BOOK REVIEW / Jerry, Jerry, quite contrary: 'Rhythm and the Blues: A Life in American Music' - Jerry Wexler and David Ritz: Cape, 14.99

IN HIS introduction to this book, David Ritz tells us how, when he questioned Jerry Wexler's use of a word like 'ratiocination' even for educated readers, Wexler would reply 'Send the f***ers to the dictionary.' This is told admiringly, but it introduces to us a contradictory man, at once contemptuous and insecure, and a man of whom his mother might have said 'You would think a boy who knew all those big long words could find a more apt one for his readers.'

He is honest about the insecurity, reminding us of it often; and of his ego, too - which is prodigious. He describes even his failures in terms like 'cosmic', boasting 'I wore out six piano teachers by the time I was 15.' Breezing through public school 'on a bluff', he preferred hanging out at the poolroom with Runyonesque-sounding characters like No Hat Cohen and Benny The Gent.

And yet it is remarkable that a man who failed at nearly everything until he was 30 became thereafter one of the music industry's most monumental successes. Perhaps it was just that only then did he find the thing he was good at - or perhaps his marriage in that year had a lot to do with it.

Not that his first wife, Shirley, doesn't make her appearance - dramatically. Much of the book is made up of a series of interviews with friends, co-workers, and family, and on her first entrance Shirley casually drops the information that the beautiful, loving and doting mother Wexler has drawn for us was a habitual adulteress with a larcenous streak, who spent much of her hard-working husband's income on her impressive wardrobe and kept the fridge padlocked.

This wasn't the only time Jerry couldn't - or wouldn't - see problems with a close family member. Marriages seem to end almost without his noticing; even his gifted daughter Anita's drug addiction doesn't come into focus until she tests HIV-positive, and there's an odd detachment about his descriptions of her brave, fruitless struggle with Aids and of her funeral.

But this is, after all, a book about the music business. And what business] He produced records by Big Joe Turner and Champion Jack Dupree, Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin, Doctor John, Dire Straits, Bob Dylan and scores more. Wexler is at his best when his temperature rises, whether it's the warmth of his admiration for the 'patrician' John Hammond - 'the first producer to earn a status as high as that of the musicians he recorded' - and the 'cultivated' Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, his partners in Atlantic Records, or the heat of his indignation about the way disc-jockey Alan Freed was treated in the 'payola' scandal, or the cauldron of his 'resentment and anger' at the early death of Otis Redding whenever he hears '(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay'. These relationships are often more fully drawn than those with his family.

He can be cold too - especially when he's crossed. Bert Berns brought Van Morrison and Jimmy Page into the Atlantic fold, and then split, taking Morrison and Neil Diamond with him. Wexler writes: 'Bert died of a heart condition in 1967. He was 38. I didn't attend the funeral.'

'Characters' abound, whether artists like the minister Solomon Burke, who ran a bogus drugstore where he would accept prescriptions and then bicycle over to a real drugstore to have them filled, or promotion-men like chaotic Joe Galkin, who nonetheless helped Atlantic to a big hit with Acker Bilk's 'Stranger On The Shore'. (They threw a party for Acker, who burst into tears when he saw the band of his jazz heroes they had assembled.)

Some things don't quite ring true. For example: you're one of the most important record- producers in history, with credits from Ray Charles to Dusty Springfield. You hear Stevie Ray Vaughan in a club, and recognise in him a major talent waiting to be discovered. Do you:

(a) immediately sign him to a 3-album contract, with options?

(b) try to sell your amazing 'find' to a major record-label?

(c) tell an impresario in Switzerland to book him for a concert, so that eventually one of your competitors can sign him up?

The answer is (c), if you're Jerry Wexler. A bolder example is his claim that he was responsible for coming up with the term 'Rhythm & Blues' to replace the outmoded and offensive 'Race Records'. Wexler dates this to 1949, when he was working for Billboard, and it is true that the new name was adopted in that magazine on 25 June that year, but by then the expression had been in general use for some years.

Why does a man feel the need to aggrandise

a career which is unassailably in the pantheon

of the very greatest already? Because he's contradictory, that's why.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
music

Arts and Entertainment
Creep show: Tim Cockerill in ‘Spider House’

TVEnough to make ardent arachnophobes think twice

Arts and Entertainment
Steven, Ella Jade and Sarah in the boardroom
tvThe Apprentice contestants take a battering from the business mogul
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Jewel in the crown: drawings from ‘The Letter for the King’, an adventure about a boy and his mission to save a medieval realm
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
art
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
art
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
books

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

books
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

    "I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
    Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

    11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

    Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
    Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

    Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

    The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
    Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

    The school that means business

    Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
    10 best tablets

    The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

    They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
    Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

    Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

    The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
    Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

    Pete Jenson's a Different League

    Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
    John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
    The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

    The killer instinct

    Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
    Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

    Clothing the gap

    A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

    The Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain