Trail Mix – Jerry Lawson

Jerry Lawson, former lead singer of The Persuasions, drops his first solo record at age 71.

If Jerry Lawson has seen the show Glee, or either of the Pitch Perfect movies, I have to imagine that he thought to himself, “Been there, done that.”

Long before kids across the county were stricken with a cappella fever, Jerry Lawson had already retired after forty years as the front man and arranger for The Persuasions, one of modern music’s premiere a cappella groups.

Lawson, a native of Florida, developed a love for music early in life. He was singing in church by the age of six, deejaying in his uncle’s juke joint, The Two Spot, as a teenager, and he doubled as both star wide receiver and trumpet player in high school, snagging touchdowns for four quarters and then marching with the band during half time.

A move to New York after high school brought about the creation of The Persuasions in 1962. Forty years and twenty albums later, Lawson retired from the music business and headed to Arizona and a job working with disabled adults. Soon thereafter, though, Lawson was back to playing music at jazz clubs around Phoenix and soon started singing with Talk Of The Town, an a cappella group based out of California. Jerry and Talk of the Town even ended up being featured on NBC’s The Sing Off.

All of that led to this year’s Just a Mortal Man, Lawson’s first solo release. Backed up by a band for the first time on a recording, Lawson’s voice has never sounded better, and this collection of tunes serves notice that Jerry Lawson deserves mention in any conversation about great singers in American history.

I recently chatted with Jerry about the new record, wine, and the difference between recording with an a cappella group versus working with a band.

BRO – You retired from The Persuasions in 2002, but you never really left music. She’s a tough mistress to quit, right?

JL – Well, when you’re born with it, it doesn’t leave you. Of course, without my manager, Julie, it probably would have ended because nobody would have known how to find me! But, yeah, I have been singing since I was six, as far as I can remember. I started doing solos in my church, New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, in Apopka, Florida. Since leaving The Persuasions, I have been busy with a variety of recording, arranging, and producing projects and performing with jazz trios, R&B bands, and even some a cappella.

BRO – You have been in the music business for over fifty years, but this is your first solo record. Why now?

JL – You’ll have to ask God that one! I supposed I could have left The Persuasions much sooner, but I really wanted to be the one lead singer who didn’t leave their group to go solo.

BRO – How is this project different than you a cappella work of the past?

JL – Well, there’s the obvious in that it’s not a cappella! I’ve gone from no instruments to some great musicians and great arrangements. I didn’t have to teach the parts to anybody because they had charts! Also, I chose all the material for The Persuasions, but all but three songs for this project were chosen for me. Eric Brace (Grammy nominated producer) had a great idea of the material that I’d love. He knew I love lyrics and love to tell a story through song.

BRO – We are featuring “Wine” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?

JL – That song makes me laugh, because I sure did my share of drinking. I liked the song when I first heard it, but Peter Cooper, who wrote it, would have to tell you the story behind it.

BRO – Speaking of wine, I am a cabernet sauvignon guy. How about you?

JL – Well, I grew up in my uncle’s juke joint, so I started out on homemade brew. But I haven’t had a drink in sixteen years. Before I quit, I liked Hennessy and vodka.

Jerry Lawson will be in Washington, D.C., at Blues Alley for two shows on July 7th.

For more information on Jerry, his long career in music, or how you can get a copy of Just a Mortal Man, check out Jerry’s website. Also, check out the work the good folks at Red Beet Records are doing while you are at it.

And, of course, be sure to take a listen to “Wine” on this month’s Trail Mix.

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