SL: You made some wonderful records with LaVern Baker.
JERRY WEXLER: I loved her voice, I loved her attitude. She came to a tragic end, she had diabetes and died much too young. I often sensed a similarity between LaVern’s singing and Mahalia Jackson. We did do a gospel album with LaVern Baker by the way.
SL: And Saved is almost gospel.
JERRY WEXLER: And Leiber and Stoller produced that one. It is a Salvation Army thing, standing on the corner with a big bass drum and it is a wonderful record. Ahmet and I generally produced LaVern but that was one that they did. They had written the song and we thought that they would get the most out of it and they did.
SL: And what about the album, Dusty In Memphis?
JERRY WEXLER: Yes, some records were made as albums such as the one we did with your glorious Dusty Springfield. I think she is the greatest female singer ever to have come from the Empire.
SL: And Dusty In Memphis was excellent as she was able to have some great songs.
JERRY WEXLER: Dusty had a lot of great songs before she came to us – The Look Of Love that she did with Burt Bacharach – there was another aspect that we brought into the game which was this. She was recording with traditional orchestras and traditional arrangers with strings and horns and backing groups. We recorded her in the southern style with just a rhythm section of highly able rhythm and blues and country influenced musicians – the bass, guitar, drums, keyboards. We took her to Memphis which we were told would be a disaster because it seemed a bad match. But it turned out that Dusty In Memphis not only became a viable product but it also has an afterlife. It never seems to go away.
SL: She felt intimidated though.
JERRY WEXLER: Dusty had a very fragile temperament, and was a very fragile person. She didn’t feel right because it was Aretha Franklin’s booth or Wilson Pickett or so on. But the performance she finally delivered was incredible. She had a magical soullike quality of her own which is not rhythm and blues or jazz, I don’t how to characterise it. Usually if you say it is too white or too vanilla, you are saying that it lacks soul or passion, but Dusty was the incarnation of the white soul queen. She infused everything she did with tremendous passion. There was a certain sexual vulnerability that Dusty conveyed that was a very important component in reaching her audience.
SL: That title Son Of A Preacher Man makes me wonder if it had first been offered to Aretha Franklin.
JERRY WEXLER: Yes, I did offer it to her and she was not disposed to record it at the time. The selection of songs by Aretha Franklin was a very Byzantine business. It depended on how she felt about herself and the world at a particular time. She would not do a song of self-deprecation or mourning a departed lover. Even though her father was a very well known Baptist minister who had made many albums of his own, preaching, she didn’t want to do Son Of A Preacher Man. She felt it was not consistent with the way she felt about herself and her father. Dusty did such a fabulous job with it and had a big hit, and then Aretha consented to do the song but the horse was out of the barn. Her version became an album cut, and a very nice one. Later on I heard Dusty on an interview with the BBC demonstrating how Aretha Franklin had phrased it and she thought she did it better than herself.
SL: Didn’t the Beatles give Let It Be to Aretha Franklin and she turned it down at first?
JERRY WEXLER: That’s correct. They sent me an acetate and she didn’t turn it down. She recorded it but when it came to release time, she never approve it. The artist always had the right of approval, not only of selection but of the release time. She said, ‘I don’t want that out.’ A year went by and we had this beautiful record in the can and finally the Beatles decided enough is enough, and they made their own version and sent a legal notice restricting us from putting the record out. That was their right as they had their own version coming out. I can’t validate this but I think Aretha’s would have been a huge smash.
SL: Did Aretha acknowledge her mistake?
JERRY WEXLER: No! Aretha never showed any regret or remorse. She never said, ‘We should have done this.’ It was always up and onwards. She had a prideful nature and she would never admit, ‘Well, we did the wrong thing this time.’ She would never say that. And it would have served no purpose if she had.
SL: Dusty Springfield was a very fragile person and I presume Wilson Pickett was the opposite.