Aretha Franklin’s Producer

Jerry Wexler, Aretha Franklin’s producer sat in the empty theater, fourth row, center. “Play another one.” He said mildly.

Bethlehem Asylum surveyed the bleak results of their first self promoted concert in Coconut Grove. One guy.


We had many angels in Coconut Grove; including Gamble Rogers and Liz Corrigan. Two great, very successful folk singers with a whole lot of heart and soul. Liz notified Jerry Wexler, vice president of Atlantic records. He and the soundman, Kevin, were the only people attending the band’s first gig in the Grove. The bandmembers did not know who he was. We had so much attitude we couldn’t see the incredible gifts that were being given to us. On first arrival, the band  crashed with Liz and Gamble. One of the coolest moments was to cruise the Grove with Gamble Rogers driving his 64 Mustang.  Gamble and Liz were very gracious. Gamble deserved to be a famous singer, storyteller, picker and all around good gentleman if he hadn’t sacrificed his own life a few years later to save a tourist from the deadly St. Augustine undertow.

Charlie took a great sax solo on “Talkin ’bout Love”. Christian switched from Wurlitzer electric piano to trombone for an instant horn section.

The guy didn’t clap. The sixty seat theater on the second floor above the Coconut Grove Post Office had been the venue for existential events like ping pong balls under a black light bouncing on the strings of a grand piano. Right now, it was as silent as a tomb. “You want to hear more music, man?” Danny asked the dark stranger.

“Yeah.” The voice replied calmly. “Play another one.”

John, our first friend and manager along with Animal, our biker/roadie, had loaded the band into our schoolbus after playing Beaux Arts Coffee House, up in Pinellas Park, site of Jim Morrison’s first poetry readings, and headed to Daytona for a rowdy frat party then down to the Palm Beach Pop Festival, performing with the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Iron Butterfly, Santana, Johnny Winter, and a bunch of other incredible groups. The Collonades Hotel was an otherwordly jam/riot for about four lost days.

Now we were living on avocados in the grove behind our next new manager’s house. He was gone into rehab on the other side of the state. Great. I was walking with a cane. My feet were painfully swollen. My blood sugar spiked from the rich fruit diet. Males purge yeast through their feet, back then it was just athletes foot. It messed up my thinking too. We  fended for ourselves quite nicely though. The band had social skills. Christian met everyone of importance in the first several days. We posted fliers around the Grove announcing our concert.

We played another song, “Sea Rider”, Charlie and Christian showed off their chops. Robert Christian Ghandi was from Jaipur, India, a Brahmin transplanted to Harlem and raised on jazz. He was the greatest piano player I ever played with. How Christian got to St. Petersburg, Florida was a mystery.

“Would  you like to come over to my place and talk?  Jerry asked strolling up to the stage.

We agreed. There might be food.

After a bewildering night drive through unfamiliar Miami and its beaches we found ourselves sitting in his waterfront house. A huge Cris Craft power yacht floated outside the glass doors.

“Your rhythm section reminded me of Aretha’s players.” He nodded as we listened to outtakes of Aretha. Great stuff that no one would ever hear. Jerry nodding here and there and saying stuff like. “Yeah. You guys are like that.”

We cleaned his kitchen out.

He played priceless conversations with Dr. John at the piano playing and talking about growing up in New Orleans.

Jerry cornered me. “What is it you want to do? You look like you’ve got a plan.”

“I want to have a record label where everyone plays together. They share. A label that’s a family. I want to call it Asylum Records.”

Jerry’s eyes lit up, “Nice name for a record label…..”

We spent the next few weeks in Criteria studio with Bones Howe as engineer, who would go on to engineer the Allman Brothers live at the Filmore, Derek and the Dominos, and many other immortal albums. During these sessions there was tension among the Asylum members.  Jim dealt me a blow when he said he did not like my drumming on his songs. He insisted on re-recording the drum part himself. He was dubbed “Captain Ego” soon after this.

By now we were living in a stucco rental house on Loquat avenue. I picked up the phone extension and heard our next new manager talking. It took me a moment to realize he was talking to Jerry Wexler.

“…that’s it, then. We’re not recording for Atlantic.” Lee said and hung up the phone while Jerry was still talking. I came out and stopped him. “What was that?”

“We’re not recording for Atlantic.” he said coldly and walked out the door. He soon faded out of the picture. I never saw him again.

Fourteen years later, Jerry Wexler walked into my downtown LA art loft accompanied by Glenn Frey of the Eagles. We were shooting video of a singer from Austin they were producing, Lou Ann Barton.

Jerry walked in then stopped when he saw me up on a ladder hanging rear projection screen.  He tried to place me but then said,

“Refresh my memory.”

“Bethlehem Asylum” I said.

“Why couldn’t we sign you?” He asked immediately, and with sincere disappointment.

“Our manager.” I answered lamely but I had other suspicions about why we did not get signed to Atlantic.

“What happened to your sax player?”

“Hall n Oates.” I said.

Jerry nodded, there was a movement of pain in my heart. Maybe his too. The life that could have been. Then we both put it behind us and got on with making Lou Ann Barton the star she deserved to be right now.



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