Jerry Wexler 2
" Interview "
Part 2 Aretha's Rare and Unreleased
(and other Atlantic Records tales)
Bob Putignano for BluesWax: I don't think it was yours, but was that your record by Herbie Mann with Duane called Push Push? By the way, Duane would have been sixty-one last week.
Jerry Wexler: Wow, time flies by, and your instincts are correct, as Push Push was not my record, but nonetheless it is a great record that I believe Arif Mardin produced, which was recorded in New York City. And Herbie, who I loved dearly, died of cancer a few years ago.
BP: I was at St. Peters for the memorial for Herbie and what a night it was, Joel Dorn spoke, Fathead Newman was there, too.
JW: Herbie was a great guy who liked to make cross over records with Bossa Nova and other genres, but the record R&B album he made called Memphis Underground is a masterpiece.
BP: Herbie was always one of my favorites, too, he made great records for sure, he was never afraid to step up to take chances at whatever he choose to do and obviously accepted his responsibilities of the outcome of his projects, which for the most part were very successful. But you guys at Atlantic created the infrastructure that allowed artists like Herbie to make records like he did. Atlantic was such a glorious and special place.
JW: We were a little Tiffany back in those days. [Laughs.]
BP: Joel Dorn has told me so many tremendous stories as what went on behind the scenes at so many of the great recordings Atlantic made, many of which I listened to growing up here in New York. And the stories that come up most often are about Tommy Dowd, who nobody has a bad word to say about.
JW: What a loss it was losing Dowd. And you know Ahmet and I took Tommy from behind the board pushing faders and got him out front producing records.
BP: Pushing and inventing the fader slide, which I learned about from watching the documentary on Dowd, The Language of Music.
JW: It's a wonderful movie about Tom Dowd.
BP: It was, and it was so cool to have Tom Dowd playing the lead role for his own documentary. He got so excited talking about the music he made, he was like a little kid and he was in his seventies when they made the movie.
JW: Exactly. Tommy loved the music for sure.
BP: All of you at Atlantic in that era loved the music.
JW: We did, we were fans and record collectors. Ahmet and I, and his brother Nesuhi, who was the third partner, all came to this happy venture as Jazz record aficionados. We collected records that went back to the beginning, Louie Armstrong's Hot 5, King Oliver, and Bessie Smith, Sidney Bechet, Fletcher Henderson, and on and on and on. So we all had this great background of information, as well as a deep affection for the music.
BP: That sounds obvious to me, especially about the affection you all had for the music. This time with you is so very special to me, as I have been a fan of what you and Atlantic did back in the day for more years than I like to admit. Let's face it Jerry you are an icon.
JW: Ah come on, and thank you, Bob.
BP: Back to the new Aretha CD, you mentioned in your liner notes that one of your favorite tracks was Aretha covering Paul Anka's "My Way," I wanted to hear your thoughts?
JW: It was because she made an excursion into the Frank Sinatra band, she pulled it off and made it her own.
BP: The track that really hit me was the Brother Ray live track, which I have to ask you, is that the second time they ever recorded together?
JW: It was only the second known recording of Ray and Aretha; the other was Aretha Live at the Fillmore West with King Curtis.
BP: Oh, man, that still is one of my favorite recordings and will probably always be. Plus I was so happy when Rhino released the entire eighteen-plus minutes of Ray and Aretha doing "Spirit In Dark," as opposed to the seven- or eight-minute track that appeared on the original LP. That expanded track is phenomenal!
JW: You know it was an accident that Ray joined Aretha onstage that night at the Fillmore West, it wasn't planned, someone found out that Ray was in the audience and they pulled him on to the stage reluctantly. So they started to jam together and frankly they were not on the same page. So it was kind of disastrous for a while, but finally they came together, so much so when I wanted to put out the LP Ray was horrified and told me, "You can't put that out, it's no good." But we edited it down and finally he gave us the OK.
BP: Interesting, but on top of having captured two of the greatest Soul artists of all time together, the band really kicks in. Jerry Jemmott, Bernard Purdie, Cornell Dupree, the Memphis Horns, God damn, they were flying! I recently interviewed all three of them and they all said it was amazing when Ray joined Aretha. And I think that Purdie said it best when he told me that, "The [Fillmore] room and stage elevated!"
JW: Bob, clearly you know your stuff.
BP: I try Jerry and coming from you that is really special to me for you to say this.
JW: I mean what I say and that night and actually all three nights that we recorded Aretha and King Curtis at the Fillmore West were unreal.
BP: You were there?
JW: Of course! Let me tell you a little bit about Aretha at the Fillmore that might fatten up your story...
BP: Please do!
JW: When I was involved with my performances, what I did was work with the soundman in the room to get the balances right. Arif Mardin and/or Tom Dowd would be in the recording truck taking care of the tape, but my job would be to get the balance right in the room. And the sound people there were not state-of-the-art sound guys, but I managed to get it right.
The other thing I did that was somewhat illegal was that I re-recorded the horns, not because they were not good at the show, but the way they were positioned onstage the sound came through as if they were not in tune, which was definitely not the case. It was just that the different harmony parts were too out-front. So I employed the exact same band and had them over-dub the exact same tracks and it came out perfect. It eliminated all of that out-of-balance stuff that was going on. So bottom line, my job was to get it right in the room, which wasn't exactly the case for Live at the Fillmore West. [Laughs]
BP: And King Curtis was the bandleader and you were the ringleader.
JW: Exactly! [With a big chuckle from Mr. Wexler]
BP: Jerry, I can talk with you for hours, but I know you have to get going, thank you so much for your time.
JW: It was a great pleasure reminiscing with you Bob. I believe in living in the present time, but to do that you have to have the past.
BP: Well put! It was a wonderful flashing back with you for me, too.
JW: Before I go, I've got a joke for you.
BP: Lay it on me, Jerry.
JW: A father goes into to his thirteen-year-old son's room and says, "Billy, if you don't stop masturbating, you are going to go blind." And Billy says, "Hey, Dad, I'm over here!"
BP: Pretty funny, thanks again Jerry, be well and stay well.
Special thanks to author John Broven, who is solely responsible for getting me in touch with Jerry Wexler.
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com