Jerry Lawson -- Original Lead Singer of The Persuasions -- Releases
Solo Debut Record on Red Beet at Age 71
On April 28, Red Beet Records is proudly releasing Just a Mortal Man, the first solo album by one of the greatest singers ever, Jerry Lawson.
Jerry is the founding lead singer of the legendary vocal group The Persuasions, who for decades kept the art of a cappella singing alive in the days before "Glee" and "The Sing-Off."
Just a Mortal Man, the record that Jerry long dreamed of making, almost turned out to be his epitaph.
Last year, just as the album was being readied for release, Jerry was stricken with a torn esophagus and a collapsed lung. He lay in a hospital bed in Phoenix, hooked up to a ventilator and feeding tubes, barely able to speak, let alone sing. There was a real chance that one of music's finest voices would be silenced.
“I didn’t see that light they talk about, but I did keep hearing the words to that song,” says Jerry, who spent three months in the hospital fighting his way back to health. He's talking about the song that gave the album its title, "I'm Just a Mortal Man."
“I was just thinking to myself this morning
Just how helpless I really am, helpless, Lord
I was lucky. I didn’t die, and I'm still singing. Like the song says, I’m still down here doing the best I can.”
And in Jerry's case, his best is better than ever.
Just a Mortal Man came to pass because of a thank you note. In 1999, Red Beet owner Eric Brace -- then a writer for The Washington Post -- wrote an article previewing a concert by The Persuasions, and declared Jerry Lawson to be the best soul tenor since Sam Cooke. Two weeks later he received a pen-on-paper 'thank you' note from Jerry. The two quickly became friends and promised to someday make an album together. That "someday" has finally arrived.
Recorded over the past two years in Nashville and in Jerry’s hometown of Phoenix (where he manages a home for disabled adults), Just a Mortal Man is the record he has always wanted to make. “All my life I’ve wanted to perform and record with a band," says Jerry. "This album is a dream come true. After all those years with The Persuasions, this is me, standing on my own. I’m finally getting the chance to show the world another side of Jerry Lawson.”
Through his decades with The Persuasions, Jerry’s lead singing, electrifying stage presence, and arrangements of everything from early gospel to Kurt Weill to Bob Dylan and Frank Zappa, defined the group. Rolling Stone rated The Persuasions’ 1977 album, Chirpin’, one of the 100 best works of the 1970s. They toured with Joni Mitchell, and shared bills with Ray Charles, Little Richard, Stevie Wonder, Solomon Burke, and Bruce Springsteen. They sang with Paul Simon on “Saturday Night Live,” and played dozens of times at the Apollo Theater, where they are immortalized on that legendary venue’s mural of performers. Tom Waits said of The Persuasions, “These guys are deep sea divers. I'm just a fisherman in a boat."
With elegance, heart, and soul, Jerry makes the thirteen songs on Just a Mortal Man his own, songs from a diverse group of writers including Paul Simon, Robert Hunter, Ayo, Phil Lee, Peter Cooper, and producer Eric Brace. And he pays tribute to two of his heroes, recording tunes originally done by The Temptations’ David Ruffin and Bobby “Blue” Bland. The recordings feature a core band of Nashville's finest: Joe Pisapia on electric guitar and bass, Jen Gunderman on keyboards, and Duane Blevins on drums.
While guest musicians like Jim Lauderdale and The McCrary Sisters also make appearances on Just a Mortal Man, the album is about Jerry, singing with a sweet and smoky voice that's only grown richer throughout his 71 years.
Just a Mortal Man is a work of merit and consequence. It is full of soul and sweat. It is rollicking and contemplative, melancholy and mighty. It is Jerry Lawson’s work of a lifetime.