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In memoriam: Jerry Wexler

test 26 August 2008

US: Jerry Wexler, one of the most celebrated record producers of all time, has died aged 91, writes David Davies. A tireless advocate of soul and R&B, and an influential figure across more than five decades of popular music history, Wexler is perhaps most closely identified with his production of several classic Aretha Franklin long-players and his co-production of Dusty Springfield’s Dusty In Memphis, but he also helped to shape enduring works by artists as disparate as Canned Heat, Professor Longhair, Bob Dylan and Dire Straits.

While he did not enter the music business until his ’30s, Wexler – a non-musician – rapidly established a formidable reputation as a gifted nurturer of talent. As vice-president of Atlantic Records during the 1950s and ’60s, he supported the careers of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett and countless other legendary performers. In the studio, where he was frequently aided and abetted by engineer/producer Tom Dowd, Wexler helped to shape the clean, infectious Atlantic Sound – characterised by the man himself as ‘Immaculate Funk’.

“He was a very significant figure and, I think, one of the originators of the close musical relationship between artists and producers,” says engineer/producer Mick Glossop, whose credits include The Waterboys’ This Is The Sea and many of Van Morrison’s albums from the late ’70s onwards. “He was known to have very good, sympathetic relationships with artists like Aretha Franklin, and that played a great part in his ability to understand and make them comfortable. He was also one of the first producers to be in the studio all the time with the artist, working on the material and the arrangements.”

Following a highly productive period that also saw him play a significant role in the signing of Led Zeppelin to Atlantic, Wexler left the label in the mid ’70s. Thereafter, his most high-profile credits were Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming and Saved, and Dire Straits’ Communiqu_, all of which were co-produced with regular collaborator Barry Beckett.

An active figure in the music industry until his retirement in the 1990s, Wexler died from congestive heart failure at his home in Florida on August 15th. Following the deaths in 2006 of Atlantic co-founder Ahmet Erteg_n and long-term in-house producer Arif Mardin, Wexler’s passing means that nearly all of the primary architects of Atlantic’s greatest era are no longer with us.

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