Making Tracks

This is the place to write, post or discuss music-related book reviews.

Moderators: lo&m, Moshe

Making Tracks

Postby lo&m on Sun Jan 12, 2014 5:12 pm

Making Tracks
Charlie Gillett
ISBN 0 285 62831 3

First off, this is not a book about country music. In fact country music is just a footnote in this book. So why am I reviewing if for a country music forum? Because it may be of interest to any music lover who is interested in the history of record labels or the music industry in general.

The author has written an earlier book, Sounds of the City, which was the first book to examine the Rock 'n' Roll explosion of the 1950's. However, he did this by chronicling it through record labels, a potted history of the labels and which acts were signed to them. It's rather a dry and academic exercise which managed to suck all the life out of the exciting and innovative genre which was vintage Rock 'n' Roll.

Not so with Making Tracks. This is a much more interesting and enjoyable book for several reasons. The main ones being firstly, that this is concentrating on the story of how just one record label, Atlantic Records, was formed and forged into a major industry and secondly , the personalities of the characters involved. The main players in the Atlantic Records story are Ahmet Artegun, the practical-joke-playing playboy son of the Turkish ambassador to the USA and Jerry Wexler, a jewish New Yorker, a closet country music fan who had a real affinity and talent for finding and recording black R&B singers. The story of Atlantic is the story of these two men.

Atlantic Records was formed in 1947 by Ahmet Artegun who was at a loose end in his life. He didn't know what he wanted to do but he knew he didn't want to work, and having amassed a collection of thousands of jazz and blues records, it seemed like a logical step. Teaming up with producer Herb Abramson they formed Atlantic with a loan from his dentist.

From the beginning, Atlantic had a distinctly different image from most other record companies. They treated their artists honestly, paying them all the royalties that their records earned them. Most other independents, and some major labels when Rock 'n' Roll came in, disliked the music, despised the audience and consequently treated the performers badly. Herb Abramson and Jerry Wexler, who joined Atlantic in 1953 while Abramson was doing his national service, who had worked in the industry, wanted none of that. They signed their artists to proper contracts and honoured them, including paying their black artists the same rates as their white artists. Something unknown in the industry at the time. Not surprisingly, this engendered a tremendous loyalty from their roster of artists in return.

Ahmet tells the story of how after they'd been going a year or two, a senior staff man from Columbia Records came over and said, “Listen, we've been watching you and we think you're making some pretty good product. We'd like to take you over.” “Really?” he answered, “On what basis?” He said, “How about if we give you a two percent royalty, out of which you can take care of the artists.”Ahmet replied, “Take care of the artists? We're giving them three to five percent.” The Columbia staffer said sourly, “So, it's you that's been spoiling it for everybody.”

Of course, they made mistakes too. The stories of hits that got away are many. But the hits they made with Ruth Brown, Ivory Joe Hunter, Professor Longhair, The Drifters, Ray Charles, The Coasters, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and the Woodstock album among many others turned Atlantic into a million dollar business. It had completed the journey from being just another 'indie' into becoming a major label itself before being eventually bought out by Warner Brothers in 1967.

And that's where this book ends, written as it was in 1968. Atlantic though is still going strong.
Country is a state of mind, not a state of America.
User avatar
Posts: 7307
Joined: Tue Aug 23, 2005 10:34 pm
Location: Desolation Row

Re: Making Tracks

Postby Moshe on Sun Jan 12, 2014 7:15 pm

Interesting review, Bill. Thanks for that. I'll see if I can order this from my library.
Charlie Gillette used to present a show on the old BBC Radio London, "Honky Tonk", back in the Seventies. The show covered early rock & roll, early country & blues.n I checked out Gillett's "Sound of The City" but, like you, found it rather dull.
This sounds much more interesting.
User avatar
Ultimate Member
Posts: 9186
Joined: Thu Jan 31, 2008 11:14 pm
Location: London

Re: Making Tracks

Postby Smudger on Sun Jan 12, 2014 7:18 pm

Sounds interesting. Before I got into country, I used to like soul music from the Atlantic and Stax labels. I remember buying this excellent album on vinyl: ... se/3385236
with this one on it:
Supreme Member
Posts: 2418
Joined: Tue Jul 14, 2009 9:38 am

Return to Book Reviews

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest