Ahmet Ertegun was given a small acetate recording machine at the age of fourteen, and began his own songwriting career by writing lyrics to Cootie William's West End Blues and singing them over the top of the instrumental track playing on a Magnavox record player in the background. His friends would not believe that it was his voice singing!
Being part of the creative process, not just as a producer but as a songwriter, delighted Ahmet, and over the years as president of the company, Ahmet wrote material for numerous artists, under the pseudonym Nugetre (Ertegun spelled backwards). The pseudonym has never been satisfactorily explained for me; after all, everybody knew that the Turkish Ambassador's son ran an r&b and jazz record company. Perhaps it was more that it would look bad for the company to admit that the company president sometimes had to help out at the studio. Ahmet wrote "head" melodies since he couldn't play an instrument or write music. He would record his songs in Times Square recording booths, then take the paper discs and give them to musicians to reproduce.
One of the first groups to benefit from Ahmet's songwriting talents were The Clovers. The Clovers were a local Washington group who often played in Washington's Old Rose Social Club, an old bootleg joint dating back to the 20s. In a way The Clovers were perfect for the place, since their repertoire was locked into that era also, with songs such as Yes Sir, That's My Baby, That Old Black Magic, and Pennies From Heaven. They were paid nothing, and were also responsible for looking after the building. Their singing was beautiful, but more barbershop and crooner than doo-wop, and when his old partner Max Silvermann from the "Waxie Maxie" record shop tipped Ahmet Ertegun to them , he was unsure that they could make it in the r&b market. Unimpressed with much of the syrupy material they were recording for Rainbow Records, Ahmet wrote a song himself on the plane ride down from NYC to his old haunt of Washington D.C. that had a quite different style.
On February 22, 1951 the Clovers recorded Don't You Know I Love You (Atlantic 934), a mid-tempo, choppy-rhythmed shuffle with Buddy Bailey's blues-tinged vocal leading the group. The surprising use of a sax solo (one of the first on a vocal group record) came about when bandleader Frank Culley demanded to be paid even though he and his sax were not suppose to play on the record. Since Ertegun had to pay Frank as a leader anyway, he let him play and Culley winged it from there. The song sold over 250,00 copies. Ironically, The Clovers themselves preferred the flip-side Skylark, which was more in the pop ballad vein they were used to singing!
The song was later covered by both Fats Domino and Shirley & Lee, but neither do the song full justice - the one overexciting the rock n'roll without the feeling; the other transforming it into pretty kitsch, nasal, bubblegum pop (strange, since normally, I enjoy their songs - I guess the prior knowledge of the Clovers spoiled it for me...)
Ahmet Ertegun wrote eight songs for the Clovers out of their first nine singles, including their first two number one R&B chart records, the second No.1 being Fool, Fool, Fool. The next year, Kay Starr had a big hit with this song with white pop audiences. The other stand-out songs were In The Middle Of The Night, with its distinctive heavy beat and walking bass line woven into a bluesy ballad, and Lovey Dovey, later covered in the Memphis style by the King & Queen of Soul, Carla Thomas and Otis. Don't You Know I Love You, Fool, Fool, Fool, and Lovey Dovey were each on the charts for over 20 weeks. Five of the Clovers' records during this Nugetre-penned period were double-sided hits, with 3 of them in a row.
Nugetre could write a hit or two!
The Clovers - Don't You Know I Love You? (1951)
The Clovers - Fool, Fool, Fool (1951)
The Clovers - Lovey, Dovey (1953)
You can buy all of these and many other classic Clovers tracks on the excellent compilation Your Cash Ain't Nothing But Trash - Their Greatest Hits 1951-55 by Rev-Ola Records. Most Clovers tracks are also easily found on iTunes.
Information from What'd I Say: 50 Years Of Atlantic Records, and the copious research gathered from interviews with numerous members of the Clovers for Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks.
POSTSCRIPT: Has anyone ever heard that Cootie Williams/Ahmet Ertegun recording? I wonder if it survived somewhere in the Atlantic vaults?...