Jerry Wexler recording with Aretha Franklin, circa early 1970s
It might seem odd to remember a great record producer on a cartoon blog, but it’s probably just as odd to take cartoon producing lessons from a great rhythm & blues producer (the producer who coined the term ‘rhythm and blues’, not so incidentally), like I sort of did. But when I was coming up there was no place to learn to be a producer (if it is indeed possible to learn such a thing) so I took my inspiration from the great record men I could read about. Like Jerry Wexler.
Ironically, I’d started re-reading Jerry’s autobiography just this week when I got word he’d passed away yesterday in Florida.
Jerry is my number one producer hero, which is saying something considering my dozen other favorites including the likes George Martin or Berry Gordy or Quincy Jones. The thing I most admired most about him was the finesse to allow musicians to play exactly how they wanted to play, but somehow coax mega hits out of them at the same time. A rare, sometimes, seemingly unique ability.
Sure, the music made my antennae go up (Aretha, Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Bob Dylan, Dusty Springfield, the list is almost incalculable), his company too (he was a partner in the great Atlantic Records), and the fact he was a Manhattan-ite in love with Black music. I’ve heard he could be an irracible jerk (he who casts the first stone….). But, unlike a lot of the other great producers who were often highly trained arrangers or musicians or engineers themselves, Jerry seemed that he was just a fan first and foremost (I say “seemed” because he was a highly skilled writer and journalist before joining Atlantic in his 30’s).
Jerry just loved music. He married his fandom and knowledge to his impeccable instincts for talent. (He convinced Carole King and Gerry Goffin to write “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” after musing about John Henry’s term “natural man” and shouting out to them on a New York street to write a song with that title. He hummed a favorite country song to Patti Page and she sold millions on “The Tennesee Waltz”).
You can read more and better about Jerry Wexler in thousands of places. Do it, you’ll enjoy yourself. But, in the meantime, I realized that without thinking about it over at my music blog I’ve posted five tracks that Jerry produced or caused to be produced in the last few weeks alone. They’re the best way to hear what I’m talking about. Jerry Wexler made us all a lot richer.
Aretha Franklin > Rock Steady
King Curtis > Hold On, I’m Comin’
Carla Thomas > B-A-B-Y
Sam & Dave > I Thank You
Otis Redding > (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction