Wow. We lost an important one today with the death of legendary producer Jerry Wexler, probably one of the 10 most important men in the history of popular music as we know it today (or at least as we knew it in the pre-American Idol era). If you don't know who he is, do a Google search. Chances are one or a dozen of your favorite songs were brought to life in the studio by this amazing man. He's the one who helped transform Detroit's own Aretha Franklin into the "Queen of Soul," among hundreds of other amazing accomplishments.
An anecdote: Years ago, I was at the New Music Seminar in NYC, at a press party for the Melvins who Kurt Cobain had just helped get signed to Atlantic. Cobain was at the party but almost as an extension of his "lovely" bride, Courtney Love. The latter was dressed to the rock star hilt; seem to recall a white leather skirt and Jayne Mansfield sunglasses (it was 10 o'clock at night, btw). Ms. Love was dragging a cowering Kurt (dressed in a ratty sweater) by the hand. He looked most uncomforable, to say the least -- especially when the pair started to get a lot of unwanted attention as Love made her presence more than known. A photographer who'd been hired by the label to shoot the proceedings took a photo of the seemingly unhappy couple...and Courtney went batshit. "How dare you take our picture?" (Yeah, that's why she was dressed in sunglasses and the whole rockstar get-up...'cause she didn't want to be noticed). Courtney made a big scene, grabbing the camera and demanding the film from the photographer. What she obviously didn't realize was that the lensman just happened to be...Jerry Wexler's son. My pal (and former rock critic) Deborah Frost was absolutely flabbergasted. She screamed out loud: "You stupid bitch! If it wasn't for his father, none of us would be here tonight and you wouldn't be doing what it is you do!" Truer words were never spoken (though I don't think Wexler would have ever wanted to take credit for Hole).
Wexler was a gentleman and much loved in the industry and by most everyone who ever met him. He was always willing to be interviewed and to give young journalists a quote. He didn't, however, suffer fools gladly. In tribute to the legendary figure, we'll just end with two items that could stand as a tribute to the great man. The first is a letter he sent to the New York Times in 2003, with sentiment that's as true today as it was then; the second is a remembrance that someone posted on a music industry chatboard earlier today:
To the Editor:
Kudos to Jody Rosen for his article on the current state of pop and R & B singing [''The State of American Singing as Heard on 'I-I-I-I-I-I-Idol,' '' May 18], especially his take on the gratuitous and confected melisma so much in vogue these days. His references to the truth- and soul-fueled note turns and bendings by Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin were especially perceptive.
Time and again I have found that flagrantly artificial attempts at melisma are either a substitute for real fire and passion or a cover-up for not knowing the melody. I have encountered this frequently in the studio and coined the term ''oversouling'' to bring the offending performer back to reality. Please, learn the song first, and then sing it from the heart.
True story: Six or seven years ago, he called our office for my boss. The receptionist at the time was a twenty-something guy who did not know who he was, and so gave the standard "And who are you with?" schpiel. Politely at first, then increasingly irritated, Wexler told the young man to just put him through, that my boss knew who he was and what it was regarding. The receptionist, ever the good soldier, continued to ask for more info until Wexler exploded "I'm a fucking legend!"
Rest in peace, Mr. Wexler...
Jerry Wexler advises the Queen of Soul