Jerry Lawson, former lead singer, arranger and producer of a cappella gods The Persuasions is a national vocal treasure on par with Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield, Otis Redding, Jerry Butler and Nat King Cole. Through the decades Lawson’s fans and collaborators have included Frank Zappa, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Rod Stewart, the Grateful Dead and Liza Minnelli.
Jerry was born in Ft Lauderdale, Florida but raised in Apopka, Florida a small town 12 miles North of Orlando. Upon graduating from high school in 1961 he headed North and landed in Brooklyn N.Y. which is where he and the other four original Persuasions began their 40-year career together. After decades of carrying the a cappella torch largely alone, Lawson’s departure in 2003 ended The Persuasions’ 40-year run. But launching a solo career thinking he was “done with a cappella forever” didn’t quite work out. Lawson could not resist pairing up with the veteran San Francisco vocal group Talk Of The Town. Together in 2007 they recorded his magnum opus a cappella album, “Jerry Lawson & Talk of The Town” —a triumph of 20 Lawson-arranged tunes including covers of The Dixie Chicks, Marvin Gaye, Shania Twain, Billy Joel, The Pointer Sisters and many other popular artists. From gospel to ballads to rock to blues. Between this and doing gigs with R&B and Jazz groups in his adopted city of Phoenix, Arizona, he also began working with developmentally disabled adults.
In 2015 his baritone pipes honed and honeyed, Lawson released his debut solo album, “Just a Mortal Man,” produced by Nashville’s Grammy-nominated Eric Brace. The album title nearly became his epitaph. (While in the hospital for a knee replacement, he developed a lethal infection that nearly took his life. Somehow he battled back with body, spirit, and trademark voice intact.) With a host of some of Nashville’s finest musicians backing him, Lawson created an elegant, polished work that is a tour-de-force for his one-of-a-kind voice, covering everything from gentle country to rock ‘n’ roll. He co-wrote one of the songs, “Woman in White,” with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, and finally got to do “Just a Mortal Man,” with a band. As of this printing The album is getting nothing—nothing—but breathless, panting endorsements. In 2015 this living legend is still at the top of his game. David McGee of Deep Roots Magazine wrote “Jerry Lawson is a great stylist with an infallible instinct for the essence of every song he sings. With the Persuasions Jerry Lawson made many great recordings but Just a Mortal Man is his finest hour, a master class in basic human emotions in all their complexity and inscrutability.”
The Persuasions – a short history
In 1969 Frank Zappa heard The Persuasions singing live over the phone in a New Jersey record shop, picked his jaw up off the ground and promptly flew the group to Los Angeles to record their first album “A cappella”. Thus began a 25-album recording career that focused on R&B, Soul, Pop but also included full album tributes to Frank Zappa, The Grateful Dead and The Beatles and even an acclaimed children’s album “On The Good Ship Lollipop” Through it all The Persuasions’ sound was defined by Lawson’s sweet and smoky baritone, his effortlessly organic vocal arrangements and his electrifying stage charisma. The group has been universally lauded as the “Kings of A cappella”, with modern groups such as Take 6, Rockapella, The Nylons and Boys II Men citing them as a major influence.