Aretha Franklin - The Atlantic Years
The daughter of the Rev.C.L.Franklin, Aretha was born in Memphis, Tennessee on March 25, 1942. Both her parents were musical and sung gospel. As a teenager, she too sang gospel with her two sisters Carolyn and Erma. She even made some Gospel records for JVB, a small Chicago label. After moving to New York she was to sign for CBS records. Nine albums were issued on Columbia, over the next eight years, with only two minor hits. It has been suggested that a loss of many hundreds of dollars had occurred over this period. When her contract come up for renewal in 1966 Atlantic records took her on.
At this time most of the Atlantic recording was carried out at the Fame Studio, in Muscle Shoels, Alabama, with such artist as Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter and Percy Sledge. The session musicians included, Tommy Cogbill on bass, Roger Hawkins on drums, Chips Moman on guitar, Spooner Oldham on keyboards, Jimmy Johnson on rhythm guitar, and the horn section. Most of the session musicians were white, similar to the arrangement at the Stax's studio.
In February 1967, Jerry Wexler,(above) the Atlantic producer came to record Aretha's first session which was to produce the classic "I Never Loved A Man (the way I love you)". Although Aretha had found the song and played it on the piano to the rhythm section. The song was hinged around the piano, and the vocal tied the song together. This session was in fact to record her first complete album, the studio was booked for a week. The session also came up with what was to be the flip-side "Do right Woman-Do Right Man" by Dan Penn & Chips Moman, a week later in New York, Carolyn & Erma put on the vocals with Aretha, who also played organ and piano. After the first day's session, they were on the plane heading back to New York. Many versions of the story exist but it would appear that Ted White, Aretha's husband was upset with a member of the horn section who he accused of making a pass at Aretha. This caused an upset, and despite Rick Hall sacking the musician, the session collapsed. Aretha was not to record there again. Jerry Wexler had what was to be a soul master piece in the bag, together with a half finished 'B' side, to take back to New York. Jerry was very excited and had some acetates cut from the tapes, he played it to all the black DJ's that he knew, the reaction was incredible.
It made the top ten as did the next seven singles, the Queen of Soul was born.
King Curtis was to work on many arrangements with Aretha over the next few years until his death in 1971. Aretha covered many great tunes, Respect, Satisfaction, Natural Woman, I Say A little Prayer, See-Saw, Don't Play That Song, Spanish Harlem and many other fine singles .
Her early albums, I Never Loved A Man, Aretha Arrives, Lady Soul, Aretha Now & Soul 69, chart her greatness in the type of material she could sing, and interpret, once she did a cover it would never be the same again. "When Aretha records a tune", King Curtis commented, "she kills a copyright. Because once she's worked out the way to do it, you're never going to come up with a better approach. And it's dam sure you're not going to be able to improve on how she's done it her way"*.
She brought success not only for Atlantic records but she was also able to crossover from soul R&B to pop from the start. She was around at the time when black music could get no better and her appeal crossed all barriers.
Most of her 60's hit singles can be found on the CD Aretha Franklin 20 Greatest Hits on Atlantic 2292-41135-2.
Check out the book on Aretha by David Ritz
*Quote from Making Tracks by Charlie Gillett W H Allen & Co Ltd ISBN 0 491 011520