Q Magazine

Celebrating Jerry Wexler: Songwriter, Producer, Atlantic Records Legend, and Key Figure at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio

Wexler inspired "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," produced albums for Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, and helped sign Led Zeppelin.

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Source: Instagram / Muscle Shoals Sound Studio

Jerry Wexler, pictured outside Muscle Shoals Sound Studio

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When it comes to key figures in the history of Atlantic Records, once you get past people with the last name "Ertegun," you pretty quickly land on the name "Jerry Wexler."

Although he started his career as a journalist, doing time at Billboard Magazine as an editor, reporter, and writer, during which time he's credited with coining the phrase "rhythm and blues," Wexler became a partner at Atlantic Records in 1953, at which point he quickly proved himself as a jack of all trades. The list of artists he worked with in the 1950s and 1960s is tremendous and far too lengthy to include here in its entirety, but suffice it to say that it includes such notables as Ray Charles, Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters, Ben E. King, LaVern Baker, Big Joe Turner, Etta James, and Ruth Brown.

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Source: RockHall.com

Jerry Wexler, behind-the-scenes legend of rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues.

By the mid-1960s, Wexler had more or less stopped the songwriting side of his career, but Wexler more than made up for it with the amount of production he began doing. Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Willie Nelson, Cher, Solomon Burke, King Curtis, Bob Dylan, Dusty Springfield, Lulu, Jackie DeShannon, Donny Hathaway... The list truly does go on and on, including a significant number of artists who recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, a place that might never have existed if Wexler hadn't invested in the studio in addition to recording there.

Oh, and did we mention that he also helped sign a little band called Led Zeppelin for a steal?

“There was a lawyer named Steve Weiss, who was a neighbor of mine in Great Neck, and he represented [the members of Led Zeppelin],” Wexler told PBS’ American Masters. “So I had just finished working with Dusty [Springfield], and he said, ‘You want to sign these boys? I’ve worked with them: it was the fallout from the Yardbirds, and they’re forming this new band.’ So I negotiated. There were two other companies that were interested – Columbia and Warner Brothers and ourselves – and I think we were the last ones to get into the race. But we were favored. Steve Weiss said, ‘You can have them for five years for the United States and Canada for $75,000.’ I said, ‘Okay, let ‘s do it.’ He called me a couple of days later, he said, ‘For $35,000 more, you can have the world.’ I said, ‘Let me sleep on it.’ Chump change! Walk-around money! Finally I call him up, I said, ‘It’s a go.’ So that was how much: $110,000 to buy Led Zeppelin for five years.”

Not a bad deal.

To celebrate what would've been Wexler's 107th birthday, Q has compiled a 50-song playlist filled with tracks which were either written or produced by Wexler. Give it a spin and marvel at the diversity...


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