Alabama Music Office.com goes to Florence-Lauderdale Public Library in Florence, Alabama to attend the screening and after screening panel discussion of Tom Thurman's documentary, Jerry Wexler: Immaculate Funk for W.C. Handy Festival 2013. The panel was made up of people that worked with Jerry Wexler when he came to Muscle Shoals. Also included was Jerry's son Paul Wexler. I interviewed Paul after the discussion.
Interview: Paul Wexler by Jerry W. Henry
I asked Paul, What brought him to town? He answered, "I was coming down because I told Dick Cooper, who was an A&R guy and ran the studio in Muscle Shoals for so many years and also a great photographer, that I was going to come down and visit him. So I was planning on coming down and all of a sudden all these events started springing up that were about my dad. Today the screening of Immaculate Funk, Tom Thurman's film, and two nights from now Christine Ohlman is doing a tribute to my dad with Spooner (Oldham), Donnie Fritts, Bonnie and Bekka Bramlett. I think Jimmy Johnson is going to be there and David Hood is the music director. David and Jimmy are from the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. I am not saying all of these things started happening because I was coming down, but I wouldn't say coincidence but a little synchronicity. I am always happy to honor my father."
I asked if he had ever been to Muscle Shoals before? He replied, "Oh Yes! I came down a few times for a few sessions that my dad did down here. One time my father was working with Kim Carnes before she had the hit with "Betty Davis Eyes." This was maybe 1971 or 1972. Dad asked if I knew any good mandolin players and it just so happened that I was a friend with David Grisman, also known as Dawg, who is one of the great mandolin players. I said yea, I got a guy. We came down together and David did his part on this tune and my dad was more than happy with it. So it was my first moment that I actually contributed something to some of my dad's work. It was a great moment for me. I also came down for one of the Dylan sessions down here, the second album. I was down one other time as I remember it, but I can't recall which album my father was working on at that point."
What were his first impressions of Muscle Shoals? He said, "I guess the pace is more laid back. The catfish are great down here. The atmosphere in the studio was very focused but not relaxed because you are never relaxed when you are recording, but just more of a laid back feeling. I'm not sure of how else to put it."
Can he see changes from his visits in the '70's to know? He responded, "I think I would be fronting, as they say now days, If I tried, because I haven't spent enough time around here. It looks a little more built up, I would say and there seems to be more here than there used to be."
What does he do for a living? He told me, "At this point I'm retired, but I worked in the music business. First I worked as an independent contractor for KSAN, the San Francisco radio station that Tom Donahue started the FM format that changed from the AM format. I went to work for Warner Brothers Records in 1976 as their quality control man, making sure the vinyl didn't skip from different pressing plants around the country. After that I worked for Chris Blackwell at Island Records. I worked out of his studio in the Bahamas. I actually did a stint with Atlantic in the '90's. Basically I am retired, I play the piano and sing. The main activity that I do is every week I do an hour long set for the retirees at a retirement home near where I live in New Jersey. I do a lot of standards like "Moon Glow" and "Bye Bye Blackbird." I do classic country like "I'm In The Jail House Now" which Willie Nelson did such a fierce version of. Those and others that these people in their 80's and 90's know. So they get that feeling that they used to get, and it's sort of like Awakenings, where people that haven't talked for years will be singing along with the music. It really brings something out of them; it's bringing something to them where they can have some enjoyment at the end of their lives."
This interview was published in the August 2013 issue of The Leaf.