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Just a Mortal Man
Release date: 4.28.15
Label: Red Beet Records
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At 71, Jerry Lawson - Original Lead Singer of The Persuasions - Releases His Debut Solo Album, Just a Mortal Man, April 28Read More
“By any fair measure, Lawson is really one of the best singers of the last 50 years – up there with Sam Cooke, Brook Benton, Jerry Butler, and Nat King Cole.” – Music writer Rip Rense
Born January 23, 1944, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Jerry Lawson grew up in the small town of Apopka, where he began singing at age five with the New Hope Baptist Church choir. In his teens he listened at night to WLAC out of Nashville, its clear channel signal easily reaching the Grundy radio that Lawson’s mother had bought him.
It was that station’s legendary R&B broadcasters that first introduced Lawson to the likes of Lloyd Price, Chuck Berry, Charles Brown, the Coasters, the Del-Vikings, and many more. “My uncle had a juke joint called the Two Spot,” says Lawson. “And it had a jukebox, with the bubbles and all the beautiful lights. He would let me pick the records to put in there whenever the record man would come around, because I listened to the radio and I knew all the hits. I used to play those records on that jukebox over and over and sing along. I knew every song.”
During the summers, Lawson would stay with family in Philadelphia, and he gradually felt the gravitational pull of New York City. “I’d heard about the Apollo Theater and I knew I needed to go to New York,” he says. “I knew I wasn’t going to stay in Apopka picking oranges.” At age 17, he convinced a friend with a car to drive him to New York in exchange for an old television set. His ride dropped him off on the corner of Fulton and Nostrand Avenues in Brooklyn, and Lawson knew he’d landed where he wanted to be.
“My first job was at a print shop, where they printed album covers,” he remembers. “I used to look at those pictures, of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis. He had that record where he was wearing that Christmas sweater. I really liked that sweater, man. I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to be on that album cover. Little did I know!” He joined a vocal group called the Shufflers, who won a talent show at the Apollo, earning them a regular slot at the legendary theater. “I couldn’t believe I was singing there where all my heroes were singing. I knew that was what I should do with my life.”
Wide receiver or lead singer? That was the choice that faced Jerry Lawson as he was slammed to the ground after a catch one summer day in 1969, playing for a Brooklyn semi-pro football team. The New York Jets had their eye on Lawson, a big deal for a kid from Apopka, Florida – but Lawson was rethinking things. “That guy, he rung my bell pretty good that day,” Lawson remembers. “I said to myself: I’m gonna sing. You can’t get hurt singing.”
Besides being his team’s star receiver, Lawson was the lead singer for a young vocal group called The Persuasions. They were well known in Brooklyn, five friends whose voices could be heard on corners and in parks around the borough. One man who loved their singing was Stan Krause, who owned Stan’s Square Records, a shop in Jersey City. “He heard us when we beat fourteen other bands at a talent show at the State Theatre in New Brunswick,” says Jerry. “Stan’s friend, Dave Dashev, said there was a man in California who needed to hear us sing. So we went to his record store and he called up this man in California and held up the phone. We sang that Curtis Mayfield song, ‘I Can’t Work No Longer.’ That man on the other end of the line was Frank Zappa.” To Lawson, Frank Zappa was just a guy with a funny name, but he convinced Lawson and The Persuasions to record with his label, Straight Records.
Zappa launched The Persuasions on a spectacular career. They made album after album over the next few decades, blending R&B, soul, pop, psychedelic rock, standards, doo-wop, jazz, and folk with just their voices. They sang with Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Chuck Berry, Rod Stewart, and dozens more stars in the firmament of popular music - helping keep a cappella singing alive, while setting a new standard for the genre. They paid tribute to artists as diverse as Zappa, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan with just their voices, on albums brilliantly arranged by Lawson. Chirpin', their 1977 release, was hailed by Rolling Stone as one of the top 100 LPs of the 1970s. Through almost 40 years, 22 albums, and thousands of performances around the globe, Lawson’s sweet and smoky lead baritone and his electrifying stage charisma defined the group’s sound.
“You know, I didn’t know anything about a cappella music when I started singing,” Lawson admits. “It came about because when I first started singing with The Persuasions, a band wasn’t always available or didn't show up for the gig. I’d apologize to the audience, and people would say, ‘Y'all don’t need a band.’ So I came to feel it was my calling to preserve the dying art of a cappella with The Persuasions.”
Following his departure from The Persuasions in 2003, Lawson connected with another vocal group, Talk of the Town. Together they recorded an album, Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town, as well as appeared on NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” reminding a new generation of music fans that Lawson should be on everyone’s list of all-time greats.
Now, at age 71, Lawson is finally releasing an album of music under his own name: a solo debut, titled Just a Mortal Man, to be released on East Nashville label Red Beet Records. With the help of Grammy-nominated producer Eric Brace, Lawson transforms a selection of new and classic songs with his astonishingly rich voice. This is a chance for the world to hear one of the greatest singers ever, front and center, as he has never been heard before.
“What Persuasions fans don’t know is that all my life I’ve been wanting to record with instruments,” says Lawson. “Now I’m finally getting the chance.” On Just a Mortal Man, Lawson covers songs recorded by soul greats David Ruffin and Bobby “Blue” Bland, as well as songs by Brace, Peter Cooper, Phil Lee, Ayo, Robert Hunter, and Paul Simon. The record features The McCrary Sisters and Jim Lauderdale as special guests, and will be released in April 2015.