R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Jerry Wexler, RIP

Quote of the Day: “Now I’m no longer doubtful of what I’m living for/’Cause if I make you happy I don’t need to do more…” Aretha Franklin, “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman”

I was about 12 years old when I started to understand the what the concept of the “producer” was on a pop record. Back then I devoured liner notes* the way other kids perused the backs of cereal boxes (or the way they devoured the cereal itself?), and it was then that I began to realize that no matter how talented the pop star was, no matter how cute or charismatic or fun to listen to, they’d be nowhere without songwriters and producers. Two producers stood out to me in those early days: Quincy Jones and Jerry Wexler. Because as much as I loved Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin–the artists that (in my lifetime, at that time in pop culture, at least) I most associated them with–it was the sound of their music that intrigued me as much as the artists themselves. I’d already interviewed MJ by that time, but I always told myself that if the journalism thing worked out, I would do anything to meet and/or interview Jones and Wexler. Well, I got a chance to meet, work with, and ultimately befriend Quincy. But I only came close to interviewing Jerry Wexler–who, himself, had once been a music journalist–when I was writing a documentary about r&b history for VH1. It didn’t happen, due to timing and circumstance. But believe me, I was ready, to ask him all about Aretha and Muscle Shoals and Dusty Springfield and Atlantic Records and even what it was like to work with George Michael.

Jerry’s not with us anymore. He’s joined Ahmet Ertegun and Arif Mardin–two of his great partners in r&b crime–up in r&b heaven. In honor of Mr. Wexler’s passing, I invite you enjoy some old TV clips: Aretha doing “Chain of Fools”, the biggest hit off Aretha’s Lady Soul, and Dusty Springfield singing “Son of a Preacher Man” from her Wexler-produced Dusty in Memphis. Enjoy them–ah! the women, the wigs, the Wexler touch!–and think of Jerry, chilling in the production booth, encouraging and loving the magic coming forth…

* For those of you who are too young to remember albums or even CDs, liner notes were the written information that accompanied the music, printed on the paper that covered the actual record, listing songwriters, musicians, lyrics, and other important data. Go to a thrift store and find some old LPs and experience the effect of liner notes…you’ll thank me…

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