Jerry Wexler not only coined the phrase rhythm and blues, the legendary music producer was one of the key architects of the genre. He revolutionized popular music with seminal, superstar-making recordings of acts such as Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and others.
But the genius of Wexler, who died Friday at his Sarasota, Fla., home at 91, was not limited to just one style of music. Over his decades-long career, he would create varied soundscapes that touched just about every kind of listener, from his work with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson to his masterful recording of Dusty Springfield to his work with pop and rock acts like George Michael and Dire Straits.
He also helped build one of the most influential labels in pop, Atlantic Records, which was the home of Franklin, Charles, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. He was named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
"Jerry was truly one of the great record men of all time," Franklin told The Associated Press Friday. "I salute him today."
Jerry Wexler's son Paul said the record producer died at home, where he was under hospice care, about 3:45 a.m. Friday of heart disease; the death was first confirmed by David Ritz, co-author of Wexler's 1993 memoir, "Rhythm and the Blues."
Both his son and daughter Lisa were present at the time of his death. Paul Wexler told the AP his father's death was "a tremendous loss."
"The number of artists that he was involved with and helped significantly or just made great records with, the list is almost unbelievable," Paul Wexler added. "And many of them are gone now."
Wexler earned his reputation as a music industry giant while a partner at Atlantic Records with another legendary music figure, the late Ahmet Ertegun. Atlantic provided an outlet for the groundbreaking work of African-American performers in the 1950s and '60s.
Wexler helped boost the careers of both the "King of Soul," Charles, and the "Queen of Soul," Franklin. Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke and Percy Sledge were among the other R&B greats who benefited from Wexler's deft recording touch. Among the standards produced by Wexler: Franklin's "Respect," a dazzling, feminist reworking of an Otis Redding song; Sledge's deep ballad "When A Man Loves A Woman" and Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour," with a horn vamp inspired by Wexler's admittedly rhythmless dancing.
He also produced Dusty Springfield's classic "Dusty in Memphis," which would become a benchmark of "blue-eyed" soul, as well as key recordings for the Memphis-based soul label Stax Records; Wexler created a partnership where Atlantic distributed Stax records and eventually took control of their master recordings.
Burke said Wexler was the ultimate music man.
"He loved black music, R&B music and rhythm and blues was his foundation. He had a feeling for it, he had the knack to keep it going in his heart and recognize the talent that he felt was real," Burke said after learning of his death. "Jerry Wexler didn't change the sound of America, he put the sound to the public. He open the doors and windows to the radio stations ... and made everybody listen."
In the studio, Wexler was a hands-on producer. Once, during a session with Charles, the tambourine player was off the beat. Wexler, in his award-winning autobiography, recalled grabbing the instrument and playing it himself.
"Who's that?" asked Charles.
"Me," Wexler told the blind singer.
"You got it, baby!" Charles said.
When asked what made Wexler such an astute producer, Franklin told the AP: "He knew what he was doing, that's the first thing. ... We sat for long hours listening to music before we decided what we would do, and selecting various things."
But she also stressed his easygoing nature and sense of humor with helping create the right musical vibe.
"He was very, very easy to work with," she said. "He knew how to keep the mood light and keep it fun."
The son of Polish immigrants and a music buff since his teens, Wexler, a New York City native, landed a job writing for Billboard magazine in the late 1940s after serving in World War II and studying journalism at Kansas State University. He coined the term "rhythm and blues" for the magazine's black music charts; previously, they were listed under "race records."
While working at Billboard, Wexler befriended Ertegun _ a life-altering friendship for both. Ertegun and a partner had started Atlantic, then a small R&B label in New York. In 1953, when Ertegun's partner left for a two-year military hitch, Wexler stepped in as the label's co-director.
He never left.
"In the early sessions, I just sat there watching (Ertegun) while I was cowering in fright," Wexler told the AP in 2001. "But as time went on, we proved to be a very successful team. ... We went on the road together, we hung out together."
He recalled that Ertegun "wrote many of the songs in the early days, and he drew upon his knowledge of jazz and the blues, because songs always have to have a source. ... This is not to say that there is not great originality."
While Ertegun enjoyed the more bohemian aspects of the music business, Wexler was a working partner. Wexler produced 16 albums and numerous hit singles for Franklin, who switched to Atlantic in the mid-1960s and rediscovered her gospel roots after several unhappy years singing show tunes for Columbia. "When it came to the studio, you could say the two of us were joined at the hip," he once said.
Franklin noted that Wexler produced her first platinum album, the classic 1972 gospel recording "Amazing Grace."
"I think the things that we produced absolutely brought soul to the forefront as evidenced by my having the cover of Time magazine," she said Friday. "There had definitely been a musical revolution there, revolutionary change in music, and soul came into prominence."
In 1967, Wexler and Ertegun sold Atlantic to Warner Bros. for $17.5 million. Although they stayed on to run the company, the pair began moving in different directions.
Wexler began working with a collection of Southern musicians in the 1970s, including guitar genius Duane Allman, Dr. John, and Delaney & Bonnie. He also produced albums for Willie Nelson.
In the 1980s, Wexler worked with Dire Straits, Carlos Santana and George Michael. In April 1988, Atlantic marked its 40th anniversary with an 11-hour concert at Madison Square Garden, with the stage shared by performers from Crosby, Stills & Nash to the Bee Gees to Ben E. King.
Franklin said she had spoken to him in the last few weeks, and while he said he was in ill health, "his voice sounded very strong, and his laughter, his spirit was great."
Paul Wexler said a private service will take place in the coming weeks in Sarasota, and his father's tombstone will read: "He changed the world."
"I don't think I'm overreaching," he said.
AP National Writer Hillel Italie and Writer Christine Amario contributed to this report.