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 multilayered 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.
Front man and lead vocalist, Jerry Lawson, is one of the greatest ever, with a raw, soulful and punchy style. His loose almost raunchy vocals were explosively engaging, roughing up the edges on a style of music known for its cleanliness and perfection. This 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 and 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-end but the glue that holds the groups unique sound together.
This performance, recorded at the Santa Monica Civic Center when The Persuasions opened for Lou Reed, captures the group 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. It could be difficult to imagine a Lou Reed audience appreciating The Persuasions but indeed they do.
The group opens with a touching performance of the Johnny Ace classic "Anymore," followed by the Del Vikings' "Come Go With Me," setting a level of vocal 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 "I'm Going Home," "Raise 'Em High" and "I Just Can't Work No Longer," vintage-era work songs that exude the redemptive qualities that helped prisoners contend with a chain gang existence. Appropriately enough, this is followed by a soaring rendition of Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang," which displays remarkable vocal dynamics from all involved, particularly Jimmy Hayes remarkably deep bass vocal.
The set only gets better as it progresses with highlights including Leiber and Stoller's, "Drip Drop"(originally recorded by The Drifters), the thought provoking antiwar song "My Only Son" and a pairing of the spirituals "Calling On You," and "Get On Board." Two remarkable medleys are also featured. The first manages to compress sequences from eight classic vocal numbers into four minutes, providing an ever-changing stroll down memory lane. The second is a tribute to Jimmy Reed, featuring bluesy takes of "Baby What You Want Me to Do" and "Bright Lights, Big City" that concludes the set in fine style.
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 that 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. (Bershaw)