The death of legendary record producer, JERRY WEXLER, was announced yesterday (Friday 15th August). According to his son, Paul, Wexler – who was 91 – died at about 3:45 am as a result of heart disease at his home in Sarasota, Florida.
Born in New York in 1917 to a family of émigré Polish Jews, Gerald Wexler showed few academic inclinations early on in life, preferring to skip school to hang out as a hustler earning money in pool rooms. It was in his teens that he developed an appetite for jazz and blues records and it was his passion for music that eventually spurred him on to study journalism following a wartime stint in the army. In 1948, Wexler got a job writing for the fledgling Billboard music magazine and made a name for himself coining the term ‘rhythm and blues’ to describe black music, which at that time was referred to in Billboard as ‘race music.’ It was while working for the magazine that Wexler became friends with Ahmet Ertegun, co-founder of the Atlantic record label, which began in 1947.
In 1953, Wexler quit Billboard to work alongside Ertegun at Atlantic and soon established himself as a major player in aiding the company’s rise to fame as the USA’s premier independent R&B label. By the end of the ’50s Wexler was producing recording sessions for the label, including several classic albums by Ray Charles. Although in 1959 Atlantic reluctantly had to let Charles leave the label to join ABC/Paramount for a better royalties deal, the company found a new singing sensation in Solomon Burke and later, in 1966, the ambitious and enterprising Wexler added another musical genius to the label’s roster in the shape of Aretha Franklin. Wexler persuaded Franklin to leave Columbia – where she had struggled to make any real commercial impact – and took her down to Muscle Shoals, where under Wexler’s direction, she cut some earthy, gospel-infused soul sides. From those sessions in 1967 emerged the classic 45s ‘I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You)’ and ‘Respect,’ which transformed Franklin into an international superstar and also assisted in crowning her the ‘Queen Of Soul.’
Around the same time, in his capacity as producer, Wexler also worked with the likes of Dusty Springfield (he co-produced her classic ‘Dusty in Memphis’ LP alongside fellow Atlantic studio mavens, Arif Mardin and Tom Dowd), Wilson Pickett and Percy Sledge. He also signed Donny Hathaway to Atlantic in 1970 and produced the singer’s self-titled 1971 album that featured a classic version of the Leon Russell song ‘A Song For You.’ In the 1970s, Wexler also branched out musically, working with Delaney & Bonnie, Dr. John, Willie Nelson, Allen Toussaint and Bob Dylan. The ’80s saw him toiling in the studio with pop and rock acts like Dire Straits, Santana and George Michael. For his prodigious contribution to popular music, Wexler was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1987.