September 2007

Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built
Rhino Entertainment Company/R2 128892
Format: DVD
Released: 2007

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance *****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Image Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment *****

"So I’ll tell you a story," Ahmet Ertugen says near the beginning of Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built. A few moments later he tells Phil Collins, "I’ve told them all, I think. Over and over and over, the same stories."

"It’s the way you tell them, Ahmet," Collins answers him. "It’s the way you tell them."

Ertugen’s stories, and his own life story, comprise a large portion of the history of American popular music. Atlantic Records gave fame and artistic focus to Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and many others. The House That Ahmet Built is the chronicle of what film director Taylor Hackford calls "The most important independent record label in history." That’s a big claim, considering how much influence Sun and Chess Records had on the course of American and, later, English rock‘n’roll. But The House That Ahmet Built builds a strong case for a label whose roster of hugely successful acts continues to this day.

Ahmet Ertugen’s exciting, exotic story began in Istanbul in 1923. His father was a diplomat whose work took him to Switzerland, France, England, and, finally, the US. Ahmet’s brother, Nesuhi, introduced his younger brother to jazz when they were living in London. Ahmet fell in love with the music of African Americans, first jazz and then blues. In 1947, he started Atlantic with Herb Abramson, and by the late '40s it was creating hit records for singers like Ruth Brown, Joe Turner, and the Clovers. Ertugen wrote songs for his artists and produced their records. As Jerry Wexler, who joined the label in the early '50s, notes, "Atlantic Records is the only major record company for which the owners actually made records, were line producers in the studio making records." They loved the music, and it made all the difference.

Ertegun’s story continues into Atlantic’s '60s soul years, its very successful entry into the rock‘n’roll market and its continued relevance. The life story of this smart, elegant, very classy record executive, who died in 2006, is told with skill and a terrific eye for detail by director, writer, and co-producer Susan Steinberg. If you missed it on PBS’s American Masters, don’t miss it on DVD.