Dusty in Memphis

Something about being down in Atlanta for the Pop Culture Association Conference makes me think of Warren Zanes’ book about Dusty in Memphis – book no.1 in the series. It was three years ago, at this same conference (in New Orleans on that occasion) that I was editing Warren’s manuscript, and discovering for the first time how much potential the 33 1/3 series had for rambling happily off the beaten track.

Here’s an extract from Warren’s book.


It was no surprise to me that several people, Stanley [Booth] included, responded to news of my little book about Dusty in Memphis by saying “It would be great if you could talk to Jerry Wexler.” I agreed entirely, of course. Of all the parties involved in that album’s creation, if anyone stood “at the helm” with Dusty it was Jerry. But a few significant issues stood in my way. First, I wasn’t entirely sure that Jerry Wexler was still alive. And for one writing a book about Dusty in Memphis, it was shameful to come right out and say that I didn’t know this rather crucial piece of information. Any sense of authority that I might be hoping to project would diminish significantly if I was caught speaking of Jerry as someone I planned to call with a few questions when, in truth, “It would be great if you could talk to Jerry” meant that it would be great but not possible. My lack of assurance regarding Jerry’s status was based on the simple fact that I couldn’t believe someone with his deep history could still be around to comment on it. Jerry Wexler is, after all, the man who changed the Billboard category of “Race” records to the new heading of “Rhythm and Blues.”

In relation to handling my conundrum, Andy Paley came to mind. Andy is a fine resource for information of all kinds. When my wife and I couldn’t get rid of the smell of cat urine in the back hallway of our house, Andy introduced us to Nature’s Miracle, an effective, natural product that has served us well since that time. My wife, often quicker to move toward solutions than I am myself, suggested I call Andy to find out if Jerry Wexler was available for interview. Having seen, from a number of angles, the massive cogs of the music business turn, Andy was indeed the man for the job. And as it turned out, and to no one’s surprise, Andy had information. He knew Jerry from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee on which both men sit. Immediately launching into story, Andy described one committee meeting at which he and Jerry Wexler had shared the view that Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band was perhaps a premature candidate for induction in the band category when New Orleans’ Meters had not yet been discussed as a possibility. Which is to say, I quickly found out that Jerry Wexler was indeed alive and well and, gloriously so, had a few opinions on it all.

Through a gentleman in the UK, responsible for the reissue of some great Eddie Hinton recordings, I got Jerry’s two addresses, one on Long Island and the other in Florida. Perhaps my mind is that of the fan, but I’d seen Jerry Wexler’s name on too many great records to think he lived in a world resembling my own. Where could a Jerry Wexler live? Whoever made up the name Ahmet Ertegun likely contrived Wexler’s, too. I imagined wonderful places for them both, nothing along the lines of Long Island. But the two addresses were promptly emailed to me. So I sent letters, obsequious letters of the kind that young PhDs facing a grim job market write on a fairly regular basis. And was I wrong, or did I actually get a call back from Jerry Wexler three hours after I put those letters in the mailbox? This is a man whose books are in order. If I had thought Jerry Wexler would be the most difficult person to contact, because he was such a looming figure in my mind, I was wrong.


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