Jerry Lawson - lead; Jimmy Hayes - bass; Herbert "Toubo" Rhoad - baritone; Jayotis Washington - first tenor; Ray Sanders - second tenor
No group is more responsible for keeping the flame burning for a cappella music than The Persuasions. They began singing together in Brooklyn during the early 1960s, bridging the gap between the classic doo-wop groups of the 1950s and the multi-layered rhythm & blues vocal groups of the 1960s. Maintaining a high level of consistency, the group soon became the ultimate example of vocal harmony. Much of their material during their first two decades focused on classic 1950s and 1960s doo-wop, R&B and pop music, with the occasional contemporary hit thrown in to challenge their arranging abilities. The group's vision to incorporate everything from doo-wop, gospel, country, rock and roll, R&B, soul and anything in between, led them to pursue a career that has covered a wide range of musical genres and has spawned multiple generations of devoted fans.
Frontman and lead vocalist, Jerry Lawson, is one of the greatest ever, with a style raw, soulful and punchy. His loose, almost raunchy vocals were explosively engaging, roughing up the edges on a style of music known for its cleanliness and perfection. This fact, along with the entire group's gifted vocal abilities and willingness to defy classification, made them visionaries among the genre. First tenor, Jayotis Washington, was from Detroit and added a Motown sensibility to the group, in addition to his soaring high tenor. Second tenor, Joe Russell, who began singing in southern churches, was blessed with the most powerful voice in the outfit and he brought a strong gospel element to the group's sound. Jimmy Hayes, the bass singer, has one of the deepest voices in the business, and he along with the solid baritone of Herbert Rhoad, provided not only the bottom but also the glue that holds the group's unique sound together.
This performance, recorded during the September 1973 tour of Europe, opening for Lou Reed's controversial Berlin tour, captures The Persuasions during a magical time. They were sailing on the commercial success of Streetcorner Symphony, their most popular album to date, and they were in top form on this tour. It might be difficult to imagine audiences that were embracing the decadence of this era of Lou Reed appreciating The Persuasions, but indeed they do.
The group opens with the Del Vikings' classic "Come Go With Me," setting a level of vocal arrangement excellence that would be difficult to surpass. However, they do just that as they explore a wide range of music during the remainder of this memorable performance. The set continues by digging back to the roots of a cappella music with a medley of "Raise 'Em High" and "I Just Can't Work No Longer," vintage-era work songs that exude the redemptive qualities that helped prisoners cope with a chain gang existence. Appropriately enough, this is followed by a soaring rendition of Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang," which displays phenomenal vocal dynamics from all involved, particularly Jimmy Hayes' remarkably deep bass vocal. The group next tosses in a contemporary song, with their own unique reading of Bill Wither's "Lean On Me," before The Persuasions' incredible vocal blends, as well as their sense of humor, permeates an excellent rendition of the Harvey & The Moonglows classic, "The Ten Commandments of Love" (which would also be covered by countless others, including Bob Marley & The Wailers).
Nearing the end of their set, the group delivers two remarkable medleys. The first manages to compress no less than eight classic vocal numbers into a little over four minutes, providing an ever-changing stroll down memory lane. The second, a tribute to Jimmy Reed, features bluesy takes on "Baby What You Want Me to Do" and "Bright Lights, Big City" that are highly compelling. Ironically enough, The Persuasions close their set and prepare the audience for the onslaught of Lou Reed's Rock N Roll Animal era performance with an outstanding arrangement of "The Lord's Prayer!" A piece of music certainly never intended for applause, the audience's reaction is ecstatic and they demand an encore. Although brief, The Persuasions return to the Sam Cooke catalog with a lovely rendition of "Loved You Most Of All" to close the set.
Throughout this performance, Jerry Lawson alternates between crooning, riffing and belting out the lead vocal, propelling the others. With no instrumental accompaniment whatsoever, The Persuasions deliver a set which avoids the delicate approach of other a cappella groups and instead soars to sweaty, ecstatic heights, propelled by their vocal arrangements alone, which are far beyond impressive.