Jerry Lawson - lead; Jimmy Hayes - bass; Herbert "Toubo" Rhoad - baritone; Jayotis Washington - first tenor; Joe Russell - 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 'n' 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.
Front man Jerry Lawson is one of the greatest vocalists 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 classifications, 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 provide not only the bottom, but the glue that holds the group's unique sound together.
This performance, recorded in the Beatles hometown of Liverpool, 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 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 recording begins in progress, just prior to the group's soaring rendition of Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang." This number immediately displays impressive vocal dynamics from all involved, particularly the remarkably deep bass vocal of Jimmy Hayes. The group next performs a contemporary song, with their soulful reading of Bill Wither's "Lean On Me." The Persuasions incredible vocal blends, as well as their sense of humor, next permeate an outstanding rendition of the Harvey & the Moonglows classic, "The Ten Commandments of Love" (which would also be covered by countless others, including Bob Marley and the Wailers). A remarkable medley follows, with the Persuasions skillfully compressing sequences from eight classic vocal numbers into four minutes, providing an ever-changing stroll down memory lane.
As the group approaches the end of their stage time, they deliver the most penetrating song of their set with a truly remarkable reading of Delia Gartrell's 1971 anti-Vietnam War anthem, "See What You Done Done (Hymn No. 9)." This dark, extremely sad song carries a political weight unlike anything else in the set, touching on the darkest hours of the Civil Rights era, the Vietnam War, and the plague of drug addiction that many soldiers brought back with them following their tour of duty. Without a trace of optimism, this is a riveting performance that once heard is not soon forgotten. Perhaps to counterbalance the extremely disturbing nature of the previous song, the Persuasions close their set and prepare the audience for the onslaught of Lou Reed with a far more hopeful arrangement of "The Lord's Prayer."
Throughout this highly compelling 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 that avoids the delicate approach of other a cappella groups. Instead they soar to sweaty, ecstatic heights, propelled by their vocal arrangements alone, which are far beyond impressive.