Friday, December 22, 2006

Ahmet Ertegun (1923 -2006)

One of the true giants of the production of modern music has passed away. Ahmet Ertegun, president of Atlantic Records died because of an injury during a Rolling Stones benefit. Ertegun had a strong love for American Rhythm and Blues music. His label, formed in 1947 (with Herb Abramson) became the leading producer of R&B with a stable of superstars that included Ray Charles, Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Roberta Flack. In the 4os, so-called race records seldom found their way on mainstream radio. Ahmet Ertegun played a major role in changing that simply by recording irresistable music that made the listener feel good. Atlantic in the early years was a good example of people of different religions and ethnicities working together for the common good. Ahmet and his brother Nesuhi were Muslims, their partner Jerry Wexler and principal composers Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller were Jewish. The major artists in the early years were African-American. Nesuhi Ertegun, Ahmet's older brother had a great love for jazz. It is because of Nesuhi that the public got a chance to hear John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Rasaan Roland Kirk, The Modern Jazz Quartet and Eddie Harris. Fellow Turk Arif Mardin made major contributions as an arranger for many artists on the label, including the highly acclaimed "Young Rascals". In the 60s Atlantic distributed the Memphis based Stax Records bringing forth a new cadre of R&B superstars which included The Staple Singers, Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, Eddie Floyd and composer, soon to be performer Isaac Hayes. Atlantic Records and Motown Records cornered the R&B market and even more notably the pop market in the 60s and 70s. These two independent record companies both had distinct sounds but you could easily distinguish the Motown artist from the Atlantic artist. The late Billy Eckstine was among the few to work with both companies. After the British invasion the music changed and although R&B continued to be popular the market did change being more attracted to English rock bands. Artists like the Shirelles, who had two #1 songs and 11 top forty hits disappeared from the charts never to return again. Ertegun had to change with the times in order to survive. Atlantic signed hard rock acts like Led Zeppelin, Cream, Yes along with such blockbuster attractions as The Rolling Stones, Genesis, Phil Collins and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (who Ertegun convinced to join CSN). People like Ahmet Ertegun, Berry Gordy and Herb Alpert will always be remembered for starting very high quality independent music companies on a shoe-string budget. This type of rags-to-riches story in impossible to achieve in today's market because of the mega-mergers that have left us with basically five or six record companies. Until the time of his death Armet Ertegun at 83 years of age was still the leader of Atlantic Records eventhough he was forced to accept a distribution deal with Time-Warner over the objections of his partner Jerry Wexler. Ahmet Ertegun rest in peace and thank you for a job well done.

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