M1 Last week, I know you mean when we when we first met. Yeah, well, I'll tell you, I mean, they were I need you to sit down, OK?

F3 Because we're going to be sure that.

M1 You know what?

M7 Yeah, I think well, Jerry and I have both met Ahmed's older brother Natsui first in Los Angeles, where he was teaching a course in jazz at UCLA, and he would come by our office and in fact he produced the first record of Ruby baby disasters right around 1954.

M11 Four five at any rate.

M20 After that we had our own little record company at the same time and one still was a great friend of yours.

M2 It was our partner is your partner. And I was still we were as all right. Yeah. And our first office was down the street on Crescent Heights. Now it was on Crenshaw. Sorry, he's one of the memory. Keep your eye on him. At any rate, very couple. I can see it all. Now, listen, listen. I'm sorry. I'm not you. Oh, I'm talking to the camera.

M16 Jerry and Ahmet met before I met them, before I met Ahmet or Jerry Wexler or any of the other people that were at Atlantic Records other than Natsui.

M20 And in 1956 I went to Europe. I got my first royalty check and I went to Europe for three months and I came back and I was going to meet Lester and Jerry Atlantics offices and I it was exciting and I turned in my plane tickets because I had an offer to go on a beautiful ship from Naples to New York, and I thought that would be a great way to arrive. And of course, the boat sank. It was the Andrea Doria in nineteen fifty six. I was picked up in a broken lifeboat for rather I got into a broken lifeboat down to Jacob's ladder after about three or four hours and then we were picked up. We couldn't steer it and we were picked up by a freighter called the CAPM. And I came to New York on the Cape and we were much later than we expected to arrive. Jerry was at the dock and he said, Hey man, we got the smash hit.

M12 I said, the first thing I said, I said, That's all right. This works. It works better now.

M8 He assured himself that I was alive and he brought me a suit in case I didn't have any clothes. Wash your socks. I know he said, you know that the suit. Well, for me, I said, how come? I said I'm four inches taller. Anyway, I said, we got a smash hit.

M7 I said, You're kidding. He's he said, no Hounddog. I said, Big Mama Thornton's record. He said, no. Some white kid named Elvis Presley.

M16 I said, Elvis who? Anyway, then he put us in a cab and we went up to the Algonquin Hotel and wearing the same clothes that we had on, went to the Russian Tea Room, and there was Ahmet and Jerry Wexler, Cameron, big bunch of people. And that's what he was there. And that's the first time we we met and then Ahmet. And so we took my first wife and myself to Basin Street to Street East No, straight on fifty first Turkish Dauman. Right. Right. And and it was the modern jazz quartet.

M26 And they bought us dinner there. And then we fell asleep on the table.

M4 A memory I can't remember any of it. Sounds like a fairy tale. I was there. Oh God.

M16 Anyway, then we got to know each other. However, I must tell you that we knew all about them.

M32 We know all about.

M11 And we know from listening to the records that he made that he was a down guy, you know, he wrote all those songs under the name New Getrude and we love those records. Yeah, I didn't hear this.

M13 I must tell you one thing, which, of course, neither Jerry.

M33 Oh, my. Well will say.

M34 But more than anybody, I think Jerry and Mike were the people responsible for the great growth of Atlantic Records. They were responsible for more innovation, more hits, more taking all different artists and giving them a new a new life.

M33 And a they really are probably just as important as anybody else in the history of our company. And that's something that I would have gotten knocked down by Miriam Bienstock and Jerry Wexler for saying.

M17 However, I have been telling that to people for years. But it's true. It's true.

M34 And no, seriously, they're responsible for so much and for us to have such great humor and great joie de vivre and their music.

M33 And I tell you really what was very, very difficult for me is to see the fading away of some of the artists whom they created and who in later years, you know, somehow didn't you know, they somehow got older.

M14 I don't know what happened when I got older, but.

M34 Well, you know, I don't think that there's ever been in history a group that had such great humor and great and great soul as the Coasters.

M30 They were the most fun to work with, that most fun we ever had. I tell you, rehearsing with the lead singer, we just about Billy Guy.

M4 Billy Guy.

M36 When he passed away, I just thought that I sent a long telegram and all that.

M4 But I were there was nothing I could say.

M35 No, because he he somehow he came, he was able to take your thoughts and your ideas about, about the song and put it over with.

M13 Such a great actor as well as a great singer.

M30 He was. And, you know, but basically what he did or what he took was Jerry's Jeri's performance in the world, you know, in the rehearsal. Exactly. And he absorbed it and it came out it was really real.

M9 I mean, and even on songs that you didn't write, like shopping for clothes, shopping for those we didn't write clotheslined.

F2 Roseline is an adaptation that we took and wrote shopping for both records.

M9 But I see. But but, you know, he really I was really able to but they did it. It was like I said that he got that from you because you were the man you were as close to a performer as I've ever seen a producer.

M10 I mean, you were really singing and doing I mean, you were doing all that.

M30 And that's all we wanted to record as a blues singer.

M10 And the manager said, oh, man, you know, I wanted to be a white blues away blues singer, yet. Doc Pomus. Yeah, well, can you give us a few bars or whatever?

F12 Oh, I'm so hoarse. I try things. I used to do think that what I saying is.

M8 But OK, he sings in songs I.

M37 Things I used to do, I don't know. I don't know the next.

M15 Oh, yes, oh, yes, oh, yes, but. You know, it's it's. The great thing that. Then you're able to also bring the feel of Muddy Waters to a singer. Like.

M3 Peggy Lee, Peggy Lee a little bit when they go a long way with Peggy Lee, that did though, didn't it? Yeah, yeah. I mean, but there was no asked on the war in the world would be able to bridge that. But you guys, I mean, you know, that's.

M4 Well, I hope that this doesn't get cut out of this film. Yeah, because I do want to say once and for all how much I appreciate all that you did for me. So it's I said is more than a pleasure. It's a great honor for me to be with you tonight for us.

F2 We knew you were there. We knew you.

F3 We knew the king of the Turkish Empire was in the rhythm and blues man.

F4 He could have been the ambassador to England. What's he doing in this funky gutter drinking slow gin and tonic and all that?

M4 Yes, well, it was more fun. It was more fun. Yes, it was. Always is.

F5 That's what I've always wondered, just because you always wondered about it.

M2 Well, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. The only problem was he had a lot of this white stuff in.

F5 Very good. Very good, Ambassador. Well, what did you all know about the Lanark record?

M7 Seriously, before we knew we made records, good records. Ahmet was making good records. Herb Abrahamsson made some good records.

M8 And then Ahmet made good records with Jerry Wexler and wrote some great songs and wrote some of those wonderful songs for The Clovers, Our Mobli, The Coasters with the Clovers.

F6 Yeah, yeah. But not the content with the first the first songs which were not hits. The first songs were almost Lilith's. You know, we almost like we didn't steal, but we were very much so much influenced. You could have sold us and we made those songs and we couldn't really get the spirit or the feeling of the clovers that you had, that you had so much so much more lyrical content and so much more groove.

F3 But we were close to the Clovers were simple guys, and we thought we were too complicated on the white side of the white bread line.

M4 What you did was listen.

M10 And it lives on in your in your big Broadway hit. All that music lives on. And it's amazing.

M12 It's amazing because, you know, we always thought that those songs, those records would at best last, you know, if you had a smash everything six months or if it was a standard that, you know, you guys made real more than standards.

M13 You made a songs which were there were there were epic songs of the era. You know, that that went on.

M14 Right. A but it was it was there were great times.

M4 Yeah.

F2 I lied to my guys and dolls. I mean, so many people, like half the guys who came into your office, were like still gangsters. Right there with you was the guy, the short, heavyset guy who managed.

M4 Oh, not George Wayne. It was.

F8 Well, I while I while I see how you say something off color while he goes and I said, I suspect, does he really have a gun?

F4 I say, no, it's not like he's joking.

M13 You know something? I was in and the Beverly Hills Hotel on a Sunday morning and I open up the paper. It's hard to see until one of that Sunday afternoon Cantinflas is going to do a charity bullfight.

F7 And I said to myself, I've got to go to that and I chartered a plane.

M13 I had a date to have lunch with some girl and I said, who I am, I think we're going to go to Mexico to here to see Cantinflas, the bullfight child and our wives was in the hotel.

M9 So come on. So how are you? And we went to see the bullfight and we had dinner and the plane was waiting to take us back.

F7 So I said, you know, they've got they've got the cat houses here where they have a special shows with animals.

M13 So I said I heard about that, but I don't think we have time have to go. So now it's just so I got in the cab, the taxi take this place. We go in this and we're with this girl who's scared anyway, you know, what are we doing here? So our answers to the madam explains why he wants to see. So he says, you got in your head and she goes like that and she starts to scream because, you know, she's insulted at the thought. Right. Right. And some guys come out, big guy. So we run out and jump in a taxi, tell him to go to the airport and there's a car chasing us. They're chasing and chasing us. We get to the airport and we run the plane and we got the plane and the guy's a car running with some guns and shooting. And we just took off.

M2 He should have been there. You would have had the first leg of movie.

M17 And I'll never forget I'm right there. Well, he was very funny. He was you all closer together. I'm sorry. I have to. It's a strange thing. I couldn't physically just move over. You're lucky you can look at me. If I can move both ways, you can stay there. Yes, I can.

F10 All right. Just give me a second, just.

M2 Oh, OK, I was just thinking, Laverne Baker, did you manage this before?

M18 And Bambina of the Drifters, he made as a manager. That guy made a movie and everything.

M19 Diane, not that oh, no, that was what I was thinking. Hey, come on. Yeah, you have a keep camera. I have seen him. Yeah, he hasn't been very well, but I. I took him out last year for his birthday. I took him to lunch.

F9 He's pretty much a recluse now and he stays home.

M18 I heard that. Well, you know, he hasn't been extremely well. You know, he used to wear an orchid and is all about one thing. And one one night we were recording at Capitol Studios in New York and and he'd been there for about a year. And that's what he was recording, Thelonious Monk with Art Blakey. So he came out, came out and.

M22 And he said goodbye, I said goodbye to him and there was a police car there and the police were so lucky because it was like three o'clock in the morning. So I said, officer, you know, that is I said pointing to that was why I said, that's the orchid, you know, the one they've been looking for, the orchid. So I said, Oh, no.

M17 So when they did, I mean that, you know, there was no orchid or even a little bit about what was some of the signs that you all did.

F13 I just anything like that was my baby. Talk a little bit about what was a particularly unusual.

M23 Well, you see, they made a mistake and somebody hired the string section. Thought that was they thought they were doing some ballads. And they think the arranger has a big string section. So I didn't know what to do.

F12 He thought it was just an idea. Yeah. I didn't tell them about the budget, did we? What do we check with? I think we checked we never checked with. I think we said the agenda it's going to cost blah, blah. And he said, that's cool. You know, we went in one night.

M19 I don't think you checked budgets with anybody, you know. No. That's what got Jerry Wexler so upset.

M24 But that was when we after that, the first session had five fiddles and a cello and a rhythm section. The next section had like, uh, 22 strings and six percussion that there goes my baby.

M1 No, that was the first one. We just had five strings, six, I think it was five, four fiddles and the cello. But what was a big ensemble doing? It sounded like, well, when we got in, it was in that echo hall, you know, even before the very tall, even before that on songs that we didn't write.

M25 But we produced like we did a lot of pomace dance for me.

M2 We played for the last time that had an enormous string section.

M25 And and each time we recorded The Drifters, the string section got larger and there was at least one or two more percussion players on it all going, boom, boom, boom.

F3 That's what you fill the hard to pull. I know. That's anyway with us then. Yes, he came in. We got our priorities.

M2 That's right. You brought him you brought him to do Spanish Harlem. We brought to play guitar. Spanish. No, no. He played guitar and I brought my brother to Broadway.

M1 He might have played on Spanish Harlem, but he was one of the four or five years he played. We made a solo one on Broadway. Yeah.

F9 Yeah, but that was but we got him the job or I sort of I got him the job. Mike backed it up. Johnny, Johnny the bracelets. Vince called me up and he said, we want you to do a session for us. And I said, you know, Johnny, we're we're just overwhelmed with work. But I could suggest somebody who's awfully talented and he said, who's that? I said, young fellow that Lester Sill sent to us. By the way, Lester said Lester called us and said, Would you let this young kid hang out with you for a year or two?

F15 And we said, yeah, sure, why not? For Lester, he put us in the business. So we sent the plane tickets one way to to film what was done to Lester for Phil.

F12 Yeah. And he came and flew him and he didn't have any money with no money.

F15 I let him stay in my brownstone for like three or four months because we were in the Hamptons, had a house to him. So summertime. Right. I came back and he still didn't have enough money. We weren't paying him a lot of money, a hundred and fifty a week or something.

M5 But we put him on essentially.

M26 And at that time we were using like four guitars. You know, we had a regular rhythm guitar and we had a twelve string rhythm guitar.

M19 We had we had the the triangle jam and the chick, chick, chick, chick, chick.

M24 So we made a first guitar film for Phil. So we had a five guitar section.

F1 Right. Um, right.

M17 So you all definitely had a sound. Yeah. Your own sound. Yeah. Yeah. And the I mean and still sound developed out of that.

F9 Yeah. Let me tell you what a great contributor was. A great contributor was budget film was very careful about money. Where, you know, he's there after he left my brownstone, he stayed in our office for about three or four months on a cot, OK? He went there. He was on 57 Street, right in the same building as the lawyer.

M5 It was it was actually it was above a corset shop when he was 57, which had crossed before it became a big building. It was just a little brownstone.

F9 He he he went in to a demo, the demo studio, which was Goldstar, and he started making records and they had an uncontrollable echo chamber. And that's where the wall of sound came from.

F3 And we all started to use Ghosty. I mean, I was of course, that happens. You get a hit out of a studio. We run there right now.

F13 You were recording it.

M23 And we still have these restaurant 234 West six words that we moved. We moved to 57 Street, but we still kept the studio up there for a while until we moved to to Columbus Circle, where we built a much bigger studio. Yeah.

F13 And the record and the songs of The Drifters.

M1 No, I was with that size orchestra.

M2 It was much too small for the Coasters in their small studio with with Tommy Douglas, the engineer. And we did Joe Turner and. Yeah. And Laverne Baker.

M28 Yeah. And we were using eight track.

M5 Tommy had one of the few, eight track studios, eight track machines.

M2 I think he told me at the time it was like Paul had one and the Navy had won exactly that way.

M5 But I mean and he was an incredible engineer. I mean, he was the sound of it, laughing as if he was a and then he became a very good producer in his own right.

M27 And he just passed away.

F12 And that's how jazz came up the river with me.

M5 But that building is still there because I went by it because I think St. Louis I went by. I was still there.

M22 Yeah, I went I went up there, I don't know about three or four years ago.

M18 And somebody shot a Swedish television and somebody shot me up there and it became a hat, a hat maker or something, you know? So I just have to.

F13 Was there anything particular about the Spanish Harlem in terms of the recording session or anything, that would be a good story about the recording of that? Not really.

M1 Well, it was. It was, yeah. OK, Jerry Wexler was very upset about the budget and we went a half an hour overtime.

M5 And I love Jerry Wexler. But at the time he got absolutely frantic because this was like 30 pieces in the studio.

M28 This was a BellSouth studios on the top floor. And we went a half an hour overtime and I can understand, you know, his point, but actually we got two big hits out of the same session. One was Spanish Harlem and the other was stand by me.

F17 So I guess the word now, I guess, is worth it, considering that they're still being played.

F3 Once you say that you lost the interest on the first three thousand.

M2 So these three white guys are weighing in on whether we can defend that, you know, something that there's a.

F14 It's something which I know you know about jazz. The most black great jazz players.

F16 They're very polite when they hear a white jazz player play, but they really don't, they get most of the time. Yeah, I mean, I read really think about Art Pepper and and being, you know, put down after he thought he played a great solo I being put down by a black saxophone player.

M22 I'm trying to think who it was.

M23 Sonny Stitt, what was the funniest thing is that said.

F17 I think he was getting this huge ovation right there. Having you know, having said the son played such a great solo, how can I follow it? And then he tried the best and he got this huge ovation to say this, oh, man, there is something like that. So that's but, you know, there's a sense in which.

F16 What white people don't really understand. The real feeling and the real nature of black music and black magic and black magic and white and when they do, that is very often a force far off the mark.

M22 However, there are some people who.

F19 Understand and get the idiom, and they're not imitating, they're creating within that medium.

F16 Eric Clapton is a person like that when he plays or or Jeff Beck when they play their English guys, but they play the blues like would have like real blues play. I mean, it's not bullshit, it's real. And what they do is original. They're not copying somebody else's solo. Right. What these gentlemen do is right there, right back music. They also write white music, that they write black music. And when they write black music, they don't write it imitating. They write it originally with an original message that is their own, but which is not only accepted, but a beloved by black people. So it's it's it's rare, but it happens at certain times and know when when we went to the first rehearsal in New York on 18th Street, you know, what was his name, the choreographer's place where they do all the musicals.

M5 Michael Bennett studio. Yeah. Yeah.

M31 Two of the guys who who the black guys in and Smokey Joe's Cafe said to us they were shocked because they always thought we were black and we told them we thought we were too.

M29 But the.

F18 You know, I. I encountered.

F19 In my life, a lot of a lot of people who who wanted to hear had to be really hip in a certain sense, there's a way in which to be happens to be black. And and to be really cool and hip.

F18 Without them, that is very, very hard and it's a it's a different thing, you know, and you can't you you can't invent that. You either are like that. And, you know, there's no way you can fool black people with that, that that's the way you are. They accept they don't accept you as black, but they accept you as being hip. You know, they're musicians like Mesmero who wanted to be black. I mean, he lived his life trying to live in a black way. These camera. No, Mommy, my mantic was Pete Cameron's partner, Monty. I remember him when I'm Fifty Second Street, when I was going to to listen to jazz in the early 1940s and late 30s, early 40s. And he was dealing a little stuff, you know, and and talking in a way like I never heard white people talking and talking very, very, very black and and tried to become extremely sad. You know, he took shots. Yeah, I know.

Mike Stoller, Jerry Leiber and Ahmet Ertegun
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-sn00z71r7v, cpb-aacip-504-dn3zs2kw7q
"Mike Stoller, Jerry Leiber and Ahmet Ertegun, Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 08 Jul. 2003,
(2003, July 08). Mike Stoller, Jerry Leiber and Ahmet Ertegun, Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Mike Stoller, Jerry Leiber and Ahmet Ertegun, Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). July 08, 2003. Accessed May 29, 2022


PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.