The godfather of producing
10 September 2021-
We've been mentioning a lot of producers before — Rick Rubin, Max Martin, Babyface, Timbaland... But none are as essential to the history of contemporary popular music as one man: and that man was Jerry Wexler.
In 1966, then-25 year old Aretha Franklin was already a has-been. Or, rather, the first enthusiasm her music career had gathered was beginning to wane. According to Jerry Wexler, however, her creative potential was anything but depleted. As Atlantic Records’ de facto producer-in-chief, Wexler convinced Franklin to jump ship from Columbia Records and start working with him. By January 1967, he’d sent the (still) young singer to record new material at FAME Studios in Muscle Schoals, Alabama. That change of scenery proved miraculous for Franklin, whose subsequent input included many of her most famous tracks, including the now legendary “Respect”.
In the film of the same name released earlier this summer, comedian Marc Maron is tasked with portraying Wexler. That would be one tall order: although not a notorious figure in the way Rick Rubin or Timbaland are today, Wexler is arguably the most important music producer of the 20th century — and possibly beyond. The sheer list of people he was instrumental in signing, developing or, in the case of artists such as Franklin, re-launching is staggering: Ray Charles, the Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, Carlos Santana, Dire Straits, Bob Dylan, Dusty Springfield, George Michael… You will note that his musical interests had no bounds either: whether artists were male or female, solo musicians or cohesive bands, British or American, bluesmen, rockers, soul singers, pop artists… no matter: he could smell talent when he saw it, regardless its particular shape.
And that may not even the most interesting detail about Mr Wexler’s life: before he was a record producer, the man actually started out as a journalist. Working for Billboard magazine in the late 1940’s, he was the one who suggested the company change the name of their “Race Records” chart to… “Rhythm and Blues”. That’s right: before he worked with many of Rhythm and Blues’ greats, he actually coined the very name of the genre! In the 1980’s, he was still very much at it, helping Linda Ronstadt give her career a second wind. In the 1990’s, he was working with none other than Etta James. His passing in 2008 meant that a chapter in musical history had indeed been written — with an incredible title to show for: “The man who invented Rhythm and Blues”…