Atlantic Records, that's what.
If I told you that a slight, unassuming Turkish immigrant would be one of the giants of American rock'n'roll, you probably say "Huh?"
Ahmet Ertegun passed away today. How incredibly sad for American music. I met him and worked with him several times at Capitol Studios, and he was a gentleman.
From wikipedia, because it's true:
Ahmet Ertegün, producer Tom Dowd, Herb Abramson and others created Atlantic Records in the late 1940s as an independent record company that became, with the added partnership of Jerry Wexler, a jazz and pop empire in the 1960s. Their first success came in rhythm and blues (R&B), with such artists as Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, The Clovers, The Drifters, and Ray Charles. Regarding Charles, Ahmet Ertegün is quoted as saying "First time I saw Ray I told him, 'You are the fucking end, you know.'"
During the 1960s, Ahmet heard Led Zeppelin's demo and knew they would be a smash hit after hearing the first few songs. He quickly signed them. He also convinced Crosby, Stills and Nash to allow Neil Young to join them on one of their tours, thereby founding Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
Ahmet also used his considerable personal skills in negotiations with major stars, such as when The Rolling Stones were shopping for a record company to distribute their independent Rolling Stones Records label. Ertegun personally conducted the negotiations with Mick Jagger, successfully completing the deal between The Stones and Atlantic, when other labels had actually offered the band more money.
Who else was signed to Atlantic?
And many, many more.
Here's a great picture of Ahmet, at the Cream reunion concert:
Here's a list of Atlantic artists. Yes, there's some filler and crap. But if any modern, youth oriented label had a tenth of that discography, they'd be billionaires. Instead we are force fed Ashley Simpson.
But thanks forever, Ahmet. The universe sings more sweetly because of you.
Update: Yes, Led Zepplin, Cream and others aren't American. Still...