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January 10: Jerry Wexler

Lawrence Bush
January 10, 2010

JWexler1-2Jerry Wexler, who coined the term “rhythm and blues” (as a replacement for “race records”) and recorded some of R&B’s greatest performers, was born on this date in 1917 in New York. The “acts” Wexler signed or produced included Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, the Allman Brothers, the Drifters, Wilson Pickett, Led Zeppelin, Dusty Springfield, and Bob Dylan. Working on Dylan’s evangelical Slow Train Coming, Wexler said, he liked “the irony of Bob coming to me, the Wandering Jew, to get the Jesus feel. . . . ‘Bob,’ I said, ‘you’re dealing with a 62-year-old confirmed Jewish atheist. I’m hopeless. Let’s just make an album.’ ” Wexler helped build Atlantic Records into a major musical force and was also critical in the development of the Muscle Shoals Studio. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, he made it into his nineties and died on August 15, 2008.
“If somebody asked me who I was, an aspiring journalist, a stick ball player from Washington Heights, the son of a window cleaner? No, I was a record collector.” —Jerry Wexler

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.