Gerald "Jerry" Wexler, the man behind so much of America's rhythm and blues and soul music, passed on August 15th at the age of 91. As a partner with Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegün in Atlantic Records, Wexler was integral in signing and/or producing many of the biggest acts of the last 50 years, including Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin, Wilson Pickett, Ruth Brown and Bob Dylan. In 1967, he was named Record Executive of the Year for turning Aretha Franklin's career around, and in 1987 Wexler was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Wexler started out in the music business as a writer for Billboard magazine in 1948. At this time, African American popular music was still being referred to as "race music." After World War II and the huge contribution made by African American troops, the term was finally deemed offensive. It was Wexler who coined the term "rhythm and blues" to describe the new music coming out of the African American communities.
Jerry Wexler also had many ties to New Orleans. He made his first trips to the city in the early fifties. It was a city that he had loved since he first heard Jelly Roll Morton. In his auto-biography, Rhythm and the Blues, Wexler said, "Given the fancy black-iron grill work of the French Quarter, the swampy humidity, the nonstop two-beat jazz on Bourbon Street, the aroma of Cajun cooking, I was forever stoked."
While in town visiting retailers, distributors and disc jockeys, Wexler always took time out to make regular trips to Frank Pania's Dew Drop Inn. There were also numerous trips to Cosimo's studio where he supervised recordings by Big Joe Turner, Champion Jack Dupree and Guitar Slim.
Wexler also was involved with another New Orleans legend, Professor Longhair. Wexler said, "If the the Nobel committee ever decides to give a prize in funk, I pray they have the wisdom to first elect Professor Longhair. . . . Longhair is the Picasso of keyboard funk." Wexler and Ahmet Ertegün recorded Fess in 1953 doing "Tipitina," "In the Night" and "Ball the Wall."
Jerry Wexler's love of the music and his hard work ethic were part of what made Atlantic Records so great. Asked by a documentary filmmaker several years before his death what he wanted on his tombstone, Wexler replied "Two words: 'More bass.'"