|Atlantic Records - The Early Years|
|Ahmet and his older brother Nesuhi Ertegun were sons of a Turkish
ambassador, and were jazz fans as young boys living in Europe.
When the family moved to Washington they hooked up with a group
of fellow jazz fans that included Herb Abramson and his wife Miriam.
Washington of the 1940s was a segregated city, but this was not
true of the Turkish Embassy. There would be concerts held there
with members of both black and white jazz bands playing together
to an integrated audience. There the young men got to meet some
of the great musicians of the day.
Ahmet and Herb Abramson founded Atlantic Records in 1947 at a
startup cost of $10,000. They recruited Tom Dowd, who had worked
on the Manhattan Project, to be their engineer, and Miriam was the
Their first releases were jazz records (in 78rpm of course, since the
45 would not hit the market until early 1949) and a Herb Abramson
childrens project called "The Adventures Of Bronco Bill".
The first "hit" for the company was "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee"
by Stick McGhee, who was the brother of blues great Brownie McGhee
(who can be heard singing "bop-bop" in the background of "Drinkin'
"Drinkin' Wine..." first broke in New Orleans so Ahmet and Herb
borrowed a car and drove down there. While they were there
they signed Blind Willie McTell and Professor Longhair.
With their first hit things started to fall into place. They later
signed the Clovers. Ahmet wrote their first song, "Don't You
Know I Love You", which was the first of many songs penned
by him whether credited to Ahmet Ertegun, Nugetre
(Ertegun spelled backwards), or just Nuggy.
Atlantic bought Ray Charles' contract for $3,000 and they had
another star-to-be, but then some bad news.
Herb Abramson was educated in the Army as a dentist, and
now the Army wanted him back. He and Miriam had a baby,
hoping that would keep him out, but no, he was off to Germany.
They brought in Jerry Wexler to fill the spot left by Herb Abramson.
By the time Herb got back, he felt he was not part of the team
anymore, so he started Atco Records as a subsidiary of Atlantic.
Meanwhile, Atlantic was on a roll. They signed Clyde McPhatter
after he left the Dominoes, brought in a group to back him,
called them the Drifters, and had another money maker.
There was also Joe Turner who made a little noise with
a song called "Shake Rattle And Roll". Written by Jesse
Stone, this one features backing vocals by Jesse, Ahmet,
and Jerry Wexler.
The list of first class artists who recorded for Atlantic reads
like a "Who's Who" of Rhythm & Blues. Greats like LaVern
Baker, Ruth Brown, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett,
"Big" Joe Turner, Ray Charles, The Drifters, The Clovers,
and on and on.....
Of course, there is always the one that got away.
Ahmet started getting royalty checks for Atlantic owned
songs that were being performed by some kid on Sam Phillips' little
Sun label.When Colonel Parker started shopping this young singer
around, Ahmet offered $25,000, but RCA had deeper pockets,
and was willing to pay the $45,000 that the Colonel was asking.
As a personal note, I wonder how much better Elvis' post-Sun
work would have been had he signed with Atlantic?