JERRY WEXLER: Wilson Pickett is a very headstrong tough man. He has an abrasive personality but I never had any problems with him in the studio. Outside of the studio in the office or in the world in general, he was not an easy person to have any discussion with.
SL: Did you think In The Midnight Hour was a smash as soon as you made it?
JERRY WEXLER: I never that notion about any record. When you make a record and it sounds good, the musicians and the engineers tend to be over-euphoric. I tried to restrain that false enthusiasm. I just tried to ascertain, ‘Is it a good record? Is it valid? Does it have a chance of reaching an audience? Did we achieve our intention and did it communicate?’ Not, ‘Is it going to be a world class smash?’ I would rather be pleasantly surprised.
SL: And you made an album with Bob Dylan that you must have had no idea about how commercial it was, and that’s his first Christian album, Slow Train Comin’.
JERRY WEXLER: Yeah. I had known Bob Dylan for a few years. When he called me and asked me to do the next album, I was thrilled to death. I was knocked out. It was ‘How high shall I jump and where do you want me to land?’ My co-producer, Barry Beckett and I went out to California where Dylan was living to select the material. It turned out to be wall-to-wall Jesus. I didn’t care, it could have been the telephone directory. It was Dylan and so we brought him to Muscle Shoals. We used Mark Knopfler as the lead guitarist.
SL: He doesn’t like many takes.
JERRY WEXLER: Absolutely. There are not enough encomia in the language to do justice to that great Muscle Shoals rhythm section. After Dylan had decided the songs he was going to do, he laid them out for us. They didn’t have much problem in getting the tracks together. In the first week we finished the rhythm tracks and Dylan’s vocals and at the end of the first week, Dylan went home. Then we did the sweetening, I don’t remember what we added. Even the vocal backgrounds had been done because Dylan had brought this gospel group with him. It was all done quickly and on the cheap.
SL: What are views about the Beatles’ record production?
JERRY WEXLER: You can’t say enough about George Martin. I have the utmost regard for him, both as a wonderful gentleman and as a superb record producer. Think of the progression from She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah to Norwegian Wood. Think of the harmonic sophistication and the chords and the raising of the level of musicianship. This highly evolved transition must have been largely to do with George Martin’s musicianship. The BBC did a documentary of George reviewing of The White Album and I treasure it. George was moving the faders on the eight track and he would push a particular fader and say, ‘That’s the ride cymbal and there’s a vocal with it.’ I think George Martin had a lot to do with the evolution of the four lads from Liverpool into the world class entity that they became.
SL: Thank you very much for this interview. It’s clear you’ve had a wonderful life.
JERRY WEXLER: So far.
SL: Could there be another record in you?
JERRY WEXLER: At the age of 87 I can’t see myself putting the studio hours that are required. The ears and the sensibility are intact, at least I like to think so, but it is a question of the physical ability needed to log the hours.
SL: There is that phrase “Executive Producer”.
JERRY WEXLER: It is a rubric that I have eschewed my entire life. I was once required to do it by contract. The term is a diminishment of the line producer who did the work. It doesn’t mean anything: it could be the man who financed the session or the man who delivered the controlled substances to the band and so on. It would often be the attempt of the man in the suit or the vest behind the desk to glorify himself.
SL: Thank you very much.
JERRY WEXLER: You’re very welcome. Goodbye now.