Atlantic was one of great independent labels that sprang up in the late Forties, challenging the primacy of the major labels of the time (RCA, Columbia and Decca) by discovering, developing and nurturing new talent. Atlantic became the nation's premier rhythm & blues label in a few short years and would become one of the great soul labels in the Sixties.Atlantic set the standard for the "indies" in that they paid their performers fairly, produced top notch records, had talented session men and had knowledgeable staff that included producer Jerry Wexler, engineer Tom Dowd and arranger Jesse Stone. Atlantic's first stars were Ruth Brown, Joe Turner, the Clovers and the first Drifters. Atlantic's first releases were jazz oriented jump blues though the labels first big hit was "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" by Stick McGhee. In the late Forties Atlantic went to New Orleans to look for talent and had some sessions with Professor Longhair, which convinced them to incorporate the New Orleans sound into their recordings. Atlantic's more sophisticated and jazz orientated session men were unable to recreate the New Orleans Sound, but in the process created the "Atlantic Sound," which supported all the label's singers with, boogie based, sax-led band arrangements that were internal part of the song.
Ahmet Ertegun was born in Turkey. He and his family came to the United States when his father Munir was appointed ambassador. In 1936 it was decreed that every Turkish citizen was to choose a surname. Prior to that people had simply been know as "Son of James," "Son of Richard". Ahmet's father Munir choose the surname Ertegun which means "living in a hopeful future." His mother Hayrunisa Rustem was very musical and a terrific dancer. With a beautiful voice she played every instrument by ear. There was a lot of music in the Ertegun household with Hayrunsia buying the popular music of the day. Ahmet's older brother Nesuhi was introduced to many different artists and by age of five Ahmet had fallen in love with jazz. At night they would sneak records into their rooms and fall asleep listening to them.
At the age of fourteen Ahmet's mother brought him a record-cutting machine. Taking a Cootie Williams instrumental "West End Blues" he wrote lyrics to it. With the instrumental playing on a record player Ahmet turned recording machine and sang the lyrics into the microphone as the record played.
Ahmet and Nesuhi liked to go looking for old records by the great bands. Two of the record shops they frequented were the Hot Record Shop and Commodore Music Store. The later was owned by Milt Gabler who would later become A&R head of Decca Records.
As the brothers became friends with Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and Jelly Roll Morton they decided to put on the first integrated concert in Washington D.C. Having trouble finding a venue where they could hold the event they held it at the Jewish Community Center, which was the only place that would allow a mixed audience and mixed band. Later they would be allowed to use the National Press Club's auditorium.
Around 1943 Nesuhi met and married Marili Morden who owned a specialty record store in California called the Jazzman Record Shop. Nesuhi spent an increasing amount of time on the West Coast discovering and promoting the music they both loved.
In 1944 Munir Ertrgun died and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. After the end of the war the body was taken back to Turkey for burial. Soon after the family returned to Turkey, Ahmet and Nesuhi rather then returning to Turkey to finish their studies elected to stay in the United States. Ahmet went out and rented a small apartment with his small allowance. Offered various jobs by family friends Ahmet turned them down. Instead he decided that he would get into the record business. This was to just be a temporary thing to help put him through college after which he would return to Turkey.
While going to graduate school Ahmet discovered Quality Radio Repair Shop which besides selling new and used radios and repairing them sold records for 10 cents or three for a quarter. The store was owned by a man named Max Silverman. Eventually Max would phase out the radio repair business and concentrated on the record end. The name of the shop was changed Waxie Maxie. Soon Silverman got out of the used end into the new record business. He also began a radio program where independent record owners came to get their records played. Ahmet became friends with him and it was here that he learned the record business. Understanding what people were buying and why.
In 1946 Ahmet became friends with Herb Abramson, a dental student and A&R man for National Records. Deciding to start a label together they talked Max Silverman into backing them. There was to be two labels Jubilee for Gospel and Quality for jazz and R&B.
After recording a couple records that didn't sell Silverman wanted out. Keeping the Jubilee label open, Abramson later sold it to Jerry Blaine in order to raise $2500 to start the company. Unable to convince any of his father's friends to invest Ahmet turned to Dr. Vahdi Sabit the family dentist. Sabit then put up $10000 by mortgaging his house.
The name Atlantic wasn't the first choice for the company. It seems every name they came up with had already been taken. Hearing of a label called Pacific Jazz they decided to call themselves Atlantic.
Atlantic Records was founded in September 1947 in New York City and incorporated in October 1947.
Atlantic's first office was in the condemned Jefferson Hotel on Fifty-Six between Sixth and Broadway. Sleeping in the bedroom, the living room was used as a office. In order to help with the rent Ahmet rented a bed to his cousin Sadi Koylan a poet. With an upcoming recording strike declared by Caesar Petrillo to commence January 1, 1948 they began recording as much material as possible. The first sides were recorded November 21, 1947 by the Harlemaires with "The Rose of the Rio Grande." By the end of December a total of sixty-five songs had been recorded.
In 1949, Ahmet and Stone began travelling through the South trying to understand why their well-made, up-to-date records weren't selling. Watching the crowds night after night in the dance clubs they saw the people, especially the young ones, dancing in a new way, that they couldn't dance to the classy, urbane Atlantic beat. Stone took an instrumental version of "Sorghum Switch" re-named it "Coleslaw," added a special bassline; he put country blues into city sound and it clicked. In April Atlantic had its first major hit with Stick McGhee's "Drinkin' Wine Sop-Dee-O-Dee.
In 1953 Jerry Wexler joined Atlantic as a partner paying $2063.25 for a 13% share. Later he and Ahmet would buyout Miriam Beinstock and Dr. Sabit. Nesuhi Ertegun would join as a third partner.
July 1954 - Wexler, Ertegun and Abramson
In 1954 Atlantic was besieged with covers and that summer seven songs including "Sh-Boom", "Honey Love" and "Such A Night" by the Drifters were covered by 18 different artists.
They began the Cat label in 1954 and Atlas Records in July 1955. Atlas became Atco because there was already another Atlas label. Spark Records and it's catalog was acquired later in 1955. Lester Sill became the national sales manager and Leiber and Stoller were given an independent production deal. They also got The Robins who would later become the Coasters
In 1955 Atlantic offered Colonel Tom Parker $25,000 for Elvis Presley's contract but lost out on it to RCA.
Nesuhi Ertegun joined Atlantic in 1956, initially developed Atlantic's album department and built up the label's extensive catalog of jazz long-players. Netsuhi produced the following jazz artists at Atlantic: John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, the Modern Jazz Quartet. Later he would become became involved with the label's rhythm & blues and rock and roll roster as well, producing several hit records for Ray Charles, the Drifters, Bobby Darin and Roberta Flack.
In the '60s, Wexler became the primary producer who linked Aretha Franklin
and Wilson Pickett with house bands in Memphis and Muscle Shoals, Ala., to help bring
Southern soul to the rest of America.
In the '70s, he continued to produce rock acts, such as Dr. John and Dire Straits.
Though he was less directly involved as a producer, Ertegun continued at the helm of Atlantic in the Sixties and Seventies as the company conquered the realms of soul and rock, from Aretha Franklin to Led Zeppelin, with phenomenal success. Ertegun serves as chairman of Atlantic Records to this day. At the tenth annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Dinner in 1995, it was announced that the museum's main exhibition hall would be named after Ertegun.
JerryWexler was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 1987
Amhet Ertegun was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 1987
Nesuhi Ertegun was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 1991
Atlantic Records Tribute