Jerry Wexler was a man who knew how to make an impact. As a journalist he is credited with inventing the term ‘R&B’; as joint head of Atlantic Records he helped a lot of Black artists cross into the mainstream; as a shrewd businessman he made a lot of money; as an A&R man his great set of ears helped to expose some fantastic music and as a producer he made ship-loads of great records.
Jerry was born in 1917 into a Jewish immigrant family in Washington Heights NYC. He went to college in Kansas City where he saw Count Basie and Big Joe Turner play, but he was too busy pursuing music to study, so he dropped out and went home. Jerry befriended a local record store owner and record producer Milt Gabler, who introduced him to a lot of more obscure Black music and Jerry also began to frequent the Apollo and other Harlem venues. Drafted in 1941, Jerry went straight back to Kansas upon his discharge, and graduated with a Degree in Journalism. Back in New York, he landed a writing job at Billboard Magazine, where Jerry is thought to have coined the phrase ‘Rhythm and Blues’ to describe Black music, and it certainly helped to popularise the term when Billboard changed the name of their ‘Race Music Chart’ to the R&B Chart in 1948.
‘From the horses mouth’….Jerry talks about his career;
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Jerry moved to Florida, where he helped to establish Criteria Studios, and there he produced great records for Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack, and later Dr. John and Duane Allman. After moving his artists from Stax to Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Jerry argued with owner/producer Rick Hall so he set up the rival Muscle Shoals Sounds with Rick’s studio band The Swampers. These good ol’ white boys gave up some of the funkiest backing ever heard on record. In the 70s, Atlantic was forging ahead in the ‘stadium rock’ market with The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Yes, and Jerry resigned from Atlantic Records in 1975 to pursue his own path. He joined Warners for a while and signed Dire Straits and the B-52s to the label while continuing his work as a producer, especially at Muscle Shoals, and notably for Bob Dylan’s ‘Slow Train Coming’ album in 1979. He was still working as an executive and producer well into his 70s, and had enjoyed ten years of retirement when he passed away at his home in Florida in 2006.
When he was once asked what epitaph he wanted on his tombstone, he replied, “More Bass!”