What about Jerry Wexler?
I don't know. It's funny 'cause Jerry Wexler and I never got along, and we only really started to communicate when Lenny died, because he suddenly realized that he loved Lenny very much, and if Lenny and I were that close, it was time to break the ice between him and myself. So in the last few years we've communicated a great deal and talked. Jerry has a good time and jives a little bit, but his contribution really is the early music – all those records he did – like "A Lover's Question," "Shaboom." That's the Jerry Wexler that for me really changed and set the standards for the recording industry.
I don't know how much he's a part of Aretha. I don't really get into it or care. I enjoyed Dusty Springfield's record, and I don't listen to music too much today 'cause I'm not inspired by a lot of it. A lot of it is a lot of crap. There is so much coming out on Atlantic, they got, so many hits that I don't know what Jerry does and what he doesn't do.
I know that he is a brilliant businessman, and what he's done with Aretha is sparkling – what can you say? She was dumped from company to company, and he did make it happen. In many ways he's like Ahmet in another area. He just gets in that studio and if it's right. . . . To sum up Jerry Wexler: As a producer he knows when something is right, and he can wrap some of these young punk producers around his little finger.
But to show you how sophisticated the kids are today, Jerry goes down South and cuts something and comes back up. Everybody listens to it. Ahmet says, "Too many highs in that record. It's shrill." Jerry says, "You're crazy, man. It's a groovy record – a smash." Ahmet says, "I don't know man. It's awfully shrill. Somethin' the matter with the mikes down there." He says, "You're crazy, Ahmet. Man, you can go ask anybody."
And nobody knew what to say. It was like a standoff.
"What about the song?" Jerry asked. Ahmet said, "Well, the song's good, but it's just too piercing. There's something wrong with that record." So he says, "Let's go downstairs and find some kids on the street." So they go downstairs and find three long-haired kids with boots on, comin' home from school.
And Ahmet says, "Say, man, I work for Atlantic Records and we want you to hear a record." So the guy says, "Okay." He says, "Man, we'll buy you some hamburgers and stuff." They say good, so they go upstairs and sit down – the kids thought we were gonna give them some joints, and we give 'em hamburgers.
They come upstairs and they go in the room and Jerry Wexler played this record for them. And these kids were sittin' there diggin' it, diggin' it, you know.' And Wexler says, "What do you think of it?" One guy says, "It's a groovy song man, and great performance." And they all said, "Yeah man, it's a hell of a song and a great performance."
So Wexler looks at Ahmet and winks at him 'cause he knows he's won. Ahmet says, "You like the record?" And the kid says, "Yeah, but too many highs on it, it's piercing, really shrill. You gotta change the mixing – the EQ's wrong."
Jerry Wexler said, "The EQ's wrong? What you know about EQ?" Jerry got real hot. He just didn't realize that the kids today like they've all made records and they're very sophisticated and you can't jive 'em like that. And the kid said, "I don't dig the EQ on the record. Now where's my hamburger? I gave you my opinion and I don't dig the EQ on your record." That's outta sight. I loved it.
So Wexler's a brilliant businessman; I mean he's really a groovy cat. I mean it's a great combination but if you really think of it – a Jewish cat and two Turks becomes the biggest R&B label – it's kinda weird. With no Mafia in there either.
What do you know about the Mafia in the record business?
I wouldn't say anything I knew anyways. I just try to hire 'em all, that's all. No, I wouldn't say a word about them. "What Mafia?" "What record business?" Why must we do the interview on the night of Mission Impossible, man? That's a helluva good program. That's a great show man. I don't know what day it comes on because I don't watch television that much. I'm one of those phonies that says he doesn't watch it, but watches it every night. No, I really don't know.
What was your involvement with Lenny?
Other than that he recorded for me, I would say he was at the time my closest friend. He was like a teacher or a philosopher. He was like a living Socrates. Nobody will ever really know what Lenny was, and who he was, because nobody saw him in those last few years.
The people who really didn't see him are the people who said they did see him. I mean the Mort Sahls, Bill Cosbys, Buddy Hacketts–those are the people that really let Lenny down. They're the ones who all said, when Lenny died, that they wanted to bury him – only they wanted to bury him when he was living, not afterwards, because none of them were there.
I guess it was hard for them to look at Lenny, because Lenny was obviously the very best. He was the epitome of comic brilliance, he was the greatest standup comedian of his time, he had the ingenious mind that they all wished that they had. To see the best like that would probably be too hard. They probably wouldn't have been able to stomach it.
I took Lenny to The Trip one night when it was open on Sunset, and Cosby was in there, the Smothers Brothers were in there. They all sort of tried not to say hello to Lenny and then they all sort of disappeared because not only did they steal so much from Lenny, take so much material from him, but they didn't know how to confront him. I don't think they knew what to say to Lenny or how to express themselves.
In the last year or six months Lenny had a nail tied to his foot and was going around in circles. He obviously was not guilty of anything he was charged with because the New York courts even let him go after his death. Posthumous vindication doesn't really mean anything, but he was right is what they meant, because the court said he was right. He just had a Kafkaesque life in that he was never allowed to do what he was charged with in front of a courtroom, and that was be obscene or not be obscene.
The film he made was him with the words and everything – 'cause he never used a dirty word to use it. He would shuck with you, and if he dug you he would talk like I've been talkin' to you now. I don't use a dirty word or say "fuck this" just to say it or to get you horny, I say it because I'm talkin' with you and that's it. And that's how he was with an audience.
None of the comics came to his defense. If anything, after he died, Mort Sahl said some real bad things about Lenny, much more harmful than they were good. He might as well have hated Lenny all his life for what he said, because he's a liar. It's that simple. He said Lenny was being used by the establishment to prove a point. That's a lot of shit.
I have the exact quotes from the New York Times. I even have the paper – I kept it. Sahl said Lenny never thought of anything so astounding – or something similar to that – because there was nothing Lenny ever thought of that Mort had not thought of at one time also.
Well, that's like saying "Einstein never did anything that I couldn't have done because I was thinkin' all them things too, but I just didn't say 'em – I' kept 'em to myself, but now I'm gonna let you in on it. See, here's the theory of relativity."
He wouldn't have dared say that when Lenny was alive. You see after Lenny died they all said all kinds of crap, because he ain't here. And even when he was alive he hardly defended himself. You know, he didn't care. He was like full of compassion for everybody. He saw people stealing his material left and right.
They asked me to do a Les Crane show on Lenny with Murray Roman – it was a joke, and I wouldn't go on the show because I wouldn't give any credence or give any kind of authority to Murray Roman, 'cause he's a joke. I mean he is a joke. He just has to stand up there and I'll laugh at him. He's just a joke. He's indicative of the whole recording industry. Cosby (whom Roman records for) can't make up his mind whether he's a black militant or a white millionaire.
Now Lenny was not obscene, he was not dirty, he never posed in the nude (or an album) and he never did anything on any of his albums that should not have been heard. Yet they wouldn't touch him. We don't see anybody raising a fuss when this company comes and puts out John Lennon, you know with his schlong hanging out there and, "hey, you know, it's a big thing," when it's really not. Now the times may be changing, which is okay and there's nothin' wrong with John Lennon doin' whatever he wants to do.
But you have to get upset when the music industry defends that, but doesn't defend it on a general basis; it just sort of picks out certain things. It's like Marshall on the Supreme Court: he is not really a black man – he will never defend a black man because he's black, but you'll find a lot of white southerners defend white people just because they're white. I mean in the North they don't care that way; the music industry doesn't stick with anyone.
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