Friday, August 15, 2008

Jerry Wexler (1917-2008)

Jerry Wexler, who had a major impact on black music as vice president of Atlantic Records, died today at his home in Florida. He was 91.

Wexler worked with artists such as Ray Charles, the Drifters, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. (Richard Schiff portrayed Wexler in the Ray Charles biopic “Ray.”)

“I don't want to sound boastful,” Wexler said in a 2007 interview, “but Aretha and Bob Dylan and Ray Charles had all been at my table, invited to my house to dinner. There was that degree of familiarity....

“Working with them as human beings, you get to see their foibles, their strengths, their weaknesses.”

Before his success as a record producer, Jerry Wexler worked for Billboard magazine, where he actually coined the term “rhythm and blues.” (“I wish to hell I had a royalty,” he joked.)

In memory of Mr. Wexler, I’m streaming a Donny Hathaway track on my Vox blog. Click here to hear “Giving Up,” which was a small hit for Hathaway in 1972. It was produced by Wexler and Arif Mardin.

UPDATE (08/15/08): Let me stream another off-the-beaten-path Jerry Wexler production.

In 1977, Wexler brought Etta James into a Hollywood recording studio, backed by A-list session musicians such as Larry Carlton, Jeff Porcaro and Cornell Dupree. The resulting LP – “Deep in the Night” – wasn’t a hit... but it now has the reputation of a masterpiece.

Rhino reissued “Deep in the Night” on CD two months ago. The album is also downloadable from

Click hear to hear Etta’s cover of the Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit.”

Wexler mentioned the “Deep in the Night” sessions in a videotaped interview for the 2006 DVD “Gotta Serve Somebody – The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan.” It seems that Dylan dropped by the studio one day and told Wexler he’d written some new songs.

The two men grew a relationship, and Wexler ended up producing Dylan’s 1979 album “Slow Train Coming” for Columbia Records.

Below is a 7½-minute outtake of Wexler’s interview about Dylan.


estiv said...

The only reason this isn't a bigger loss is because he'd lived so long and accomplished so much. His name was one of the first I remember reading on a lot of different record labels or LP covers and wondering who he was.

Through the years, the more I learned about him the more impressed I was. His commercial success was built on his authentic and deep love of the music. (In that respect, contrast him with Simon Cowell.) If he had done nothing more than provide Aretha Franklin with her first big hits he'd be remembered, but he did so much else besides. Rest easy, Jerry, you earned it.

Undercover Black Man said...

(In that respect, contrast him with Simon Cowell.)

Let's not and say we did.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

Another huge loss to Black music this past week. Wow.

Michael Fisher said...

Yeah, him and Ertegun. Where are all those royalties owed to these artists?