that would launch yet another nearly endless supply of classic hits throughout the next decade.
Wexler also ventured from his roots as he helped seal the deal between Zeppelin manager Peter Grant and the band in an extremely profitable and artistic relationship that continues to this day. He also produced or guided the careers of such disparate acts as Carlos Santana, Yes, the J. Geils Band, Dusty Springfield, Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan. Wexler produced Dylans first Christian-era album, the Grammy Award-winning work, Slow Train Coming which was met with controversy based upon lyrical content, but praised for its overall Wexler-produced sound. He also was instrumental in establishing Capricorn Records with Allman Brothers Band manager Phil Walden, as well as continuing his career post-Atlantic departure in the 70s, producing acts like Dire Straits.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, Wexler, perhaps, will be best known for his contributions to rhythm and blues music. He loved black music, R&B music and rhythm and blues was his foundation, said Solomon Burke, an artist Wexler recorded in the 60s, in a statement to the Associated Press today. He had a feeling for it; he had the knack to keep it going in his heart and recognize the talent that he felt was real. Jerry Wexler didnt change the sound of America, he put the sound to the public. He opened the doors and windows to the radio stations … and made everybody listen. Randy Ray