Jerry Wexler passed away August 15th at the ripe old age of 91. Unless you are a music person in the know. his death may have gone unnoticed. Yet Wexler was an important figure in the development and popularization of American pop, rock, and rhythm and blues.
Wexler was born in New York City on Jan. 10, 1917. His interest in music began at an early age as he would troll New York City’s record stores as a teenager. He would joke about his World War II military career as it would be spent in Miami. After the war he would become a music journalist.
One of Jerry Wexler’s early contributions to the music industry occurred during his time at Billboard Magazine. Offended by their use of the term "race music," Wexler substituted the words rhythm and blues. Rhythm and blues would go down in music history as a definition of a type of music.
Wexler’s big break would occur in 1953 when friend Ahmet Ertegun asked him to co-head a small independent record label called Atlantic. He would stay with them for 22 years and cut a swath through the musical landscape and leave a lasting legacy.
Ertegun would do the corporate work and administrate the company and Wexler would sign talent, produce albums, and oversee the creative side of the operation. The Atlantic Label roster would quickly include such artists as Clyde McPhatter, The Clovers, Big Joe Turner, Chuck Willis, The Drifters, Solomon Burke, and Ray Charles.
The 1960s would find Wexler signing an artist that had been dropped by the Columbia Label which would forever change soul music. Aretha Franklin would explode upon the American music scene and her unique and dynamic brand of rhythm and blues styling would cross over to a white audience. He would produce her seminal album, Respect. Some of his other production credits would include “When A Man Loves A Woman” by Percy Sledge and “In The Midnight Hour” by Wilson Pickett. He would also produce the brilliant Dusty Springfield album, Dusty In Memphis.
Musical tastes began to change in the late 1960s and Wexler changed along with them. He would sign such groups as Led Zeppelin; Cream; The Bee Gees; Yes; Vanilla Fudge; and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. He also developed the idea of a subsidiary label owned by the artist and distributed by Atlantic. This idea led to The Rolling Stone Record Label, Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song Label, and the Capricorn Label for The Allman Brothers.
Wexler would leave the Atlantic label in 1975 and work as an independent producer. He produced Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming which would win Dylan his first Grammy award in 1979. He also produced albums for Dire Straits, The Staple Singers, Etta James, George Michael, and Jose Feliciano among others.
He reportedly sold his interest in the Atlantic Label for millions and was elected to The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1987.
Before his death Wexler was asked what he would like as his epitaph on his tombstone to which he replied, “More bass.”