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'Fresh Air' Pays Respect To Aretha Franklin, The Queen Of Soul

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Soul music is at the center of two popular movies from this summer, Questlove's documentary "Summer Of Soul" and the Aretha Franklin biopic "Respect." We're going to close the summer with a series of interviews from our archive with musicians represented in those films. From "Summer Of Soul," We'll hear from Gladys Knight, Mavis Staples, B.B. King, Hugh Masekela, Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach and Questlove. Today, my interviews with Aretha Franklin, Jerry Wexler - her producer at Atlantic Records - and Dan Penn, who co-wrote her hit "Do Right Woman." We'll start with my 1999 interview with Aretha.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "(SWEET SWEET BABY) SINCE YOU'VE BEEN GONE")

ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Singing) Baby, baby, sweet baby. There's something that I just got to say.

GROSS: The Queen of Soul got her start in the Baptist church. Her father, Reverend C.L. Franklin, was a famous preacher. Aretha went on to receive many awards. She was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. She won 18 Grammys and was nominated 44 times. She received a National Medal of the Arts in 1999 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. She sang at President Obama's first inauguration. We spoke after the publication of her autobiography, "Aretha: From These Roots." She seldom gave interviews, so we were thrilled to have her on our show.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Before you sang soul music, you sang gospel in the church. I imagine gospel was more than just music to you. Can you talk a little bit about, you know, feeling the spirit when you sang?

FRANKLIN: Certainly gospel was my background, is my background. My upbringing was in the church. We had to attend regularly. And of course, the church provided a training ground for me, so to speak, as a young vocalist and certainly gave me all of the spiritual values that I needed as a young lady.

GROSS: I'd like to play a recording that was made of you at the age of 14 singing in the church in which your father was pastor, the New Bethel Church in Detroit.

FRANKLIN: Yes, New Bethel Baptist Church.

GROSS: And this is a recording of Precious Lord. The version we're going to hear was made in 1956. This is the young 14-year-old Aretha Franklin.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRECIOUS LORD")

FRANKLIN: (Singing) When my, when my way goes dreary. Precious Lord, please linger near. And, oh, when my, when my life is almost, almost gone, father, father, father, hear my cry, Lord. And, oh, hear my call.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: That's the young Aretha Franklin. Let's talk a little bit about the influences on you during your formative years. First of all, let's talk a little bit about your father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin. He was one of the most popular preachers of his generation. He was nationally known through his tours and through, I think, radio broadcasts as well as recordings. You say in the book that church nurses carried smelling salts to revive worshippers who were overcome to the point of fainting by the spirit or by your father's sermons. What was it like for you to watch your father speak and people fainting in church?

FRANKLIN: Well, it was tremendous. I loved going to church. I enjoyed being a part of the choir and just doing things in and around the church. But as a young girl, I certainly enjoyed watching and listening to my dad.

GROSS: You toured with your father through churches through the Deep South. And I'm wondering what it was like for you during the days of segregation to tour through the Deep South, you know, how that compared to what you were used to in Detroit.

FRANKLIN: Well, it certainly was not what I was used to or accustomed to in Detroit. But on the other hand, it was not that bad. We didn't have extreme experiences of any kind. But there were times that we were asked to go to the back of the restaurant, say, or we couldn't use the bathrooms. And we got information that Gulf, you could use the bathrooms there if you - and we didn't buy gas where we could not use the restrooms. So we went to Gulf a lot, I must tell you.

GROSS: You say about your father he was a minister, he was also a man, and that some women pursued him aggressively night and day.

FRANKLIN: They did.

GROSS: So he wasn't uncomfortable with that?

FRANKLIN: I have no idea. I never discussed it with him. And he never discussed that sort of thing with his children. But as children, we could certainly see that women were kind of aggressively taking off behind him. He was single at the time. And sometimes you might see it with ladies sitting on the front row, a little high - skirts little high, little short, things like that or in other ways that we're all familiar with. You know when women are interested.

GROSS: I thought I'd play an excerpt from what is perhaps his most famous recorded sermon, The Eagle Stirreth. Since we'll only be hearing an excerpt just to get a sense of his style of preaching, can you tell us a little bit about what the sermon was actually about?

FRANKLIN: Having to do, as I equate it, to life, to children, to the parental function in the raising of one's children. And in certain other ways, there are parallels to your personal life.

GROSS: My guest is Aretha Franklin. Let's hear an excerpt of a sermon preached by her father, Reverend C.L. Franklin.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

C L FRANKLIN: It is said that a man who had a poultry farm and that he raised chicken raised.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGREGANTS: Yes.

FRANKLIN: And one day in one of his broods, he discovered a strange-looking bird...

UNIDENTIFIED CONGREGANTS: Yes.

FRANKLIN: ...That was very much unlike the other chickens on the yard.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGREGANTS: Yes.

FRANKLIN: And the man didn't pay too much attention. But he noticed as time went on that this strange-looking bird...

UNIDENTIFIED CONGREGANTS: Yes.

FRANKLIN: ...Was unusual.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGREGANTS: Yeah.

FRANKLIN: He outgrew the other little chickens.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGREGANTS: Yes.

FRANKLIN: Oh, Lord, and then one day, a man who knew eagles, when he saw it, came along and saw that little eagle walking in the yard. And he said to his friend, do you know that you have an eagle here? What you ought to do is build a cage. After a while, when he's a little older, he's going to get tired of the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGREGANTS: Yes.

FRANKLIN: Yes, he will. He's going to rise up on the pinion of his wings, yeah, one of these days, one of these days. My soul is an eagle in the cage that the Lord had made for me. My soul, my soul, my soul is caged in, in this old body. Yes, it is. And one of these days, the man who made the cage will open the door and let my soul go. Yeah, he will. You ought to be able to see me take the wings of my soul. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, one of these days, one of these old days, one of these old days - did you hear me?

GROSS: That's Aretha Franklin's late father, Reverend C.L. Franklin.

Many singers who grew up in the church weren't allowed by their parents to listen to or to perform pop music. It wasn't that way in your family. What did your father think about pop music and jazz?

FRANKLIN: My dad, I think, appreciated gifted artists. We just didn't have that problem in our home, and he never tried to limit us in any way with respect to music or anything like that.

GROSS: Well, as you describe in your new autobiography, great performers like Nat Cole and Art Tatum knew your father and would sometimes be in your living room at the piano. That must've been something.

FRANKLIN: Yes, that's true. Art Tatum was often a visitor in our home. He was a very good friend of my dad's - Oscar Peterson and Arthur Prysock, Mahalia Jackson, of course James. And he loved Sam - Sam Cooke. And he just really very broadly appreciated one's artistry when they were truly gifted and really good.

GROSS: We're listening to the interview I recorded in 1999 with Aretha Franklin. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARETHA FRANKLIN'S "TRY MATTY'S")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to the 1999 interview I recorded with Aretha Franklin.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Well, you were living in Detroit, so when you decided to make pop records, I mean, the obvious choice, I suppose, would've been Motown, especially since Berry Gordy was a friend of the family. I guess Motown was a very new label at the time, but did you consider Motown?

FRANKLIN: Actually, no, I really did not. My dad and I had talked about it, and we really kind of had our sights set on Columbia Records out of New York. We knew that Columbia was a worldwide label. And I think the feeling probably was that the promotion would be better than, say, a Motown - or the distribution and the promotion and so on. And so we just kind of maintained that feeling that Columbia and other major record labels were the people that we wanted to talk to.

GROSS: Well, you were signed at Columbia by John Hammond, who had earlier signed Count Basie and later signed Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Well, I want to play the first track that you recorded with John Hammond, and it's "Today I Sing The Blues."

FRANKLIN: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TODAY I SING THE BLUES")

FRANKLIN: (Singing) Without a word of warning, the blues walked in this morning and circled 'round my lonely room. I didn't know why I had that sad and lonely feeling until my baby called and said we're through. For yesterday this time I sang a love song, but today I'm singing the blues.

GROSS: Now, you were playing a lot of clubs during those early years, and a lot of those clubs were jazz clubs. And the people who you shared a bill with included John Coltrane and Charles Mingus. Was this a new kind of music for you?

FRANKLIN: Not exactly a new kind of music. As a very small girl, I listened to Charlie Parker and loved him and Max Roach and people like that. I had not been in the jazz environment, having been brought up in the church. But once I got to New York and I was signed to perform at the Village Gate and the Vanguard and clubs like that - and these - the Vanguard was one of the most elite, if not the most elite jazz club out there. Then I began to meet jazz musicians and to become more familiar with that environment and comfortable with it.

GROSS: What was different about the jazz environment? What was - what were some of the things you hadn't been exposed to before?

FRANKLIN: Well, I certainly had not been exposed to Charlie Mingus reaching over, and I think he slapped the pianist that one night (laughter).

GROSS: Sounds like Mingus.

(LAUGHTER)

FRANKLIN: Sitting in the audience then - this was at the Village Gate. And he kept right on playing. You know, nobody missed a beat.

GROSS: In 1966 after your contract with Columbia Records was up, you moved to Atlantic Records, which was the home of rhythm and blues greats like Ruth Brown and Ray Charles, LaVern Baker, the Drifters, the Clovers. How did you end up at Atlantic?

FRANKLIN: We got a call - my former husband Ted White got a call from Jerry Wexler that they were interested in talking to and signing me at Atlantic Records. And we went over, and we sat and we talked to Jerry. Jerry offered a delightful little bonus.

GROSS: (Laughter).

FRANKLIN: And, of course, the rest is history.

GROSS: Your sound really changed at Atlantic, and so did your material. Did he sit you down before you started recording and say, this is what I see for you; this is what I hear?

FRANKLIN: Yes, he did. Actually, where I had been in the booth most of the time at Columbia and not at the piano, Jerry asked me to sit down and accompany myself. And that is where my career really took a drastic 160-degree turnaround. I just accompany myself in a very different way than most other pianists do. And I think that that was the factor that made the difference.

GROSS: For your first Atlantic recording session, the producer, Jerry Wexler, took you down to a studio in Muscle Shoals, Ala., that was famous for its great session men, which included Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham. And the first song that you recorded there was "I Never Loved A Man."

Now, Spooner Oldham tells a story that when he heard you sit down at the piano and play your first chord, he thought, wow, that's really great and that he, who - and he's a pianist - that he shouldn't - he should let you play piano while he moved over to electric piano, playing behind you. What'd you think of that arrangement? Were you pleased that he agreed that you should be the one at the piano?

FRANKLIN: I remember that particular session. It was the very first session. So naturally, yes, I remember it. And we really were kind of struggling at that point to get to the music. It just wasn't quite coming off, although we had dynamite players. We had the Muscle Shoals Section. And they were really very, very hot - cutting a lot of good, greezy (ph) stuff - or what you would call greezy (ph) in that day. But we weren't getting to the music in the way that we should have. It just wasn't coming off. And finally, someone said, Aretha, why don't you sit down and play? And I did. And it just happened. It all just happened. We arrived, and we arrived very quickly.

GROSS: Well, Peter Guralnick, the music critic, describes this recording, "I Never Loved A Man," as one of the most momentous takes in the history of rhythm and blues - in fact, in the history of American vernacular music. Let's hear it. This is my guest, Aretha Franklin.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I NEVER LOVED A MAN (THE WAY I LOVE YOU)")

FRANKLIN: (Singing) You're a no-good heartbreaker. You're a liar, and you're a cheat. And I don't know why I let you do these things to me. My friends keep telling me that you ain't no good. But, oh, they don't know that I'd leave you if I could. I guess I'm uptight. And I'm stuck like glue 'cause I ain't never, I ain't never, I ain't never - no, no - loved a man the way that I love you. Some time ago I thought...

GROSS: My interview with Aretha Franklin was recorded in 1999. She's portrayed by Jennifer Hudson in the new biopic "Respect." Coming up from our archive, Jerry Wexler, who produced Aretha's hits at Atlantic Records, talks about the sometimes-tumultuous recording session in Muscle Shoals, Ala., where Aretha recorded her first hits, and Dan Penn, who was at that session, talks about co-writing Aretha's hit "Do Right Woman." And later, Aretha will tell the story behind the sock-it-to-me's in her hit "Respect." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I NEVER LOVED A MAN (THE WAY I LOVE YOU)")

FRANKLIN: (Singing) Don't you never, never say that we're through 'cause I ain't never, never, never - no, no - loved a man the way that I love you. I can't sleep at night. And I can't even fight. I guess I'll never be free since you got your hooks in me. Whoa, oh, oh. Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Today's show is dedicated to Aretha Franklin. When Columbia Records signed Aretha in 1960, the label saw her as a potential jazz star. But she never broke through. In 1967, she started recording for the Atlantic label with producer Jerry Wexler, who was a partner at the label. His specialty was finding great singers and matching them with the right band and backup singers to create a sound that was both artistically true and commercially successful. He let Aretha write her own songs, play piano and use her sisters as backup singers. Some of the greatest soul and rhythm and blues recordings wouldn't have been made if it weren't for Jerry Wexler. The short list of other people he worked with includes the Drifters, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Etta James and Solomon Burke. Wexler died in 2008. I spoke with him in 1993 in front of an audience at a public radio conference in Washington, D.C. He'd written a new memoir called "Rhythm And The Blues."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Jerry Wexler, welcome to FRESH AIR.

JERRY WEXLER: It's great to be here to plug my book.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: I want to get started with your work with Aretha Franklin. I think that's a good place to start. Now, she had made about - oh, I don't know - ten or so recordings on Columbia Records before coming to Atlantic.

WEXLER: Yeah.

GROSS: John Hammond produced her. And he was producing her like a jazz singer, kind of in the Dinah Washington tradition.

WEXLER: Yeah.

GROSS: You - when she came to Atlantic, you worked with her. You heard something completely different. What did you hear when you started producing her?

WEXLER: Well, I heard the Aretha Franklin who sang in church, who sang "Precious Lord" when she was 13 years old. And a man in the audience was so overcome, he said, listen at her, listen at her. And I listened. And it wasn't so much that I tried a new approach to her, it's that what she did fit very well in with what we were doing anyhow.

GROSS: Well, you sat her down at the piano.

WEXLER: Right.

GROSS: You had her play herself, which I don't think she'd done on the records before that.

WEXLER: Not very much.

GROSS: What was it like at Muscle Shoals? What did you hear there in that Southern sound that you wanted?

WEXLER: Well, it was the way they recorded, which was ad lib recording without written arrangements, building the song from the get-go, just from the chords. And the musicians made a fabulous contribution. So these were arrangements which we all did together. And they were just as much arrangements as anything that was ever done by Henry Mancini in the sense of being an arranged piece of music.

GROSS: So you took Aretha down to Muscle Shoals, recorded, like, a track and a half with her. And there was this really big fight. What was the fight about?

WEXLER: (Laughter) There was an explosion that went on because of too much Jack Daniels and not enough prudence.

(LAUGHTER)

WEXLER: And it had to do with Ted White, who was Aretha's husband at the time, who got into an dangerous, over-friendly, drinking from the same jug with a gentleman who could best be described as a card-carrying redneck trumpet player. And it got into what we call the the dozens, the Southern dozens. And then it got nasty. And...

GROSS: (Laughter).

WEXLER: ...The session blew up. And we went back to New York with one song complete, which was "I Never Loved A Man" and the three-piece track on the other side, which was "Do Right Woman." And all we had there was rhythm guitar, bass and drums, which is not a whole lot to go on (laughter).

GROSS: Not even vocal.

WEXLER: No vocal. No piano. No background vocal. And then we finished by bringing Aretha and her sisters into the studio. And it was a pretty good piece of extemporization in that, starting with this very minimal track, Aretha laid down an organ part and a piano part. And then she sang the lead. And then she and her sisters got together and did the background. And it was a very full, finished record, put together - well, I'd say - with spit and chewing gum.

GROSS: You produced "Respect." Is there a story behind how the sock-it-to-mes landed on there?

(LAUGHTER)

WEXLER: Well, yeah, the story is that when Otis Redding did it, it was entirely a different song. The sock-it-to-mes were Aretha Franklin's idea where she injected into the song, which had connoted a certain idea of social respect, probably the notion of ethnic respect, combined with a little judicious lubricity on her part.

(LAUGHTER)

WEXLER: The respect that she was talking about was what you might call, very bluntly call, proper sexual attention. But it was hard...

(LAUGHTER)

WEXLER: ...Transmutation of Otis Redding's little Southern song. As a matter of fact, I was mixing the record in our studio on Broadway. And Otis walked in. He said, that little gal done took my song. But he meant that in a very kindly way because he saw the cash registers ringing.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Now, your first studio was actually the office...

WEXLER: That's right.

GROSS: ...Of Atlantic Records.

WEXLER: Right.

GROSS: Who did you - because when Atlantic was young, you didn't have a studio. So what would you do? You'd move out the chairs into the hallway whenever you wanted to record?

WEXLER: Well, we did have a studio, it was our office. And it was a studio because we had equipment in it.

GROSS: Right.

WEXLER: And my partner, Ahmet Ertegun, and I shared this big room. We had two desks that were catty-cornered, cantered toward each other. And what we would do is push them against the wall, stack them. And then our engineer, Tom Dowd, would set out camp chairs, a few microphones and one mic in the hall for echo.

GROSS: You worked with Otis Redding a lot during his career.

WEXLER: Yes. I was not Otis' producer. I want you to realize that. Otis was produced at Stax Records in Memphis by that great team of Jim Stewart and Booker T and the MG's, especially Steve Cropper.

GROSS: Now, you saw him change a lot as he became better known.

WEXLER: Oh, yes.

GROSS: What was he like in the beginning before he was very famous? What was he like onstage?

WEXLER: Otis was very simple, very unaffected. But he had the magic. And when he came to New York after his first hit record, I picked him up at the airport, no roadies, nobody, no nothing, just solo Otis. And he opened at the Apollo. And he just stood there just straight on with his arms at his side, didn't move. Another one who started like that was Marvin Gaye. But they learned some stagecraft. But what really kicked Otis into moving was having to follow Sam & Dave...

(LAUGHTER)

WEXLER: ...Who used to be described as a stage full of Jackie Wilson.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: That's really great. Now, you know, we were talking before how you brought Aretha Franklin down to Muscle Shoals, Ala. You brought Wilson Pickett down to Memphis to record. Right. You really love that Southern sound that was coming out of...

WEXLER: Right.

GROSS: ...Some of the bands there. Why'd you think of bringing him there?

WEXLER: Well, because everything was winding down in New York. I mean, it was entropy. We just couldn't get out of our own way. We had been very successful year after year. But our style of recording was regular, old time standard style using arrangers with written arrangements. Now, when you have to change an arrangement - and you almost always do to accommodate the vicissitudes of the song and where you're going - it's total agony for the entrepreneur to see that clock going around while a man is going around with an eraser erasing little notes on 13 charts.

(LAUGHTER)

WEXLER: And this Southern style of recording where it's just - all you have is chord indications. You go out, you sing a lick, do it it like this, fellows. Bang, here's the new chord, you know. But maybe that's overstating it. But actually, there's a spontaneity and fantastic new element that comes in because the musicians are organic to the idea.

GROSS: My interview with Jerry Wexler was recorded in 1993 at the Public Radio Conference in Washington, D.C. He died in 2008. In the new Aretha biopic "Respect," he's played by Marc Maron. Coming up, my interview with songwriter and studio musician Dan Penn, who wrote many of the soul hits of the '60s, including Aretha's hit "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man." This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. One of the hits that came out of Aretha Franklin's first recording session for Atlantic Records was this classic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO RIGHT WOMAN, DO RIGHT MAN")

FRANKLIN: (Singing) Take me to heart and I'll always love you. And nobody can make me do wrong. Take me for granted...

GROSS: "Do Right Woman" was co-written by Dan Penn, one of the key behind-the-scenes figures in '60s soul music as a songwriter and sometimes session guitarist in Muscle Shoals, Ala., where Aretha recorded her first hits and in Memphis. Some of the other songs he co-wrote include "I'm Your Puppet," "The Dark End Of The Street" and "Cry Like A Baby." Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, Solomon Burke and Arthur Alexander are among the singers who did his songs. When I spoke with Dan Penn in 1994, he'd just released a CD in which he sang his versions of some of his best known songs, including "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO RIGHT WOMAN, DO RIGHT MAN")

WEXLER: (Singing) Yeah, yeah. They say that it's a man's world, but honey, you can't prove that by me. And as long as we're together, baby, show some respect for me. If you want a do-right-all-day woman, you've got to be a do-right-all-night man.

GROSS: When Jerry Wexler took Aretha to record in Muscle Shoals, Ala., Dan Penn and his co-writer on "Do Right Woman," Chips Moman, gave Aretha that song to record.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DAN PENN: Jerry loved it. Aretha heard it. She liked it. But they both said it doesn't have a bridge. It needs a bridge. And I agreed. So we headed for the closet, three of us, while the band was learning it. And we wrote the bridge, Aretha, Jerry and I - (singing) they say that it's a man's world - all that.

GROSS: Now, the way the story as I've read it goes about the session in which Aretha recorded your song, "Do Right Woman," was that it was a disaster at first.

PENN: It wasn't a disaster at first. It was a disaster later. But at first, it was a wonderful session because they cut "I Never Loved A Man." And it came off - well, you know, you heard it. It came off great. And it was a wonderful session. Everybody was joyful. And it was great. And then later, when everybody got to drinking a little too much - not me, not that time. So I was just watching all the haps (ph) go down. And there were a few incidents that happened at the studio and then later on at the hotel. I didn't even go the hotel, so I didn't see the main fight, but I understood about it. But, you know, by the time the second song they cut - they only cut two songs - "Never Loved A Man" and "Do Right Woman."

And, I mean, she didn't have time to learn the song. So I had to do the song. I had to do the pilot vocal in her key with only Spooner on the Oregon and a little guitar chink and a drum and a bass hit every once in a while. It sounded awful when they left Alabama with it. And I had no hopes at that it would ever sound good at all.

But later on, Chips and I came to New York. And we're Atlantic Records. And Wexler - Jerry - said come back here with me, boys. I'm going to play you something. He took us back to this studio. And he played Aretha's - she had gone in, played piano and sang so great with her sisters. It was a great moment in our lives and probably one of the highest places I ever heard, you know, ever felt for me. It was so wonderful.

GROSS: You grew up in Vernon, Ala., which is about 80 miles south of Muscle Shoals. Alabama was very segregated when you were growing up. So what was it like for you when you started working with Black artists and becoming part of Black culture? Was it all very different to you? Were you ever uncomfortable around Black culture or did you feel very comfortable right from the start?

PENN: I felt comfortable right from the start, and I stayed comfortable right up until, well, until it was over.

GROSS: Until what was over, soul music?

PENN: Yeah, you know. I think when they killed Martin Luther King, it was over.

GROSS: What changed for you when Martin Luther King was killed?

PENN: Well, what changed for me was, you know, the Black folks didn't want to make records with white people anymore. And so since I was white, it kind of cut me out. And when we found that out, you know, we basically didn't want to do business either, so - it was a bad time.

GROSS: Were there people who you'd been very close with musically who you weren't able to work with anymore?

PENN: No. It wasn't like that. It was just like an invisible line, a curtain was drawn across the color line as far as recording. I mean, it's something you felt. It's something you knew.

GROSS: In the days before the King assassination, were you ever self-conscious about being a white songwriter in soul music?

PENN: Well, you knew you were, but I wasn't alone. I mean, there's Cropper and, you know, all these other cats - Chips and Spooner and you name it. I mean, you know, Carole King, I mean, they were all around. But no, it wasn't have self-conscious thing. It was like, hey, this is wonderful. But it wasn't like I'm not supposed to be here. It was like, oh, how lucky I am. It was fun.

GROSS: You worked at studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., and in Memphis. Was there a difference in the sound at both of those studios?

PENN: Yes, it was different, subtle differences. Oh, I always say this - the air. But I guess it's everything that's there. You know, I may not - I worked in Muscle Shoals at Fame. It had this really great basic sound. And then when I got to Memphis, I could tell a considerate different sound. It was a more exciting sound. I don't know how to say except, you know, it is a river sound. And it's - Memphis is a lower level in altitude. So I always kind of think about altitudes for sounds. Memphis was lower. It was muddier. It was funkier. And it was even more fun. Nashville is higher up. And it's more clean, more pristine, you know, more managed, less fun. Muscle Shoals is right in the middle. It has some of the funky grubby about Memphis in it but it also has some Nashville cleanness about it. So, you know, any of them sounds good, but Muscle Shoals was the place I chose when I decided to cut the record.

GROSS: Well, thank you very much for talking with us.

PENN: All right. Thank you.

GROSS: My interview with Dan Penn was recorded in 1994. His latest album, a collection of new songs, was released last year. It's called "Living On Mercy." Coming up, more of my interview with Aretha in which he talks about recording "Respect." This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PENN: This is FRESH AIR. Today's show is dedicated to Aretha Franklin, the subject of the new biopic "Respect" starring Jennifer Hudson as Aretha. We'll end today's show with more of my 1999 interview with Aretha.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Now, your second single was respect, which is, I believe, your still most-requested song. How did you end up singing this Otis Redding song?

FRANKLIN: Well, I heard Mr. Redding's version of it. I just loved it. I decided that I wanted to record it. And my sister Carolyn and I got together. I was living in a small apartment on the west side of Detroit and piano by the window watching the cars go by. And we came up with that infamous line, the sock it to me line. It was a cliche of the day. Actually, we didn't just come up with it. It really was cliche. Some of the girls were saying that to the fellows like sock it to me in this way or sock it to me in that way, nothing sexual. And it's not sexual. It was non-sexual, just a cliche line, laughing, picked it up. And it just kind of perpetuated itself and went on from there.

GROSS: Let's hear Aretha Franklin singing "Respect." What did this song mean to you when you sang it? I mean, really, part of the backdrop of this song - it was a hit during the civil rights movement. And I think, you know, "Respect" had a lot of meanings in the song for your listeners, one was, you know, just the respect you wanted from a man in a relationship. But it also had, I think, a larger resonance with the civil rights movement, you know, a kind of larger, social, cultural sense of respect.

FRANKLIN: Yes. In later times it was picked up as a battle cry by the civil rights movement. But when I recorded it, it was pretty much a male-female kind thing and more in a general sense, from person to person - I'm going to give you respect, and I'd like to have that respect back. Or I expect respect to be given back.

GROSS: You know, as we mentioned, the song, I think, resonated with the civil rights movement. Your family was good friends with Martin Luther King. How well did you know Dr. King?

FRANKLIN: Dr. King was a family friend and a very good friend of my dad's. And occasionally, he would come to Detroit and spend time in our home or at our church, at my dad's church. I went out in the early days of the civil rights movement and did some performances for him along with Esther Marrow and Harry Belafonte and different other vocalist, Bernard Lee, who was a foot soldier - Reverend Jackson - with Dr. King in those days.

GROSS: Aretha Franklin, thank you so much for talking with us.

FRANKLIN: Thank you. It's been my pleasure. And thank you so much for having me.

GROSS: My interview with Aretha Franklin was recorded in 1999. If you want to see how Jennifer Hudson portrays Aretha, check out the new biopic "Respect."

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we begin our Summer of Soul series with interviews from our archive highlighting some of the singers and musicians featured in "Summer Of Soul," this summer's documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. The film showcases performances from the festival, along with new interviews about how the festival reflected changes in Black music and culture. Over the next few days, we'll hear from Gladys Knight, Mavis Staples, B.B. King, Hugh Masekela, Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln. Tomorrow, we'll hear from the film's director Ahmir Questlove Thompson, founder of the band The Roots, which is the house band for "The Tonight Show." He's also famous for his almost encyclopedic knowledge of soul, R&B, hip-hop and pop. I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NATURAL WOMAN")

FRANKLIN: (Singing) Looking out on the morning rain. I used to feel so uninspired. And when I knew I had to face another day, Lord, it made me feel so tired. Before the day I met you, life was so unkind. But you're the key to my peace of mind, 'cause you make me feel, you make me feel, you make me feel like a natural woman, woman. When my soul was in the lost and found...

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ROOTS' "SACRIFICE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.