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Aretha Franklin


“It was the greatest rhythm and blues music ever made,” Atlantic Records co-owner, Ahmet Ertegun told author, Matt Dobkin regarding the response to Aretha Franklin’s first two singles from the album, ‘I Never Loved A Man.”’ “That was it. You went to Copenhagen and danced in a club to ‘Respect.’ If you went to Singapore the next day, you danced to ‘Respect.’ You went to Johannesburg and you would dance to ‘Respect.’ And then if you went to Buffalo, New York, you would dance to ‘Respect.’ That was it.” (1)

Aretha Franklin, daughter of Detroit minister, C.L. Franklin, honed her artistic talents as a child growing up around the Baptist church. By her early teens she traveled with her father performing at his events. Learning the techniques of heralded gospel singers she met on tour, Aretha longed for the life as a singer in the secular world. Her father, who once said, “All good music came from God,” approved of the move. (2)

In 1960, Aretha signed a contract with Columbia Records with her father’s approval. The good Reverend, who managed her as well as producing her early gospel albums, pictured his daughter as a jazz singer along the lines Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne. “He wanted to break her in New York and then have me move her out to Hollywood and get her in the movies,” stated Phil Moore, a forty-two year-old piano player/arranger/coach whose vast experience spanned Hollywood film scores, cabarets, and jazz clubs.” (3)

Aretha worked with producer John Hammond. The results were disappointing to Aretha as she expected major crossover play and was disappointed when it didn’t happen. Aretha was convinced Columbia didn’t promote her properly. “I was simply neglected in favor of bigger Columbia stars, like Percy Faith and Guy Mitchell. Soon after I signed, Andy Williams and Barbra Streisand came to the label. They were given major marketing budgets. I wasn’t.”

Hammond disputed that. “When Aretha signed with us,” he said, “we saw her as an across-the-board star. I don’t believe she ever suffered from neglect in any area. In my long career, I’ve known few artists who, having failed to achieve commercial success, didn’t blame it on the record company. It’s the oldest story in the music business.” (4)

Still a teenager, Aretha needed guidance with her career as well as her personal life. With her father in Detroit working on the civil rights movement and her living in New York pursuing her career, Aretha sought guidance from a surprising source that would combine her personal and professional life while infuriating the Reverend. The man’s name was Ted White and he would marry Aretha in 1961.

Aretha and husband, Ted White in 1961. They would divorce in 1969.

Photo courtesy of Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images.

“I knew Ted White,” said Erma Franklin, Aretha’s sister, “as did most entertainers in Detroit. He was a fixture at the clubs. He was a handsome man with a smooth manner and excellent taste. He had been to our house during several parties. I didn’t need to introduce him to Aretha. She already knew him.”

“There had been tension between Aretha and my dad over her management even before she signed with Columbia,” Carolyn Franklin, Aretha’s other sister said. “She knew that Daddy understood the gospel world, but she questioned his knowledge of the world of popular music. The break didn’t come, though, until Ted White. Ted changed the entire emotional dynamic. Daddy didn’t want her to have anything to do with him.”

“All children go through rebellious periods,” said Cecil Franklin, Aretha’s brother. “Aretha’s rebellion started when she was around eighteen or so. She wanted to make it as a pop singer in the worst way. She wanted to lose her identification as a church singer. Her full ambition took hold of her, and, although our father wanted nothing more than for her to succeed, he still thought he knew best. He prided himself in being a good judge of character. He did not have a high regard for Ted White’s character. He knew Ted was something of a shady character—and he thought the association would hurt Aretha.” (5)

Clyde Otis, Aretha’s producer on five of her Columbia LP’s acknowledged the company just didn’t know gospel. “I knew she wasn’t going to make it at Columbia,” stated Otis. “Columbia was into a groove that didn’t suit her. I told White, now managing Aretha, to let her express more.” White’s response was, “They don’t want her to express more.” (6) It was time to move on. When Franklin’s contract with Columbia expired in 1966, the search for a new label began.

Louise Bishop, a well-known Philadelphia radio personality and future minister crossed paths with Aretha when the singer performed at Philly’s Cadillac Club in early 1966. While discussing Franklin’s free agent status, Bishop made the suggestion that Aretha speak to Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records.

“My history with Aretha began in the fall of 1966 when I was at Muscle Shoals recording Wilson Pickett,” Wexler told author David Ritz. “Percy Sledge, another of our soul-singing artists, came by the studio and started giving Pickett a hard time, telling him he was sounding like Otis or James Brown. Well, Wilson hated James—they had once fought over a woman—and now Pickett, pissed as hell, went after Sledge. Literally. To protect my label’s interest—after all, both these singers were making us serious money—I stepped in between them. Pickett flung me out of the way and was ready to do battle with Percy, a former boxer, when suddenly the phone rang. ‘Calm the f*ck down!’ I exhorted. The men backed off as I picked up the receiver. ‘Jerry,’ said a female voice. ‘It’s Louise Bishop. Aretha’s ready for you.” (7)

“I knew all her records and I knew all about her. I was just waiting for her contract to run out,” recalled Wexler. “There was no aggressively pursuing her—she was under contract.” (8)

Wexler wasted no time contacting Aretha’s camp from Muscle Shoals. “The person who answered my call, though, wasn’t Aretha. It was Ted White. From John Hammond and Clyde Otis, I had heard Ted White stories—how he not only ran the show but wanted to run her recording sessions. From friends in Detroit, though, I also knew that White represented serious songwriters and had a sharp sense of music. From the first moment we spoke, I realized he was a slick cat.

“‘Mr. Wexler,’ he said.

“‘Call me Jerry.’

“‘Call me Ted.’

“‘I heard your artist is available, Ted.’

“‘I heard you were interested in my artist, Jerry.’

“‘Very interested. Intensely interested.’

“‘Then we should meet.’

“‘Right away,’ Wexler said.

“‘Name the time and place.’

“‘Monday in New York. My office at noon.’

“‘We’re there.’

“And they were. Right on time. I was delighted to see that they came with neither a lawyer nor an agent.” (7)

White got right to the point. Though Aretha was interested in hit songs, White was more interested in the money. Wexler was more than happy to oblige. “‘I can advance you twenty-five thousand dollars for your first album,’ Wexler said. ‘The second we sign, you’ll have the check.’ I expected the arm wrestling to start. I was sure that Ted would ask for fifty thousand. Much to my shock, though, he didn’t.

“‘We’re going to accept the twenty-five,’ he said. ‘As important as front money is, what’s more important is that Atlantic establish Aretha as a superstar,” White responded. “No reason she shouldn’t be selling as many records as Otis and Sam and Dave.” Wexler told the husband/agent. “Couldn’t agree with you more, Ted. That’s why I want to turn her over to Jim Stewart at Stax. We do their distribution and promotion. She’ll love Jim.” (7)

L-R: Jerry Wexler, Ted White and Aretha. Aretha signs her contract with Atlantic Records in New York on November 11, 1966.

Photo courtesy of Donaldson Collection/Getty Images.

Why would Wexler ship Aretha to Stewart in Memphis? “At that point, I was into delegation. I was looking to free up my time. I had my eyes on winters in Florida. Because of our success, I started thinking of what it would mean to sell the company and cash out,” Wexler confided to David Ritz. “So at the very moment Aretha arrived, my mind wasn’t focused on producing; it was on finding a buyer. Besides, the Stax machine turned a raw rhythm-and-blues singer like Otis Redding into an international sensation. There’s no reason why they couldn’t do the same with Aretha. So you can imagine how surprised I was when Jim Stewart turned her down. ’You sure you want to pass on Aretha Franklin?’ I asked Jim. “‘She’s great,’ said Jim. ‘I just don’t see her recording in this environment.” (7) Wexler’s retirement had to be put on hold. He turned to Plan B.

Wexler contacted the Franklin/White duo and told them the good news/bad news scenario. The good news was Wexler would be producing and not Jim Stewart of Stax. The bad news was that the sessions would take place in Muscle Shoals, Alabama at the FAME Studios owned and operated by Rick Hall. Franklin and White wanted the recordings to be made in New York where Aretha had a comfort level. Plus, in a year of racially-charged outbursts throughout the country, Franklin had apprehensions of working in the South. They also expressed doubt in working with Hall whose reputation they heard could be overbearing. Wexler was relentless in convincing the pair that FAME was the place for Aretha’s rebirth as a superstar.

“I argued long and hard for Muscle Shoals,” Wexler was quoted by David Ritz. “I cited the fact that Percy Sledge had cut his monster hit When a Man Loves a Woman at FAME and that I had enjoyed several smashes with Pickett, all done at FAME. With regards to Hall, I joked and said the only overbearing personality was me—and that I’d be running the sessions. I argued that Muscle Shoals would be an even greater comfort zone because we were going to record in an entirely different way. We weren’t going to have prepared charts like they had at Columbia. Nothing would be written down. ‘That’s good,’ said Ted, ‘because she can’t read or write music.’ I told Ted my theory of preliterate geniuses—musicians who bypass mere notations because they hear it all in their heads. “They can call out the parts. They can sing out the parts. They don’t need to write down notes. They just play them by ear. ‘That’s Aretha,’ said Ted. ‘She has the complete picture before she starts. We’ve been trying to tell producers that for years.’ ‘You don’t have to convince me,’ I said. ‘I’m sold.” (9)

While at Columbia, Aretha had been writing songs that she hoped to record one day. “We had this gigantic source of material we had put together,” recalled White. “We’d invite people over and start a song. Whoever could contribute would do so. Other times, Aretha and I would sit at the piano working on her thing while I’d help with the lyrics.” (10) Aretha would work through the songs, try them during her appearances and hone them into viable works before she went to the studio. When Aretha and Ted arrived at FAME, they had an idea of their direction.

Wexler called Rick Hall and told Hall about his plans to bring Aretha to FAME and record her. “I’d like to get that same kind of funky feel we’ve been getting there with Percy Sledge and Wilson Pickett,” Wexler explained. Hall asked his right-hand man, Dan Penn, who wore many hats as a songwriter, musician and producer for Hall, about Aretha. Penn knew all about her. “She could be a huge star if she can ever get with the right people and find the right songs.” (11) Hall let Wexler know he was on board figuring this would be his ticket to the big time.

Hall put his rhythm section together, which included Jimmy Johnson on guitar, Roger Hawkins on drums, Spooner Oldham on the Wurlitzer electric piano and bassist David Hood, who would play trombone for this session. Wexler arranged for Chips Moman (guitar) and Tommy Cogbill (bass) from Stax in Memphis to join them.

Aretha poses for a portrait in April, 1968 at Atlantic Records studios with (l-r) producer Arif Mardin, famed Muscle Shoals musicians guitarist Tommy Cogbill, drummer Roger Hawkins, bassist Jerry Jemmott, keyboardist Spooner Oldham, guitarist Jimmy Johnson, and producer and arranger Tom Dowd.

Photo by David Gahr/Getty Images.

Wexler, sensing White’s apprehensions of recording in the South during a racially sensitive time, requested that Hall hire as much of integrated band as possible. Since Moman was connected to a number of Memphis session musicians, the responsibility became his.

Moman’s first call was to Charlie Chalmers, a tenor sax player who was better connected for the job. Chalmers asked two black players, Floyd Newman, a baritone sax player and Bowlegs Miller, who played trumpet, to play on the session but they were unavailable. Because time was of essence, Chalmers put together a hodgepodge group that included Joe Arnold (sax), Ken Laxton (trumpet) who would comprise the horns with Chalmers and Hood. Chalmers usual horn group was racially integrated. This group was all white. Other than the fact that Laxton was a talented trumpeter, no one knew much about him. Laxton’s inclusion would be the spark that would blow up what could have been a historic session.

The plan for the Muscle Shoals session was to lay down tracks for two weeks — the first week composing the tracks and the second week devoted to sweetening them. On January 24, 1967, Aretha, Ted White, Wexler and Atlantic recording engineer, Tom Dowd, stepped into FAME studios for first day of the session.

“Before we got to Muscle Shoals, Aretha had worked out the pattern for the songs on her Fender Rhodes at home,” Wexler explained. “She and her sisters worked out the background parts. The plan was to have her come into the studio, show the Muscle Shoals rhythm section her outline, and let them jam around her. I loved all the material Ted and Aretha brought—Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come and Good Times, Otis’s Respect, and the three Aretha tunes—Dr. Feelgood, Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream and Baby, Baby, Baby, written with Carolyn.” (12)

The first song to be recorded was I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You). It was the first time the band heard the song. The plan was for the band to build their parts around Aretha’s piano and singing. The initial reaction left the band unimpressed. “It was an awful demo,” stated Penn. Oldham thought it was an oddball tune, “talking about a guy who was no good, a heartbreaker, a liar and a cheat.” (13)

“Aretha sat down at the piano. Nobody was talking! We were seasoned veterans, and the best way to work with us was to turn us loose to do our own thing. It was sort of spooky, getting it started. I thought, ‘Well, this day may not go so well with this new artist we’re working with…’ We were having difficulty finding our groove, beat and tempo. That’s the way it started. Unsure,” recalled Oldham. “The song is in kind of an unusual tempo. It was an unusual song, and it was difficult to come up with a hook and an arrangement at first. They had no ideas for the song at the beginning. They worked on it for a while. The horns were just sitting back – we were waiting for them to get something together so we could do our bit. After a couple of hours Spooner hits on a Wurlitzer piano lick. He found that little opening riff, and it all fell together quickly after that, first or second take,” Hood remembered.

“I created that riff for the intro and throughout the song. Everybody was tuning up as we were about to try the song. Everyone was sort of scratching his head, waiting for somebody to do something. Nobody had anything to offer. I was in the room with the others but I was off by myself, thinking about what I’d heard, and in my mind I started playing that riff – to myself. As soon as I got started on that, I heard Chips Moman and Dan Penn say, “Spooner’s got it!” The band started listening to me and playing along, and that’s the way it got started. Soon as we got it started it was a sure thing, everybody felt comfortable playing it. (14)

Aretha came in Oldham’s riff with her opening line “You’re no good, heartbreaker.” Penn remarked, “After her opening line, she created five instant fans.” Hawkins stated, “We started playing around her. You picked off her energy and chose a part to play very easily.” (16)

While the rhythm section worked through the basic track, Chalmers wrote out the horn charts in an office just upstairs. “I just started to write out the parts. Some unison parts at first and added harmonies for the second pass. I just sat there and jotted them out,” Charlie said. (15)

I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) took just a few hours to compose and was completed in three or four takes. “Aretha sang it with the conviction of a saint,” said Dan Penn, where, on the spot, he and Chips Moman wrote Do Right Woman—Do Right Man, a song that would eventually be included on the record. “Before she started playing we were worried she might have qualms about playing with a white rhythm section,” said Jimmy Johnson, “but when we all got to grooving, it was nothing but a party. She didn’t like the support we gave her—she loved it. She knew that, color be damned, we were all coming from the same place. The woman just sang—and sang—and sang some more. We were hysterically happy, giddy happy, like schoolchildren, running into the studio to hear the playback. To the last man, we realized we were watching the birth of a superstar. The experience gave joy new meaning.” (12)

Aretha, at the piano, recording in the studios of Atlantic Records in December 1967 in New York City, New York.

Photo by David Gahr/Getty Images.

Everyone associated with the track understood it was going to be a monster. So, a bit of celebration was in order. However, Colbert County was a dry county. What’s more, Hall didn’t allow drinking in his studio. Still, musicians understood that a shot or a tall, cold one could influence performance and bring it to a higher level. Hall would turn his back to such behavior in the name of superior performance. On this day, he should have insisted on abiding by his rule.

Hall told this story in his biography. As the day wore on, Ted White, friendly and cordial at the day’s start, had been sharing a bottle of vodka with a few of the horn players, namely trumpeter Laxton. By late afternoon, White was getting wasted and had become somewhat testy. Hall, working for Wexler and not wanting to upset Aretha’s husband/manager, reluctantly allowed White to continue drinking. Suddenly White, who was on the studio floor, burst into the control room and said to Wexler and Hall, “I want you to fire the trumpet player.” Hall asked, “Why, Ted?” White replied, “He’s making passes at my wife.” Hall, hoping for support, turned to Wexler and asked, “What do you think?” Wexler said flatly, “Fire him, Rick.” Hall approached the trumpet player and told him, “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to let you go. Ted wants you off the session.” Laxton put his horn into its case and left. (16)

According to Chalmers who hired Laxton, “He was a bit mouthy and thought he was the hippest thing in the world. I hired him because I knew he could cut a reading gig.” White acknowledges that a few remarks were made. “He made a derogatory remark about Aretha that offended me and I reacted to it.” (17) Wexler recalled the incident in his biography. “The trumpeter was getting obnoxious and drawing Ted White into a “dozens” duel; they were ranking each other out while drinking out of the same bottle. A redneck patronizing a black man is a dangerous camaraderie.” (18)

The control booth became ground zero for the situation that was getting out of hand. In addition to an inebriated White, Hall was feeling the pressure of Wexler and engineer, Tom Dowd. For Aretha’s session, Wexler insisted on upgrading Hall’s studio with new equipment. When Wexler brought Wilson Pickett to Muscle Shoals, all that Hall had was a mono recorder, which meant all recordings were live. “Rick, I’m bringing in Aretha and I need at least four tracks,” remarked Wexler. Dowd and Wexler planned to overdub tracks when needed. Using new equipment on the fly with so much at stake put Hall in a high stress situation. “I was a nervous wreck,” Hall confirmed. “Wexler was over my shoulder while I’m engineering with Dowd sitting there and between the two of them—the directions I was getting: turn him up, turn him down, wait, you’re losing the singer…” (18) “This was only the first day,” Hall recalled in his autobiography. “I had hoped the sessions would go great and be my big breakthrough but the tension was tearing everyone down.” (16)

With I Never Loved complete and Laxton gone, Momen and Penn were still trying to create a bridge for the next song Do Right Woman — Do Right Man. Penn was in a quiet room just beyond Rick’s office struggling to find the lyrics. Wexler asked for an update. “They say it’s a man’s world,” Penn told him the current line. Wexler answered, “I’ve got the next part: “But you can’t prove that by me.” Penn thanked him and added the line. Shortly thereafter, Aretha stopped by. Penn read her the last line. Aretha said, “I have the next part. ‘As long as we’re together baby, show some respect for me.’” Penn added the suggestions to the song. (19)

As evening approached, the remainder of the horn section broke for dinner, Aretha and White, still drunk and in a furor over the events of the day, returned to their downtown hotel. Once Hall had completed the first session and was satisfied with the tape, he broke his own studio rule and had a drink. “I had to have a drink,” he said. “I suppose I was trying to get on the same wavelength as Ted and after a few drinks, I was definitely there.” (16)

In retrospect, Hall should either limited his intake or abstained altogether as the next series of events would seal his fate with Wexler and Atlantic Records. Still at the studio, Hall wanted to make amends with White and Franklin and still maintain his producing stature with Wexler. So, he told Wexler that he was heading to the hotel to make peace with White. “Oh God, no, Rick. Please don’t do that Just go home to Linda (Hall’s wife). Everything will be OK tomorrow,” Wexler told him. On the studio floor, Penn and Momen were working with the rhythm section laying down the base track to Do Right Woman.

Hall didn’t heed Wexler’s advice and showed up their hotel that evening. Hall knocked on the door and was greeted by an alcohol-driven, hate-filled look by White, who asked, “What the hell do you want?” Hall worked himself into the room and attempted to discuss what had happened that day at the studio. White would have none of it. “I should have known not to bring my wife to this godforsaken hellhole to work with a bunch of rednecks,” he shouted at Hall. (16)

In that instant, the race card was played. Hall, in his drunken state, objected to White’s comment and got in his face with a few choice words of his own. That volley of words led to punches and within a matter of minutes, a slugfest ensued. Eventually, White and Aretha pushed Hall out of the room. Still, Hall pounded on the door, screaming to be let back in. By this time, Wexler, who had a room at the same hotel, showed up. “Why did you do that?” Wexler yelled. “How could you do that? We had everything going so well, and we've done so much together. This is it with me, you know, it’s over, you spoiled our relationship right there. I begged you not to drink, I begged you not to come over here, and I tried to get you to go home.” (20)

Meanwhile back at the studio, Dan, Chips, Spooner and Tommy, the rhythm section, completed work on Do Right Woman. “There was nobody there but the four of us,” Chips recalled. “We turned on the equipment and started recording.” (21) They had no idea of the events that had transpired the previous evening at the downtown hotel.

Hall woke up the following morning depressed and filled with anxiety. He relived the events of the previous day understanding there was blame to be shared fully accepting responsibility for his own actions. “I really screwed up,” Hall lamented. “Wexler was right — I shouldn’t have gone over to the hotel. The sessions were over after one day and I’ve spent years realizing the full impact and significance of those 24 hours.” (22) Ted and Aretha left town that morning. Aretha would never return to Muscle Shoals.

For his part, Wexler tried to reason with White before he left town. Ted was still hot about the previous day when he told Jerry about getting him mixed up with “these bleeping honkies.” (18) “At six in the morning I was in Ted and Aretha’s room trying to undo what Rick had done,” Wexler recalled. “Ted, though, could not be consoled. ‘You were the one who said Muscle Shoals was soul paradise,’ he said. ‘Far as I can see, Muscle Shoals is soul sh*t. These honkies down here are some nasty bleepers. I will never submit my wife to circumstances like these. We’re outta here.’”

“‘But what about the schedule?’ Wexler asked. ‘We were going to do all her vocals this week and the sweetening next week. All we have in the can is one completed song—I Never Loved —and the beginning of Do Right Man. That’s all I got.’” “What you really got, Wexler,” said Ted, “is one big bleepin’ mess on your hands. I’m not sure this lady is ever gonna record for Atlantic again.’ And with that, he showed Wexler the door. (23)

For Aretha’s part, she had had enough of White’s behavior. “After that Muscle Shoals incident,” said Carolyn, “I was sure that Aretha and Ted were splitsville. She felt that he had undermined the session. She said he was drunk half the time and belligerent as hell. She said she didn’t want to see him again.” (23)

Desperate to get Aretha back in the studio to finish the album, Wexler called everywhere in an effort to find her. Aretha needed time to think and made sure she couldn’t be found until she was ready.

Meanwhile, Wexler had a few acetates pressed and passed them to some friendly DJ’s to get their opinion. The response was overwhelming — the song was burning up the radio. Wexler now had another problem. “Well, there are two sides on a 45 single, and I had only one,” Jerry stated. “I needed another song. Our distributors, who had heard I Never Loved on the radio, started screaming for product. They knew me as an aggressive marketer and wanted to know what was wrong. I wasn’t about to tell them that I had lost control of my artist. All I could say was ‘Stand by.’ Meanwhile, every minute the record was being played on the radio but was unavailable in stores, we were losing money.” (24)

Aretha recording in the studios of Atlantic Records in December 1967 in New Yok City, New York.

Photo by David Gahr/Getty Images.

Ten days to two weeks passed, depending on the source, when Aretha called Wexler. “‘Mr. Wexler, it’s Miss Franklin calling. I’m ready to record. However, I won’t be recording in Muscle Shoals. I will be recording in New York. I know you have studios in New York.”

The surprised executive responded, “Yes, we do. What about the band?” “Bring up the boys from Muscle Shoals. They understood me. As far as the backgrounds go, I’ll be with my sisters,” Aretha said, taking charge of the situation. “Beautiful,” said Wexler, the only response needed. (24)

Wexler devised a ruse to bring the Muscle Shoals band to New York. The rhythm section would be hesitant to head to the Big Apple to continue work on Aretha’s session fearing for their livelihood back home if Rick Hall should find out about it. King Curtis, a tenor sax player extraordinaire now on the Atlantic label, was due a new album. How about having the Muscle Shoals group play on it and, after the session, have them secretly complete Aretha’s album?

Oldham and Johnson were more than happy to work with Curtis on his new LP. The other members of the group didn’t have the same ties to Hall and agreed to meet in New York as well. Johnson recalled the last day of the King Curtis session. “Guys, can I have a meeting?” asked Wexler. “It looks like Aretha’s record that you just cut is going to be a hit. Could you guys stay over two or three more days and we’ll finish her album?” Johnson told Matt Dobkin, “Rick would’ve tried to stop us. He was co-producer on two of the sides and would’ve expected us to side with him. It would’ve put a big strain on Hall and the musicians. I’m glad they (Wexler) did it this way.” (25)

When Aretha showed up at the Atlantic studios on February 8, 1967, Ted was not with her. She gave no apologies or explanations about where she had been. “She came loaded for bear,” said Tom Dowd, the Atlantic engineer who was at the controls. “She went right for the piano, where, without a word, she played piano over the existing Do Right track. She, Erma and Carolyn laid down the vocal harmonies, an arrangement from heaven. All that was left was Aretha’s vocal. She ran it down once. Thank God I had pressed that Record button, because the rundown was unworldly. There was a calmness about her delivery, an attitude that said, ‘Brother, I own this song, I’m gonna take my time, and I’m gonna drill it into your soul.’ When she was through, there was nothing to do but shake your head in wonder.” (24)

I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You) with the flip side, Do Right Woman — Do Right Man was released on February 10, 1967. I Never Loved entered the pop chart on March 4 and topped at #9 for two weeks beginning on April 15. (26) (27) Both songs found greater acceptance on the R&B chart. I Never Loved debuted on March 11 and climbed to #1 where it stayed for seven weeks while Do Right Woman entered on June 3 and topped at #37. (28)

With the two cuts for the single complete, Aretha met Wexler at his Long Island home to plan the rest of the album a few days later. “She played me a lot of things and I played her some things,” Wexler stated. (35) Eventually, they agreed on a playlist that included some compositions written by Aretha that included Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream, Baby, Baby, Baby, Dr. Feelgood and Save Me.

On February 14, Aretha, the Sweet Inspirations, (composed of her two sisters, Erma and Carolyn and Cissy Houston), the group from Muscle Shoals, (Oldham, Johnson, Hawkins, Chalmers, Cogbill and Moman) and New York horn players, King Curtis (tenor sax), Ernie Royal (trumpet) and Willie Bridges (baritone sax), arrived at New York’s Atlantic studios to begin work on Aretha’s album, I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You.

The first song was Aretha’s rendition of Otis Redding’s Respect. In 1965, Redding recorded the song for his Otis Blue album. During a break in the action, Otis sat with Al Jackson, drummer for Booker T. And The MG’s and remarked how difficult it was to balance his life while maintaining a career with all of his travel and a home life. Jackson was reported to have told Redding, “What are you griping about, you’re on the road all the time? All you can look for is a little respect when you come.” Redding derived the song from that conversation. (29) Redding took the single of Respect to #35 in the fall of 1965. (30)

Aretha at the piano at Atlantic Studios in April of 1968.

Photo by David Gahr/Getty Images.

Franklin had been performing Respect in her live shows for over a year before she brought it to the studio that Valentine’s Day of 1967. As was her custom, Aretha had much of the song planned before she walked in the door. It was all there in the arrangement — the vocals, chord sequence, rhythm pattern and the layout. "My sister Carolyn and I got together and — I was living in a small apartment on the west side of Detroit, piano by the window, watching the cars go by — and we came up with that infamous line, the 'sock it to me' line," Aretha mentioned. "Some of the girls were saying that to the fellas, like 'sock it to me' in this way or 'sock it to me' in that way. It's not sexual. It was nonsexual, just a cliché line." (31)

“Otis wrote the song from a man’s point of view, but when Erma and Aretha and I worked it over, we had to rearrange the perspective, said Carolyn. “We saw it as something earthier, a woman having no problem discussing her needs. It turned out that it was interpreted in many different ways—having to do with sexual or racial politics. Far as I’m concerned, all those interpretations are correct because everyone needs respect on every level.” (32)

All in attendance were amazed when Aretha and her sisters sang in the studio, especially with the “sock-it-to-me’s” and the spelled title of the song. Tom Dowd, who engineered the date, recalled the session. “When she started singing, all the parts became obvious — “Boom! Here it is! Her sister, Carolyn was instrumental in the tempo aspect and the way they did the R-E-S-P-E-C-T lines. I fell off my chair when I heard that!" (33)

And since Redding's version had no bridge, Wexler had the band play the chord changes from Sam and Dave's When Something Is Wrong With My Baby under King Curtis' tenor-sax solo. (34)

The recording of Respect and the other three songs solidified a process by which the band would work with Aretha for all future sessions. She introduced an outline of what she wanted to do on the track, brought it to the studio, the other musicians added their licks to it and an instrumental track with Aretha’s scratch vocal, which would be removed, was produced. Once the track was ready, the musicians left the studio and congregated in the control room ready to watch Aretha lay down the vocal track. That’s when the magic was made.

“I knew she’d been intrigued with the song for a couple of years and had tried it out onstage,” recalled Wexler. “She had already come up with this new beat. But the creation of the background vocals and ingenious wordplay was done on the spot in the studio. The backgrounds were more than wonderful aural augmentations. They gave the song a strong sexual flavor. The call for respect went from a request to a demand. And then, given the civil rights and feminist fervor that was building in the sixties, respect—especially as Aretha articulated it with such force—took on new meaning. Respect started off as a soul song and wound up as a kind of national anthem. It virtually defined American culture at that moment in history.” (32)

Wexler played her version for Otis. “He broke out into this wide smile,” Wexler remembered," and said, ‘The girl has taken that song from me. Ain’t no longer my song. From now on, it belongs to her.’ And then he asked me to play it again, and then a third time. The smile never left his face.” (32)

Respect was released on April 29, (34) the same day it debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. (26) It hit #1 on June 3 where it stayed for two weeks. (27) The song enjoyed even stronger support on the R&B chart where it debuted on May 6 and stayed at #1 for eight consecutive weeks. (28)

Respect earned Aretha her two Grammy Awards in 1968 for "Best Rhythm & Blues Recording" and "Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Vocal Performance, Female", and was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1987. In 2002, the Library of Congress honored Franklin's version by adding it to the National Recording Registry. It was placed number five on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". It was also included in the list of "Songs of the Century", by the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts. (34)

Aretha continued to record for Atlantic through 1979 when she signed a deal with Arista Records. She continued her career with Arista where she had a string of hits through 2007.

Franklin died at her home on August 16, 2018, at the age of 76 from a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor. (35)

The hit version of Aretha's I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You).

Aretha performs Do Right Woman - Do Right Man.

From her first Atlantic album, Aretha performs Respect.

Otis released his version of Respect in 1965.

1) Matt Dobkin, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You: Aretha Franklin, Respect, and the Making of a Soul Music Masterpiece, 2004, Page 188.

2) David Ritz, Respect: The Life Of Aretha Franklin, 2014, Page 47.

3) Ritz, Page 115

4) Ritz, Pages 135-136.

5) Ritz, Pages 142-143.

6) Dobkin, Page 62.

7) Ritz, Pages 225-228.

8) Dobkin, Pages 86-87.

9) Ritz, Pages 230-232.

10) Dobkin, Pages 96-97.

11) Rick Hall and Terry Pace, Rick Hall: My Journey From Shame To Fame, 2015. Page 257.

12) Ritz, Pages 233-236.

13) Dobkin, Pages 120-121.

14) Sam Richards, Uncut, The Making of Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)”, August 17, 2018. Link.

15) Dobkin, Pages 124-127.

16) Hall/Pace, Pages 261-264.

17) Dobkin, Page 137.

18) Jerry Wexler, Rhythm And Blues, Page 498-499.

19) Dobkin, Page 142-146.

20) Peter Guralnick, Sweet Soul Music, Kindle Edition, Location 5839-5845.

21) Dobkin, Page 150.

22) Hall/Pace, Page 265.

23) Ritz, Page 238-239.

24) Ritz, Page 241-243.

25) Dobkin, Page 159.

26) Joel Whitburn, Top Pop Singles 1955-2002, Pages 263-264.

27) Joel Whitburn, Billboard Hot 100 Charts The Sixties.

28) Joel Whitburn, Top R&B Singles 1942-1999, Pages 156-158.

29) Mark Bego, Aretha Franklin: The Queen Of Soul, Page 77.

30) Joel Whitburn, Top Pop Singles 1955-2002, Pages 581-582.

31) Terry Gross, WBUR News, 'Respect' Wasn't A Feminist Anthem Until Aretha Franklin Made It One, February 14, 2017, Link.

32) Ritz, Page 248-249.

33) Rolling Stone Magazine, Music Lists, 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time, April 7, 2011, Link.

33) Bego, Pages 69-70.

34) Wikipedia, Aretha Franklin, Respect.

35) Wikipedia, Aretha Franklin.

Photo by Redferns/Getty Images.

© 2019 Jerry Reuss

Copyright  2009