F1 Then there are some people who have great genius who open their mouth and the music that moves you and is very, very close to your feelings and it really fills you. And that's so and that's so this is RMV, that's so rather than that's missed.

F5 So that's the difference. You know, what I can be is can I be? Yes, right. That's the real thing over there. And what do you think, sir?

M13 Well, I would imagine it's just for the Ahmed itself, because the Army knows what he's talking about and I know it's.

M1 I would imagine the difference in here and what I do and then he and what James Brown might do or what I would do or he Pickett saying and in deference to that would be to him and maybe Luther Vandross would same. And as ombuds, there's some. It's the feel of the music and the Army would be a great example of being Little Richard is going on be this. I mean, he'll keep you there, put it right in the middle to keep you jumping. And then someone else would say, I would sing a song just as simple as him and a guitar and make you cry.

M2 That's a source of.

M14 That description that describes what I just picked it up from him, I'm like, I'm a great second. I think this is this is a great combination, a bipartisan record in this relationship.

M18 If it all goes well, you can go to Vegas and watch as Carmen would be his favorite three songs to pick if he was stranded on a desert island. And I was watching to see how you would handle that. And I knew you couldn't find someone with music all his life. So to find three to want to live with on a desert, I couldn't find three.

M5 And, you know, that's not really difficult from myself or whatever that I could be fair to and leave the other millions of songs that I've loved over the years and behind.

M4 It's no way I can do without. But he handled it very well. He didn't only say three, he said three hundred.

M14 But he's a son of a different color. You you're exactly. I want to hear from you. Isn't he diplomatic? He's very diplomatic, yes. And like you say, he's the son of a diplomat so he knows how to do it.

F1 I you know, I've been very lucky to have been surrounded by. With some really. Wonderful people, you know, great artists and great people who work with me all my life and I get I get the.

F2 A lot of. Credit for things that other people have done other than myself, and so, you know, I've worked I worked with terrific.

F11 Through effect artists. And terrific and terrific people, and then my company, you know, I feel this is not only a great partner to me, but he was a great friend, you know. And, you know, we had we had a great friend together, Betty. And that was Noreen Woods, who was who was in many ways a mentor to me. She you know, she taught me a lot of things about life.

M11 She was a very wise person.

F3 And and she she made sure that I was that was good. I was I wouldn't do anything wrong. And so I've had people like that. You know, I was very lucky to have people like Mary Mainstage who was really was.

F6 You know, a strong person in our company and out of curiosity, I mean, just sort of because I'm always curious about what you said, that you learned a lot about life from your brain, if you remember anything particular.

F1 Any particular example you think you there in that mean Noreen was?

F3 Protected me every day for the moment, I woke up until she said good night to me as I went to sleep. So I mean, she was with me all the time and.

F2 And she was. As soon as I can, I was very you know, in my childhood is that my my father and my mother who brought me up, I had an aunt who traveled with us.

F11 She was my mother's and that she was a person who was very who who really taught me all about humility and about being good and. And she herself was such an example of a she was like an angel over me as I grew up, and I was lucky enough that after I lost her, I found Noreen and she was a continuation of that. You know, she was like someone who always, you know, had I mean, I always called Noreen any time and she was always with me. And the. Well, now I have a new little guardian angel who's who is, uh, and Francis, my my my sister, to whom I also love very much, and she she was under an when marriage last year's Atlantic and.

F2 And way, I see. She is a, you know, a disciple.

F3 Another and another, yet another in love with me.

F6 What was your I'm curious here, what was your aunt's name? Turkey.

F1 Her name was was Yanhai. Is that what you call it, what they call their mother Mangay in the embassy? That really means and we all called her and she was my mother's and.

F7 Is there any music in Turkey speaking and I know you have an interest in Turkish music and you have a Turkish artists that you've taken an interest in, is there music that has any resemblance at all to blues or jazz or any relationship at all to that music music you loved?

F3 There is a very, very strong correlation between.

M25 Uh.

F1 Black American blues. And a lot of them black American music and the.

M24 And. The Turkish. The Turkish.

F1 Classical pop music, which is. And as a. As you know, it's not musically similar because it's based on different scale, so it's not the same scale, it's not or similar musically, but the feeling is very similar. The feeling is a mixture of joy and elation with deep sadness. And it's a combination of those because the blues. The blues is. Well, people think that's only sad when the blues as deeply sad because it's the music of a deeply hurt people. But it also has extreme joy in it and and it's a it's a hard combination. The people who are not. For whom it's not their original music that don't always understand what that is.

F7 Do you think that's one of the reasons I do think I'd love you, by the way, at some point in time to play me an example of that kind of Turkish music when we're at your house. Oh, yeah, something like that. You don't mind, but do you think that. We're very cozy here. Do you think that's a reason that perhaps you related so. Readily or easily to blue.

F1 No, because you know something, I. I really didn't feel that relationship until much later. I mean, I grew. I first was hooked by jazz. But what I mean by jazz is not, you know, very difficult abstract jazz. I'm talking about the first music I heard. It was Jazzmatazz like Cab Calloway, his band, Duke Ellington's band, Jimmy Lunsford's band, Chick Webb's band, and they played pop music, but they played pop music with a lot of field rhythm and and blues phrasing. But there wasn't playing blues. You know, the first of those bands that really played the blues was Count Basie. I mean, Count Basie came from Kansas City. You know, those Kansas City bands.

M2 He.

F1 The New Orleans music was one type of music, the Kansas City Jazz, Novica, but both those musics, both New Orleans Jazz and Kansas City jazz came from the blues. They played blues. But the bands of Duke Ellington and the big bands, you know, let me on, but they would play the blues once in a while, but it would be very sophisticated, very what they used to call Dixie. And those days, it was like, you know, more of a play by reading musicians who were who were. Sort of playing a very, very slick version, but, you know, but the blues that the people felt, the real blues and the country blues and the country or even the city blues as sung by people like. Big Joe Turner and and, uh, uh. So many of the other people rushing was saying with with Count Basie and so on, that, you know, or Al Hebler, who sometimes sang the blues with with Duke Ellington, you know, that that's you know, that's that's a very, very. You know, stylized and, you know, there's a lot of blues and Duke Ellington's music, it's an influence, but it comes out a very sophisticated manner, almost in a classical way. And there are a lot of great players who play very blues inspired music, but there's a difference between that and Muddy Waters man from Mississippi, you know, that's and they see the muddy waters back Mississippi.

F5 And then I play 11 and a half bar blues, but they are playing all together as is natural. Yeah, that's right. I mean, that's true.

F6 You know, I was kind of curious about thing in a critical thinking is never heard this particular story, but I wrote it in the treatment and I read it. And I know you've told this one hundred fifty times that it was one funnier story imaginable. And I wonder if you want to tell it to Danny. Can you tell him the story of you going down south when you discovered Professor Longhair, when you went to hear Professor Longhair, remember the story.

M3 Yeah, I mean, this is not in this context. You know, this is a new paragraph. All we can do that. Know no, not the right to be here.

F6 We're not going to go back to Betty, though. Did she ever report any of other songs that he had written? I don't really know. Oh.

M5 I don't think so, because most of what happened, I guess I thought I made fun together. All the other writers came in and I think that's what happened, finding other people to more or less put me in touch with, as I said before, that is somewhat human, jointly with my stolen account, Carole King and Goffin, her husband at the time. So we had all these great Bapat had all these guys coming in. So he took a vacation and decided not to write any more.

M6 I mean, before you know it, I mean, it was on a roll.

M5 And what would happen then is that we get a writer and all sudden they really turn out great records and it's almost and being hammered. He would not interfere when when you're on the road, you would keep that going. You know, no interference, fear. Is that true?

M7 You have you know that I'm not really a composer and.

M3 I mean, I wrote songs out of, as I said, out necessity when we couldn't find one, we couldn't find, you know, a song that felt something they were looking for and. It was you know, it you couldn't you just go to a music publisher and find material for a singer like Big Joe Turner, you know, I mean, that they have any songs for him to sing. And so we had to make up those songs. You know, I wrote a few we had some writers like Jesse Stone wrote some songs for him.

M8 You know, he wrote Shake, Rattle and Roll that became a rock and roll entranceway. And, uh.

M3 But in general, wherever we can find songs, we preferred to have songs by songwriters and song and songs that we had to come up with, we just did not sort of interrupt you.

M9 But yes, one of the reasons is longevity is the love the English musicians have for him. For example, John Lennon recorded Stand By Me and so forth. But could you talk about the average white man came in? We had a huge hit and then we wanted to do the next thing with Benny.

M10 It was a time of supernatural thing.

M7 I know that that the average white band were great fans of Benis and that they want to record with him.

M12 Yeah, yeah, they didn't mess really nice. Yeah, but, you know, let me tell you how it happened.

M1 I was in Miami, not record and decided to go on the road on stage. I'm singing in some little hotel down there and I'm doing Stevie Wonder stuff. I could not totally out of the c e flat range. All of a sudden finished the show on backstage. Ahmed comes in. What are you doing? You sound angry. So I never heard you sing. You know, he tells me to go and get back to New York, call me. So we got to go into the studio, I guess, back to New York. We go into the studio, surely enough. And we got to that Tony, Tony to fester. And he got the ghetto to produce me.

M4 They decided to go in the studio. We picked out a song on the track. We'd both been doing our feeB. Never know how much that got in the studio that came out so well. Let's forget people.

M5 Let's find some writers right to the track. We found Gwen Guthrie program to write Supernatural. And that's how Supernatural was born. Yeah, by him seeing me in Miami and having me come back to New York to record it.

M3 But you never recorded with the average, right? Yes. Yes. When was that. Yeah. What is your point, all right.

M13 You know what happened with that? They were on vacation in Florida and you tell me you said we need a song.

M4 So you called him so you would come off vacation and do a couple of tracks with Ben. They agreed to do it. You flew me down to Florida. I got into the studio with him and we stayed there till the album was released. I do a whole album. They just kept going, let's do this. We made up the song with the song What is not what is. So we did what is. So we did. That was another song. We did all that I did as some kind of soul song when we wrote it by standing there just jamming. You know, it's great that.

M7 Yeah, yeah. But there were, you know, a lot of is right.

M14 That was that they wanted to do a whole track without a song and then try to write a song after they had done a track record at those point about working with them though.

M13 Yeah. They were really good writers to come up with some good growth. Yeah.

M9 And then shortly after that, we had a number one with many in England, because we got used on a stand by me, used on a jeans commercial, and it went right back to number one. That was incredible.

M15 Yeah, that was incredible. Talk about the show and everything.

M17 The two the two is great. You and I had one of the greats. I always tell people with him at my worst when I'm so tired, I cannot do another day.

M1 Then I said, you know what?

M14 You survived the fuel costs and you can do anything, too.

M6 That was the trouble to write music like 6:00 in the morning doing radio.

M5 Right, to do the radio that we do. So we have lunch, we go to the venue and rehearse, check and all. Then I have another two hours to have been taken out and go to work. And we did that like went straight out almost like a month or so because we went all over Europe.

M9 We did the Sanremo Festival.

M6 I lost 30 pounds and that's great. First time in the world. As I say, you go, oh, why are you doing lots of bad? We don't worry about it. It's great.

M9 We did the Sanremo Song Festival. Yes. With the two guitars from Def Leppard.

M19 The two guitars on that level. Yeah. Yeah. Oh yeah. And a great show and that it was like, did they know the songs.

M16 Are you kidding me. Every English musician can pick up a guitar couple.

M9 His songs that we did, we sold out the Palladium. Yeah. Was astonishing. And I got I got all my English pals that Mick Jones from Foreigner, Ronnie Wood from the Stones. We had everybody on that stage and the roof came off the Palladium on it. It was unbelievable. An unbelievable show. What year was that? Eighty, eighty six. Thirty six. And then we we reformed The Drifters in the middle of the set and the doing that as the three guys from a trip with this agency that they came out and put on their white jackets and went out for years. Right. And it was kind of shows everyone was on their feet from the beginning to the end.

F7 It was incredible. You know, that's great. That is great. You know, Phil, speaking of that, Phil, Phil, I'm going to say this because you wanted to do something today with Teddy.

M9 You finish working on it. And so we'll we'll sing.

M16 We'll do stand stand by me. Play with you.

F8 You were so cute. I was like ten years old.

M16 We all talk about out. We are. Yeah. We should do it again anyway.

F9 So, you know, I was kind of curious about and I don't know and I'm sorry. I don't know if you were there. Were you at the recording session when he recorded Spanish Harlem?

M19 Uh, I'm not sure. I believe so. Yeah, I think yes. That was that was a was that. Yeah. Yeah.

F6 Talk a little bit about the Echo ad, and I kept on reading about the fact that it was it was the strangest it was just such a strange sort of recording session. I mean, of course, obviously we came out, it was just a major, major, major piece of work. Yeah. I just sort of if you all had any memory of of this.

F10 Or is it just apocalyptic, easy for you to say?

M12 Well, I think the thing I remember most about it was the fact that.

M17 But they had Phil Spector in the background, but then still, when he got when he got to play the guitar in the line of the song, it kind of sit right in the middle of the room to make that much of a difference with the song. My job was easier. The pay was done with me. I got a chance to rehearse with most of the writers, would send me over to the apartment or have them in the studio and we said the piano. So I had a pretty fair idea of what Spanish holds about. Be very honest with you. I thought this was the I saw this record will not hear this.

M16 I knew I couldn't do it. I'd be it was totally out of the way, of all things. Exactly how I see this record will not will not make you know, I did the same last dance.

M13 I did this magic moment. I did all the bits with the Latin flavor with Spanish Harlem was that that thought that there was a rose in Spanish.

F3 I know that.

M13 I mean, I didn't I didn't. I just said, well, I'm of the church now and this is not what I know that people will buy from me. And I went along with it because I had rehearsed it would leave my soul. I had the feeling for the song. It was beautiful. But I said to myself, But you say it with a lot of conviction.

M19 You spelled it out as someone that I do well with.

M6 But I was done. I was doing the song.

M13 And as I'm going through it, maybe for the second or third time of doing the vocal, I realized the song is beautiful, but I'm afraid now is really a Billy King type song because R.M. had given me all kind of different songs in my career to do at that point. That didn't frighten me or make me feel nervous about it. But this was like about the others.

F9 I think that's the thing about the song that I remember the most.

M3 I for some reason I read about this, the echo that was put put it, and also the strength, wasn't it the strings story now that strings was on and because there goes my baby, there goes my baby telegram's and all of kept and all over the place.

M14 Yeah.

M12 How do you feel about the strings. And there goes my baby. Well, to be honest with you, this is my first time in the studio. So I thought this is normal. You know, it didn't bother me at all. I told these guys this is big time here to go over time and stuff. Yeah. So I just thought to myself, and to be honest with you again, I, I was not the lead singer. I wrote the song. And because the singer that was supposed to sing and Charlie Thomas couldn't do it, I dialed Jojo saw on the outside was the problem with the song.

M13 So they said, well, he's having trouble with the lyrics. And what what's the song about who wrote the song. So Abednego let him sing it. So I stepped up to the mic and as I got stuck on leave from that point on.

F7 Yeah, was that the first song he'd written?

F10 Yeah, well, the first one's. Is that right?

M12 But but like I said in the studio at the time, with all this stuff in the record, it was great because we haven't had a great record.

M21 It was a hit because it was a great record. It was because people loved it as it was very different.

F9 Very brave record. I grew up listening to it in high school. Oh, I trust you. Lot of having met the two of you, I promise. It was a great kid I adored, absolutely adored.

F6 It's one of my very actually, it's my favorite really of all of it because I don't know why I just spoke to me. But that is interesting. I still don't get I mean, to me, the idea of writing a song seems so hard. And the fact that you say that you just wrote that song and then it just says, well, I had to write something. So here you get this kid from Istanbul. You know, publicity rights are to me, it just seems I don't get it. I don't see how simple that you can just write lyrics to a song.

M13 Well, I think we all can do it, it's just a case of sitting down, allowing yourself to just go for it. You don't you don't don't hold back because what? I can't do it. Just just go for it. And everybody, there's a story. Write it down. That's all. That's what we do.

M11 So, you know, you're got to have you have have the inspiration. You've got to have. Hear a melody in your mind this. At least mode's you, if it doesn't move you, is not going to get anybody else. That's true, but, uh. You know, it's a matter of getting getting that and also making some sort of statement that, well, that would cause. Some reaction in the listener. The other thing is that we listen to those millions of soldiers turn on the radio in the car. And you hear these songs and most of them just go by. A very, very rare one, so I said, wow, what is that, you know, and, gee, I'd like to hear that again. I hope that's what it is.

M22 So I know what to ask for when I go to the record shop, you know, because you have no idea what it is, but. That's that's how heads are born, you know. So what were you thinking about when you were up? Well, why a change of love? I just thought I was thinking about.

M11 You know what I was thinking about? A lot of the great blues, I heard about it, but, you know, when you write a blues, the melody is the blues.

M22 You know, chains of love have tied to you and your hands up the you know, you know, I'm your prisoner. Tell me, what am I going to do?

M11 Whatever, you know, as a as a 12 hour thing, which is then once you write it. As a blues, some new lyrics and some blues form, and you have. Mr. Joe Turner, who was one of the greatest. Blues singers of all time.

M8 I didn't give him the song. He gets up and sing that. And it comes out like hit. Mr. Ban was a beautiful introduction, and Mr. Jesse Stone rasim, beautiful saxophone chords, the sound like organ because, you know, the blues is better than the saxophone, sound like taxes and they sound like an organ.

M3 Then you're sounding like church, you know, it might sound like church, that's so, and that's how it goes.

M10 That's it.

Ben E. King with Ahmet Ertegun
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-0r9m32nq1j, cpb-aacip-504-cn6xw48c93
"Ben E. King with Ahmet Ertegun, Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 31 May. 2003,
(2003, May 31). Ben E. King with Ahmet Ertegun, Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Ben E. King with Ahmet Ertegun, Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). May 31, 2003. Accessed May 29, 2022


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