January 10, 1917|
The Bronx, New York, United States
|Died||August 15, 2008
Sarasota, Florida, United States
|Alma mater||Kansas State University (B.A., Journalism, 1946)|
Gerald "Jerry" Wexler (January 10, 1917 – August 15, 2008) was a music journalist turned music producer, and was regarded as one of the major record industry players behind music from the 1950s through the 1980s. He coined the term "rhythm and blues", and was integral in signing and/or producing many of the biggest acts of the last 50 years, including Ray Charles, the Allman Brothers, Chris Connor, Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin, Wilson Pickett, Dire Straits, Dusty Springfield and Bob Dylan. Wexler was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Jerry Wexler was one of the most highly regarded A&R men in popular music history, a status bolstered by his accomplishments with Aretha Franklin.
Wexler was born in The Bronx, New York City, into a Jewish family, and grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. He graduated from George Washington High School (New York City) in Washington Heights at age 15 and dropped out after two semesters at City College of New York. In 1935, Wexler enrolled at what is now Kansas State University and dropped out several times. Following his service in the army, Wexler became a serious student, and he graduated from Kansas State, with a degree in journalism in 1946.
During his time as an editor, reporter, and writer for Billboard Magazine, Wexler coined the term "rhythm and blues." He became a partner in Atlantic Records in 1953. There followed classic recordings with Ray Charles, the Drifters and Ruth Brown. With Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegün, he built Atlantic Records into a major force in the recording industry. In 1967 he was named Record Executive of the Year for turning Aretha Franklin's career around.
In the 1960s, he notably recorded Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin, and oversaw production of Dusty Springfield's highly acclaimed Dusty in Memphis and Lulu's New Routes albums. He also cultivated a tight relationship with Stax Records, was an enormous proponent of the then-developing Muscle Shoals Sound and founded the fortunes of Muscle Shoals Sound Studios and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. His work in this decade put Atlantic at the forefront of soul music.
In 1968, he and Ahmet Ertegun signed Led Zeppelin to Atlantic Records on the recommendation of singer Dusty Springfield and from what they knew of the band's guitarist, Jimmy Page from his performances with The Yardbirds.
In 1975 Wexler left Atlantic Records for Warner Bros. Records.
In 1979, Wexler produced Bob Dylan's controversial first "born again" album, Slow Train Coming at Muscle Shoals; a single from that album, "Gotta Serve Somebody," won a Grammy award in 1980. When Wexler agreed to produce, he was unaware of the nature of the material that awaited him. "Naturally, I wanted to do the album in Muscle Shoals - as Bob did - but we decided to prep it in L.A., where Bob lived," recalled Wexler. "That's when I learned what the songs were about: born-again Christians in the old corral... I like the irony of Bob coming to me, the Wandering Jew, to get the Jesus feel... [But] I had no idea he was on this born-again Christian trip until he started to evangelize me. I said, 'Bob, you're dealing with a sixty-two-year-old confirmed Jewish atheist. I'm hopeless. Let's just make an album.'"
Interviews and archive footage of Wexler are featured prominently in the 2000 documentary film Immaculate Funk, which explores the roots of the classic American R&B and soul music.
Jerry Wexler died at his home in Sarasota, Florida, on August 15, 2008, from congestive heart failure. Asked by a documentary filmmaker several years before his death what he wanted on his tombstone, Wexler replied "Two words: 'More bass.’”
- Kahn, Ashley. "Jerry Wexler: The Man Who Invented Rhythm & Blues: Donny Hathaway, Aretha Franklin producer, Atlantic Records co-chief and music business pioneer dies at age 91", Rolling Stone, August 15, 2008. Accessed August 17, 2008. "He was born Gerald Wexler in 1917 to a working class family, and grew up during the Depression in the upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights."
- Italie, Hillel, via the Associated Press. "Record producer Jerry Wexler dies", The Kansas City Star, August 17, 2008. Accessed August 17, 2008.
- Weber, Bruce (August 15, 2008). "Jerry Wexler, R&B Impresario, Is Dead at 91". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-15. "Jerry Wexler, who as a reporter for Billboard magazine in the late 1940s christened black popular music with the name 'rhythm and blues,' and who as a record producer helped lead the genre to mainstream popularity, propelling the careers of Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and other performers, died on Friday at his home in Sarasota, Fla. He was 91."
- Halberstadt, Alex (September 5, 2000). "Jerry Wexler". Salon.com. Retrieved 2006-06-28.
- Jerry Wexler interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969).
- Kurutz, Steve. "Jerry Wexler Biography". allmusic.com. Retrieved 2006-06-28.
- Welch, Chris (1994) Led Zeppelin, London: Orion Books. ISBN 1-85797-930-3, p. 31
- "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jerry Wexler". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 2006-05-29. Retrieved 2006-06-28.
- "Jerry Wexler, famed record producer, dies at 91". Associated Press. August 15, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-17. "Legendary record producer Jerry Wexler, who helped shape R&B music with influential recordings of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and other greats, and later made key recordings with the likes of Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, has died, said his son, Paul. He was 91. Paul Wexler said his father died at home in Sarasota, Fla., about 3:45 a.m. Friday of heart disease; the death was first confirmed to The Associated Press by David Ritz, co-author of Wexler's 1993 memoir, "Rhythm and the Blues.""[dead link]
- Jerry Wexler at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- Jerry Wexler at Find a Grave
- Jerry Wexler at AllMusic
- NYTimes obit
- Obituary in the Star Gazette