Towards the end of Tuesday night’s star-packed tribute to late Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, Neil Young spoke for his fellow artists: “Ahmet was our man,” he said, after singing “Helplessly Hoping” with David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash. “I just hope that today’s musicians have someone like Ahmet, because we were really lucky.” Crosby and Nash then stepped offstage, leaving Stills and Young to perform an emotional version of “Mr. Soul” — a song by their first band together, Buffalo Springfield, whom Ertegun signed to Atlantic subsidiary Atco Records. (With Young strumming hard on a downtuned acoustic guitar and Stills playing biting electric leads, they stuck closer to the recording than this slowed-down Young/Stills version from Woodstock). At the song’s conclusion, Young looked upwards and said, “Thanks, Ahmet.”
One of the other highlights of the tribute, held at New York’s Rose Theater, was a hilarious, affectionate speech by Mick Jagger, who described Ertegun as a “wicked uncle with a wicked chuckle.” “Ahmet was a fantastically well-rounded man,” Jagger said of Ertegun, who died on Dec. 14th at 83. “[He was] able to talk about geopolitics, able to talk about medieval Islamic history — and able to pick the next Vanilla Fudge single.” With Dr. John on piano, Eric Clapton performed Atlantic Records’ first big hit, “Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee,” and the pair also played behind R&B pioneer Solomon Burke, who, as usual, sang while sitting on a gilded throne.
Later, Phil Collins performed a solo piano version of “In the Air Tonight” (leaving out the drum fills that Ertegun famously convinced him to add) and then sang “Follow You, Follow Me” with his Genesis bandmates. Among the other big moments were Wynton Marsalis kicking off the evening with a New Orleans-style march through the audience, Bette Midler belting the innuendo-laced tune “Princess Pupule,” Kid Rock singing with Sam Moore of Sam and Dave and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones and Foreigner’s Mick Jones backing Ben E. King.
The star power and varied backgrounds of the speakers testified to the expansive life Eretgun lived: They included Rolling Stone editor and publisher Jann Wenner, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, designer Oscar de la Renta, director Taylor Hackford, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and entertainment mogul David Geffen.
Afterwards, the celebration continued with a lavish party at Central Park’s Boathouse, with Paul Schaffer and the CBS Orchestra serving as the house band. Kid Rock was the afterparty’s MVP, singing duets with Peter Wolf and Traffic’s Dave Mason, while Burke, members of the Rascals and Paul Rogers also took the mic. Robbie Robertson and all three surviving members of Led Zeppelin were also on hand, but they didn’t jump on stage. Earlier, Bette Midler had summed up the evening: “Only Ahmet could have brought this group of people together,” she said.
For full coverage of the tribute, see the next issue of Rolling Stone. For more on life and legacy of Ahmet Ertegun, who we called “the greatest record man who ever lived,” see our tribute.