Friday, August 15, 2008

That's Not a Resume'...

...that's a history book. 

Jerry Wexler has died at age 91.  He was a music pioneer, most notably as a producer of the Atlantic recordings in New York, Stax in Memphis and the famous Muscle Shoals sound. Check out how many of the classic records he made that you know by heart or have in your possession. 

They take up four pages in the AMG credits.

Here's the obit in the L.A. Times.

AllMusicGuide's excellent bio has this:
Wexler had first traveled to the South to plug Atlantic new releases on Dewey Phillips' radio show and found he liked the potential in the area. But when he heard about Stax Records through two hit releases by Carla Thomas, he flew down to Memphis and found a gold mine ready to be cashed in. At Stax there was already a firmly established, talented house band (Booker T & the MGs), a wonderfully funky studio where he could bring his acts to record, and a young label head, Jim Stewart, who was anxious for bigger distribution and green about the music industry at the same time. For Wexler, the relaxed environment at Stax was a revelation, and for Stewart, the presence of this seasoned New York hipster was a validation of Stax's talent and promise. For a short time it was a joyous partnership.

While other execs were beating the path in New York, L.A. and London, Wexler found his home in the rural and forgotten areas of the country. He brought in Sam & Dave, a duo he had signed out of Florida with the agreement that the act would be on the Stax label, but ultimately owned by Atlantic. In a sense, Wexler was exploiting all the hit-making factors of the Stax studio, but keeping the long-term profit earnings.

When Wexler brought another Atlantic artist, Wilson Pickett, to Stax in 1965, the result was the classic "In the Midnight Hour," but it also signaled the beginning of the end of Atlantic's association with Stax. The Memphis musicians could no longer take the headstrong Pickett, and by 1966 Jim Stewart began to see Wexler as an outside exploiter, casting him and his Atlantic artists away from the studio.

Ever the workhorse, it didn't take long for Wexler to bounce back. With the success of Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman," Wexler found an even more isolated group of talented young writers and players at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Once again, Wexler had happened upon a flourishing scene in the middle of nowhere and was determined to ride it for what it was worth. In 1966 he brought Pickett there to record and liked the results; soon FAME studios and its owner Rick Hall replaced Stax as Wexler's main base of operations. In 1967 Aretha Franklin, recently signed to Atlantic, flew in to the studio; the resulting single, "I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You)"/"Do Right Woman" was a smash hit, but again resulted in the severance of a creative relationship. After a heated argument between Rick Hall and Aretha's husband Ted White, Wexler (and Aretha) left FAME permanently -- however, not before Wexler could call a desperate Rick Hall and ask for his permission to use Hall's musicians for a King Curtis session. Hall agreed and Wexler, somewhat underhandedly, used the FAME rhythm section to finish the Aretha Franklin album in New York.

That same year, 1967, was an important one in Wexler's life. Wexler was named Record Executive of the Year for his work turning Aretha's career around, and Ahmet Ertegun sold Atlantic Records for $17.5 million. The two execs remained with Atlantic Records, but with the actual ownership in someone else's hands, Wexler began to work less and enjoy the riches more. He bought several boats and relocated to Miami Beach, where he set up his own version of a house band, the Dixie Flyers, at Criteria Studios, producing Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack.

With the '70s came stadium-sized rock & roll bands on the scale of the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, and although both groups were signed to Atlantic through the '70s, Ertegun was able to change with the times much better than Wexler. He was no longer the head of Atlantic Records, no longer the sole man in charge of production, A&R or administration. While Ertegun and the rest of the company forged into the era of rock music, Wexler stayed behind, preferring to work with Southern musicians like Duane Allman, Dr. John and Delaney & Bonnie. And, just as Atlantic was changing, so too was the music that Wexler had helped bring to prominence. By the mid-'70s, Black music was transforming into funk, disco and rap, and artists that Wexler had produced, like Aretha, were changing as well. By relocating to Florida he had taken himself out of the loop, and feeling increasingly marginalized at the company, Wexler resigned from Atlantic Records in 1975.

Two years later, the crafty exec signed on with Mo Ostin at Warner Records, where he helped bring Dire Straits, the B-52's and Gang of Four to the label, but the industry was never the same as when he was co-head of Atlantic. 
Thanks for the great music, Jerry Wexler. You are already missed.


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