The Story In Brief|
Founded in 1947 by Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson, Atlantic was the label that did most to popularise the breadth and depth of popular black music - jazz, soul and R'n'B. Initially set up as a jazz label, it moved into Rhythm and Blues in 1949 with the Stick McGhee recording 'Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Doe'. Throughout the 50s, the company signed a whole crop of important artists,including Ruth Brown, Lavern Baker, Joe Turner, The Drifters, The Coasters, Ray Charles - the list is endless!
In 1953, Jerry Wexler joined the company, bringing his advertising and promotional skills to Atlantic and in a way heralding a new era for the organisation. Producers were hand picked to suit the particular talents of the ever growing roster of artists. In the 60s Wexler in particular did much to promote the southern soul sound by taking Atlantic artists to Fame and, later, Muscle Shoals Sound Studios to record - resulting in some of the most seminal soul of the 60s from the likes of the great Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex etc.
Atlantic was also responsible for the distribution of Stax/Volt records and was therefore deeply influential in ensuring nationwide airplay for artists such as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and Eddie Floyd.
Atlantic was always an eclectic label, even in the early days, and they began to diversify further by moving into rock and blue eyed soul with such groups as the Young Rascals, Buffalo Springfield and Led Zeppelin. It allowed Atlantic to consolidate as one of the major forces in contemporary music, but it was only a matter of time before one of the conglomerates came calling - the label linked up with Warner Bros in 1967 and over the years became completely assimilated into the Time Warners empire.
Ertegun stayed with the company, but for Wexler it was never the same and he moved on. For a while though Atlantic was probably the most important and exciting producer of black music there has ever been, headed up by people with business acumen coupled with vision and a real love for and commitment to the music they were generating and promoting.
There is a website for Atlantic as it is today, but if you're reading this and care about the music, I hope you won't be that interested. But do read Charlie Gillett's "Making Tracks - The History of Atlantic Records" - excellent stuff.
Movers and Shakers|
Herb Abramson, the least well known of the Atlantic stalwarts, was in at the beginning but seems to have been dogged by missed opportunities. In 1947, Ahmet Ertegun agreed to fund the creation of a new label, Abramson's ambition whilst working as producer and A&R man for the National label. Unfortunately for Herb, he was drafted in 1953 and when he returned two years later he was out of touch with current trends and found Jerry Wexler installed in the company - he sold his interest for $300,000 and that was the last of his direct involvement in the Atlantic label.
Ahmet Ertegun, co-founder with Abramson, had both money and a creative vision and throughout the 50s contributed to the label not just by providing capital but by recruiting and producing artists of the quality of Lavern Baker, Joe Turner and Ray Charles. In the 60s, as Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin joined the label as producers and engineers, he was less involved in production duties and devoted his time to steering the ship and exercising considerable influence over the organisation's general direction. Ertegun remained with the company throughout the changes in the 70s and 80s.
Neshui Ertegun (Ahmet's brother) joined the company in 1956, after establishing his own Jazzman label in Los Angeles. He set up Atlantic's jazz division and worked with such artists as the Modern Jazz Quartet, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane. He remained with Atlantic throughout, holding various positions, including Chief Executive, as part of the Warner-Elektra-Atlantic stronghold.
Jerry Wexler had been a music journalist with Billboard magazine, reputedly coining the phrase Rhythm and Blues. He applied the skills of the marketplace to the company, along with a genuine love for the music he promoted and helped to make. He instigated productions for everyone from Lavern Baker through to the seminal work of Aretha Franklin and the unusual but highly successful foray into Memphis by Dusty Springfield. He was largely responsible for the introduction of his own soul talents to the southern studios. Incidentally, he also provided the loan to allow the Muscle Shoals band to leave Fame and set up on their own, which didn't endear him to Rick Hall at the time!!!! He slowly became less involved in the running of the company over time, preferring to work with the music makers, which was always his first love. He has assumed an almost mythical status within the industry, but not without good reason. Let him tell you all about himself - get his autobiography "Rhythm and the Blues - A Life in American Music". A little subjective and one sided of course, but worth a read.