Bribing Ahmet!

ATLANTIC RECORDS: “Blues Originals” series

The albums that I put together for Atlantic Records in 1971 (referred to as the “Blues Originals” series) was one of the high-points of my life. One can read some stuff about it in the “Oddenda & Such – #15” piece on my web site. That I had such a free reign of the company was amazing, and unlikely to occur in these times. I must have hit an appropriate nerve with boss Ahmet Ertegun, a former jazz and blues record collector in his youth in DC. My “bribing” him with my copy of the sacred text by Godrich & Dixon may have helped as well[1]! He found it fascinating and memory-jogging as well.

I was given access to all unreleased material that I wanted to hear and was allotted a small studio for listening purposes. My pay for writing liner notes was $400.00 for each album, sharing by half with those other folks I got to write liner notes.[2] This became a slight point of difficulty for me as after getting their essays for the albums from Mike Leadbitter, Simon Napier, and Bruce Bastin in the UK. I was advised that the company had decided on a double-fold package and that the notes were too short! Before the ‘net and all, such communication took lace over real time and I had very little at that point: I’ve never written so fast in all my life as I doubled the three essays in size!! I knew a lot about blues and jazz, but not everything about it! I had originally called on folks I felt were the most appropriate for each album of three albums (plus myself for the other three) and was unsure if I could pull it off. But it ended up working out OK, ’though it was frantic for a while.

My original idea was for twelve albums of blues and blues-based material in two half-dozen batches. What was eventually issued in 1972 and posted here was the first six. Meade Lux Lewis was to have a full LP of his own recordings to be entitled “Chicago Piano – Vol. 2: Meade Lux Lewis”. (That’s why the Yancey album is referred to “Chicago Piano – Vol. 1”!) A complete album of Guitar Slim’s Atco sides was also in the mix… that happened independently years later under a different aegis at Atlantic. There was to be an album of various female blues singers (including Lil Green’s last session) as well as one of instrumental blues (reminiscent of their old 1950’s LP, “Dance The Rock & Roll”) from small combos. The final two albums were to come from the Old Town catalogue that Atlantic had under its wing at the time and have a NYC hook.

As my earlier piece indicates, it all went pear-shaped when Ahmet sold the company a couple of times and the master tapes ended up stored in NJ in the attic of a wood-frame house that caught fire. That explains in part why I did no more, as well as explaining the paucity of unissued Ornette Coleman or John Coltrane material that had had jazz fans salivating in anticipation. Bad move by Kinney, to say the least. By the time all the political and financial hoo-hah was sorted out, the company ended up as part of the Warner’s group (WEA). Ahmet was still in control, but my ideas ended up getting lost in the sauce. Also, by then, the Old Town catalogue had gone back to its original owner and was no longer available. Truth be told, Meade Lux Lewis, et al were never going to take precedence over Led Zeppelin[3] or The Rolling Stones. Such is life in the music business; as I like to say, I love the music and hate the business. At least I got half of what I had in mind done up in fine fettle, and I’m quite proud of the end “product” to this day.

Besides hearing the music enclosed on the vinyl, I initially had Tunc Erim as my-man-at-Atlantic to assist me with the ledger master books and tracking down possibilities for me. Next I had the help of Ilhan Mimaroglu, once I was working directly on the project, assisting me with any tape or studio problems and checking my work. Ilhan was a notable early electronic composer and he worked with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard on the record “Sing Me a Song of Songmy” in 1971, plus he arranged and produced many other albums for the label. Ilhan even worked with Mingus late in Charles’ career for Atlantic (and lived to tell about it!), and was also one of the composers for the film “Fellini – Satyricon”.

The unique art-work for the series was solely the imagination and work of Stanislaw Zagorski (and others in the Atlantic art department) who came up with an appropriate and subtle series of unique geographically themed visuals for each album. He was in heavy rotation for covers at Atlantic, doing all sorts of genres as they came around, so I got lucky here! He was that good. Thanks Stan… it was a great concept well executed; I only regret that the second half-dozen LPs never happened.

And it all began because Simon, Mike, and I had discovered that there were 13 unreleased Blind Willie McTell sides in the Atlantic vault! I hate to say it, but Bob Dylan was right for once about Willie, and I’m quite proud of my part in this great, albeit partially truncated series, of LPs. Something is always better than nothing, IMHO, and I actually did it. Thanks for letting me in, Ahmet… it was a grand thing you did for us all. Music über alles, folks!

 

PETER B. LOWRY – 2017                                                                                                              Sydney, Australia

[1] I speak of the pre-war blues discography that they published, a fantastic resource and reference book.

[2] My “in house” time there was “paid for” with gifted small studio time that I had hoped to use for recording Tarheel Slim with a band. Ahmet remembered recording Slim & Ann back in the day and wanted to facilitate.

[3] According to my contacts, Jimmy Page thought the Texas guitar album was one of the year’s best…a feel-good moment for me. We were not alone!

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