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The great Jerry Lawson.


    We invite all Persuasions fans to submit their recollections of encountering The Persuasions, whether joining them on stage to sing, or just sitting in the back row, listening. Send all submissions to:

Thirty-Eight Years and No Band---
But the Persuasions Never Needed One

Associated Press Writer, April, 2000

    The key to the Persuasions' sound, if not their success, is summed up succinctly by lead singer Jerry Lawson.

    "Thirty-eight years and we still ain't got no band, man!" he says,his good humor shining through on a coast-to-coast phone call. "That's the story right there."

   In those 38 years, the New York City group has become revered as "The Kings of a Cappella" by a small but devoted fan base. The Persuasions have recorded doo wop, blues, gospel and pop songs, all with no sound other than their own voices blended in glorious harmony.

    Now, they are ready to release their 21st album, "Frankly A Cappella, The Persuasions Sing Zappa."

    It's the vocal sextet's take on 16 of avant-garde rocker Frank Zappa's works, everything from "Lumpy Gravy" to "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama" to a couple of tracks too scatological to name here.

    "We had to really go over all the songs closely," Lawson says, to find ones that would fit the Persuasions' voices and at the same time not prove too surprising to the group's audience.

    "But afterward," he adds delightedly, "I played this for my mother and my mother loved it."

    She wasn't the only one.

    "I think it's stunning," says Zappa's widow, Gail.

    Would her husband, who died of cancer in 1993, have approved?

    "I think he would have thought it was adorable of them," she says, laughing.

    "I can't believe they wanted to remember Frank in this way."

    It was Zappa, the brilliant instrumentalist, who signed the struggling vocal harmony group to his independent label Straight in 1969 and brought out their first album, "A Cappella," the next year.

    It was followed by 19 more releases, while the Persuasions attracted fans around the world through constant touring. They performed with everyone from Liza Minnelli to Country Joe McDonald, Joni Mitchell to the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

    Music executives never knew how to    market a black a cappella group that could perform a Paul Simon song as    well as one by the Moonglows. Commercial radio, unable to decide which    format they fit, virtually ignored the Persuasions.

    "To do this 38 years without having a band and never having a hit record, something is guiding us," says Jimmy Hayes, the singer whose bass voice anchors the Persuasions' sound.

    "Nobody is put on this Earth just to occupy space and breathe air,"    he continues. "I think our purpose on this Earth is just to do what we're doing."

    That's to sing.

    Just a handful of guys blending their voices on any song that catches their fancy. That's all the Persuasions have ever done, through good times and bad.

    When they first began getting together at the end of the day in Brooklyn back in 1962, Hayes recalls, they didn't even have a name.

    "It was just five guys who used to stand on the corner or go down to the subway station every night and just do this," he says. "This lady heard us one time and told us, 'You guys sound pretty good. What's the name of the group?' We said, 'We ain't got no name. We're just five guys singing on the street.'"

    Then, Lawson remembers, "Jimmy Hayes came to us and said, 'I got a name for us, and I got it from the Bible.' He said Christ tried to persuade his disciples to follow him, and what better name for us than the Persuasions, when we're trying to get people to listen to this music without a band."

    "Actually it was Persuaders," Hayes says, chuckling. "But it was the '60s and all the groups had names ending in IONS _ Temptations, Swee Inspirations. ... So we became the Persuasions."

    The next step was to persuade someone to hire them.

    "Oh it was rough, man, it was really rough," recalls Lawson. "It was    rock 'n' roll and all the club owners, they wanted the boom and the bang."

    Finally, they sang outside one New York club well enough that people stopped going inside. Suddenly, they had a job there.

    The original five---Lawson, Hayes, Joe Russell, Jayotis Washington and Toubo Rhoad---stayed together until Rhode's death in 1988. The     survivors wouldn't replace him for eight years, until B.J. Jones of the Drifters joined them. Last year they added Raymond Sanders, who had been with the Paragons.

    Despite their difficulty breaking through to a mainstream audience, the Persuasions kept their fans. It was one fan named David Dashev, a music writer, who pitched a tape of them to Zappa in 1969.

    Thirty years later, another fan, Rip Rense, came forward to promote "On the Good Ship Lollipop," a children's album released last year, and the Zappa project to Music For Little People and its companion label, Earthbeat Records.

    "They've never gotten their due," says Rense, a Los Angeles-based writer. "They're the greatest, most enduring American a cappella group. In another country like Japan they'd be declared a living treasure."

    The band members, in their 50s now, say they aren't ready for legend status. They just want to keep working.

    "We're like wine," says Hayes. "You know what I mean? We get better with age." 


 "Might As Well: The Persuasions Sing Grateful Dead," in four memorable columns:


-- Article written specially for the site by
FLOYD KUCHARSKI of  Kingsford, Michigan.

floydticket.jpg (88353 bytes)

My rusty old Dodge van swayed from side to side at sixty miles an hour along westbound Jeffrey’s Freeway. Cold sharp winds slapped at her sides, threatening to either shove us into a guardrail or send us skidding out of control across the wide slick patches of ice which lay on the road.

Dense clouds of thick frosty snowflakes swirled down from the sky and filled the horizon, dropping visibility to near zero.

The date was January 24, 1985, and although it was a perilous night to be out for a drive I had no thought of turning back home to Detroit. I was heading for a college town and someplace called Joe’s Star Lounge, where the Persuasions were scheduled to perform before a live audience.

I knew it would be a remarkable concert; I didn’t know, though, that the Persuasions would introduce me to "the Family of Man" and include me in a Norman Rockwell painting.

This would be my first live concert, but I had been collecting Persuasion music since discovering them in the late l970’s. My love for pure a cappella is something I was born with – a gift from our Creator, if you will – and my admiration for the Persuasions came straight from the soul.

I loved their rich soaring harmonies. I thrilled to Jimmy Hayes’ incredible, relentless bass. Most of all I admired their signature tune, "Still Ain’t Got No Band," which I first heard on their 1984 "No Frills" album.

"We’ve been making music all these years, and we still ain’t got no band!" the lyrics proclaimed. I instinctively understood this. "That’s because they don’t need to hide behind loud drums or fancy synthesizers or anything like that," I would tell my friends.

"They can stand on their own!"

Back in ’85 I couldn’t possibly have foreseen how much my life would change over future years. Mom would die. Dad would die. Me eldest son would die. I would go through a divorce, finally put a cork in the jug, and three years later retire from my career, and then move completely away from the big city.

And I didn’t foresee that the Persuasions would also overcome disappointment and heartache, then carry their torch into the new millennium singing about life and spirituality with even more vim and harmony than before, not to mention the added wisdom and maturity their life experiences would give them.

That night in ’85 all I could think of was "it sure is cold tonight … and windy … keep your eyes on the road … don’t miss your turn …"

Although word of the Persuasions' appearance had been passed along mostly by word of mouth, Joe’s Star Lounge was absolutely packed that evening! Before the show I sat drinking beer and watching a small doorman with a long blond pony tail turn away one prospective customer after another.

"Why can’t they come in?" I asked him.

"Ya can’t come in without a ticket," he replied. "Look around. The place is already full and more people keep coming. Where we gonna put them all?"

Then I went back to my table with another beer, wiped frost off a window so I could look outside, and discovered that the people who had been turned away were still outside, standing in little groups. An icy wind ripped at their coats. It blew swirls of frigid snow around their ankles and under jacket collars, but there they stood, shivering in the street.

"What are they waiting for?" I wondered.

Inside the lounge, the group had performed standards such as "Ain’t That Good News," along with newer material, and lead singer Jerry Lawson had entertained us between sets with friendly patter and funny stories. And then I discovered what we had all been waiting for.

Right around 10:30 I glanced down at my watch and thought to myself, "It’s getting late. Show’s almost over!" Then on impulse I turned back toward the window to again wipe frost off the glass and peer into the night, and I realized that those little knots of people were still standing outside, shivering in the bitter cold air, still waiting.

And at that moment I witnessed a little miracle. Lounge management somehow began piping the music outside, where the "street people" could hear it. As the Persuasions sang, their sweet harmonies radiated outdoors and into the roadway, whereupon the little knots of people began moving in slow unison off the street and toward the lounge.

I had the distinct impression that they were moving out of the bitter cold, toward the comforting warmth of the Persuasions' peace and harmony, much as rural families might gather around a farmhouse fireplace to warm their bones and escape deep winter’s chill.

"We’re all came here tonight for the same reason," I realized. "We are all part of the Family of Man, and we came here tonight to let the Persuasions warm our spirits. We’re all gathered before a glowing cosmic hearth, warming our souls with the hottest a cappella this side of Heaven."

I would later learn the term a cappella means "in the chapel, a reference to the pure vocal music of the Middle Ages," which may account for the deeply spiritual character of my experience that night. Maybe that’s also why I felt as though I was sitting inside of a living breathing Norman Rockwell painting, straight off the cover of an old Saturday Evening Post, sharing hearth and kinship with other Family members.

I drove home that night and couldn’t sleep. Something in my life had begun to change.

I have retold this story ever since, repeatedly, to any friend who will listen and try to understand.

That night in ’85, I did not foresee that the Persuasions would continue to perform into l999, still intact after 36 years on the road, 22 albums, not a hit record to show for all of it, and especially, the death of beloved baritone Herbert "Toubo" Rhoad, who had been described as the group’s "glue."

I wouldn’t have predicted that this year they would release a pair of vigorous, magnificent albums – You’re All I want for Christmas, and Good Ship Lollipop – and that, just as 35 years ago, the only sound we would hear is the human voice: founding members Jerry Lawson at lead baritone; Sweet Joe Russell at tenor and falsetto; Jayotis Washington at tenor; Jimmy Hayes at bass; and new member B.J. Jones, a former Drifter.

Performing strictly a cappella through nearly four decades, these gentlemen "still ain’t got no band!"

And ain’t it grand?

Singing with power and conviction, their outright refusal to "go commercial" and hide their voices behind loud noisy instruments gives us hope, because their success demonstrates that good things can endure hardship and changing times.

Today their brilliant lyrics and harmonies cheer hearts and raise spirits across the globe. It is their music which we hear inside our heads upon arising each morning, eating breakfast, walking the dog, or communing with our Higher Power.

Their message to the Family of Man is clear. "Know who you are. Be what you are. Have faith in yourself. Walk through life at the Creator’s side, singing your own song, the one He gave you."

Because A cappella is "the people’s music" and meant to be shared, I talk about this often with Family members. "How do you spell ‘a cappella’ and what’s it mean?" they ask.

I tell them, "You spell it ‘Persuasions.’ "

And it means "honesty, liberty, the freedom to walk through life without absolutely no crutch of any kind."

Finally, I always add, "Hey, I ain’t got no band either. I’ve kept the jug corked for eleven years so far. But can I tell you about a night in back l985 when I witnessed a little miracle? See, I was driving my old brown Dodge van down the Jeffreys freeway, and it was snowing to beat the band, and …"


By Roxanne Roberts

Friday morning Jerry Dovberg was a portly, middle-aged podiatrist. Friday night he was a doo-wop heartthrob crooning "In the Still of the Night" like a man who'd spent his whole life singing on a Philly street corner. He was smooth, he was sweaty, and he was having the time of his life.

"He looked like a star," said his wife, Sandi. "He was great!"

Dovberg was just one of the 1,000 jazz aficionados at Friday's "Jazzmatazz," a black-tie gala benefiting Children's National Medical Center. For one evening, the Ronald Reagan Building was transformed into four music clubs with performances by Ramsey Lewis, Shirley Horn, Jonathan Butler, Loston Harris, Pieces of a Dream, the Persuasions, Spur of the Moment and Julia Nixon. Partygoers floated from room to room sipping blue martinis, listening to great jazz, and staying up way past their normal bedtime.

So Dovberg, a guy in a tuxedo and red bow tie, found himself singing onstage with the Persuasions--the ones in the purple suits and sunglasses. "I've been a fan of a cappella music since these guys started 37 years ago," he said breathlessly. At 2 a.m. he was sitting ringside to hear Pieces of a Dream and still smiling.

And he wasn't the only one: This event attracted young and old, black and white, serious jazz fans and more casual ones, raising more than $400,000 for Children's Hospital. Which means that in the increasingly competitive world of Washington fund-raising, this experiment in charitable fun hit the right note.

For the last 10 years, the hospital held a traditional dinner dance for its annual fund-raiser. This time, organizers were looking for something that would attract a wider segment of the Washington community. Something more . . . well, jazzy. So they decided on a musically themed event and modeled this gala after Boston's "Stepping Out," a jazz showcase that has attracted thousands of music fans for more than a decade.

"We feel it can be more inclusive," said dinner committee chair Liz Dubin. "You can come if you're 30 or 70. We would just like to broaden our base."

The evening began with all the trappings of your standard charity soiree--more than 300 donors at the $1,000-a-seat dinner before the performances. There were air kisses and cocktails, speeches and filet mignon, photo ops and poached pears. Officially, this was "The First Ladies Gala," although no first ladies showed up. So chairwomen Andrea Mitchell and Phylicia Rashad provided the style and substance: Mitchell with her remarks, Rashad with a short, sophisticated singing act after dinner. Mayor Anthony Williams was on hand, along with jazz fan/Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, who was ordered to look happy by hospital chair Whayne Quin: "Keep smiling and always keep your thumb up because we need those gifts of appreciated stock."

But the night quickly transformed into a much more lively affair when the rest of the guests, who paid $175 for each ticket, began to arrive after 9 p.m. The dinner was filled with hospital donors; later they were joined by jazz fans who'd come to see their icons, and the young professionals who'd come to see and be seen. The mix of the three crowds made an interesting tableau.

"You've got your dinosaurs, the 50-plus like me," said publisher Bill Regardie. "You've got the kids, the mid-twenties, stepping out. And then you've got the hungry ones. The hungry ones are out to make their mark. They're networking like crazy. It's like they wish everyone had a name tag." Regardie had that slightly amused, world-weary look that only a rich dinosaur can carry off. "But it's the most integrated event I've been to outside of a political rally."

Most of the dinosaurs cleared out early, and the young raptors were quickly outnumbered by a kinder, gentler beast called the Jazzasaurus--the true music fans. At first the cavernous space seemed too big for the crowd, and it was tough to find the convention rooms that had been turned into stages for the night. The confusion was compounded by jazz time, which is a vague but relaxed concept of when performances start and finish.

But the music! Sometime after 11 p.m., the martinis and the groove kicked in. So when the Persuasions dived into the audience, coaxing fans to sing along to "Under the Boardwalk" and "In the Still of the Night," they found only mild protests of modesty.

"Isn't it wonderful?" asked Carmen Lattimore. "My husband and I really needed this. We had a tough week."

Lattimore and her husband, Walter, are pastors at Victory Church International in Fort Washington. For this night, Walter put on the tux and Carmen her gold sequins to hear the music they courted to almost 20 years ago. "It's very romantic," she said. "It's like the good old days."



By Rip Rense, from the San Jose Mercury News

The Persuasions have been through all the hell you might expect after 36 years on the road, 20 albums in their wake, and not a hit record to show for it. But they wouldn't have it any other way.

"Hey, we knew in the beginning we'd have to persuade people to listen to five guys with no band," said lead singer Jerry Lawson. "Christ had to persuade people to listen to him, and so did The Persuasions. That's why we took the name. For a long time, we were really the only guys out there singing a cappella music."

A cappella---meaning unaccompanied (literally translated "in the chapel," a reference to pure vocal music in the middle ages)---has not historically been the stuff of radio airplay, let alone hits. From the 60s through the 80s, you were lucky to find it on the odd late night FM R&B show. That changed in the early 90s, when a branch of rap and hip-hop mutated into multi-part unaccompanied harmonizing. And now. . .

A cappella is big business. Consider: Boyz II Men, who had a hit with an a cappella version of "In the Still of the Night," are a household name. Take 6 won a Grammy for an entire a cappella album. Loopy, highly inventive groups like Rockapella, The Bobs and The Nylons have a healthy recording and touring existence. The a cappella society, Primarily A Cappella (headquartered in Santa Rosa, Calif.) has a website listing hundreds of vocal groups across the nation, many with their own albums for sale, and hosts an annual A Cappella Summit concert.

Yet somehow, The Persuasions---the godfathers of the movement--- guys who were singing a cappella on the streetcorners of Brooklyn, N.Y., long before Boyz II Men were even Babiez II Men, have been lost in the bargain. There are no slick MTV videos and spiffy marketing for this fiftysomething quintet. As always, they still eke by on a devoted fan base, and word-of-mouth. They're probably the longest running best-kept-secret in the music business. Call it a howling injustice, in five-part harmony. There are no sour notes from Lawson, though:

"We carried the torch by ourselves for a long time," he said, resting in Los Angeles between gigs. "Now there are over four or five hundred a cappella groups, and it makes us feel good. I told Rockapella, when they first came to one of our shows, there was of room for everybody! Anything that happens as far as a cappella is concerned puts a feather in our caps."

They have been nothing if not durable. They stuck it out after the heady times in the 70s ended, when they recorded for major labels includ-ing Capitol, MCA, and Elektra. They stuck it out when Lawson decided to quit in the early 80s, then came back, and when second tenor Joe Russell did the same thing. They stuck it out when they could barely pay the rent on their gig-to-gig existence, and when radio barely played their music. Most amazingly, they stuck it out after their beloved baritone, Toubo Rhoad, died in Sacramento in 1986 following a stroke. The husky-voiced Rhoad was "the glue," as the group puts it, that held everyone together---harmonically, and in terms of brotherhood. His ashes were scattered in the San Francisco Bay, a place he loved, and The Persuasions toured for a long time with his empty mike. (Former Drifter B.J. Jones joined in 1997.)

Most recently, the group endured a protracted struggle to leave its label, Rounder, after six albums. The label granted a buy-out release to The Persuasions, who were unhappy with promotion and distribution of their product---notably their 1997 Christmas album, You're All I Want For Christmas, which they say was not widely distributed on release, despite endorsements by the L.A. Times and New York Times.

The Persuasions' peers, fortunately for them, have long recognized the group's virtuosic vocal abilities. Lawson, whose rough-edged tenor compares with Brook Benton and Otis Redding, Jimmy Hayes (bass), Joe Russell (tenor, falsetto), Jayotis Washington (tenor), and the late Toubo Rhoad (their baritone, who died from a stroke in 1987) have sung and/or recorded with the likes of Liza Minelli, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Bette Midler, Lou Reed, Van Morrison, Paul Simon, Gladys Knight, Country Joe McDonald, Patti La Belle, the Neville Brothers, B.B. King. The group's 1977 Elektra album, Chirpin,' was rated one of the top 100 works of the '70s by Rolling Stone. Tom Waits once said: "These guys are deep sea divers. I'm just a fisherman in a boat."

It was Frank Zappa, of all people, who first signed them to a record contract (Straight, for Warner Brothers) in 1968---merely upon hearing them sing over the phone, when a friend called from a New York nightclub, declaring "Frank, you've got hear this." "Frank was cool," laughed Lawson. "He brought us out to Hollywood, where we saw all the holly, and the wood."

In 1970, The Persuasions moved to Capitol, quickly cut two of their most classic albums, We Came to Play and Streetcorner Symphony, and ran smack up against a marketing boondoggle. In the rock-dominated music and radio industry of the 70s and 80s, no one knew how to sell a cappella. Was it a novelty? Folk? R & B? Eclectic song choices didn't help matters; the group recorded everything from Motown to Kurt Weill, Bob Dylan, Zappa and, in one instance, the (gulp) Partridge Family. "Yes, we do 'I Woke Up In Love This Morning,'" said Lawson, a TV fanatic who does most of the group's arranging. "I heard it on an old Partridge Family re-run, and I thought, 'that's a Persuasions song.' There's something about certain songs that I just call Persuasions songs the first time I hear them. It's a lot to do with our bass man. If he can do the licks like they are on the record, then the lead singer is free to come up with what he wants. And the other Persuasions become the violins."

It wasn't just marketing people who were befuddled by five African-American guys harmonizing Dylan. Tower Records and other major chains took 20 years to stop filing their records and CDs in "oldies" and "vocals" and finally give them their own category in "rock and pop." It's the only appropriate label, devotees will tell you, because the group. . .rocks. Hayes' basslines have more in common with Motown's great studio bass player James Jamerson than gospel. As Lawson says, "We have a song, 'Still Ain't Got No Band,' but it really isn't quite true. See, we are the band."

The late 80s were a time of staggering, but in the 90s, things are turning around. The group has recorded six new albums this decade---including, for Rounder's Bullseye Blues label, the excellent 1996 Sincerely and two firsts: the forthcoming all-gospel album, Inspired (Bullseye Blues), and a children's album, Good Ship Lollipop, due in May on the Grammy-winning Music For Little People Label.

"We've been going to schools and singing for kids for thirty years," said Lawson, "and we've always wanted to do a kids' album. This is the first time anyone other than The Persuasions have sung with us. We got some great kid singers joining us, and wouldn't you know? It might be the best album we've ever done."

There have been a few more high notes of late, starting with their unusually candid 1996 documentary, "Spread the Word," which airs occasionally on PBS (but has yet to be released commercially due to high licensing fees for the featured songs.) Produced and directed as a labor of love by writer/ actor and longtime fan Fred Parnes, the film played festivals across the country and garnered raves, including this from Andy Klein of the L.A. Reader: "Feeling depressed? I can think of no greater remedy than to watch 'Spread the Word,' a funny, moving, and invigorating look at. . .one of America's national treasures.'" Said Parnes: "They should be in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, they should be playing the White House, they should be doing Austin City Limits, Vegas. It's just amazing to me that they are not more recognized."

The are, at least, on their home turf. Last summer, The City of Brooklyn honored the group with a spot on its own "Walk of Fame" and a "Persuasions Day." Now there are new goals: a tour of Europe and Asia, and an album tribute to Zappa.

"We want to say 'thank you' to Frank for signing us," said Lawson. "You can't imagine how great Zappa's music sounds a cappella, especially the early songs. We sing his tune, 'The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing' in concert, and people love it."

Still ain't got no band is The Persuasions' longtime slogan. Still ain't got enough recognition might be more apt at this stage. But Lawson says the group will still. . .stick it out.

"With help from our fans, we're going to hang in there. I told the guys, we are going to go out like the Mills Brothers. They sang till the end, and one of them is still singing. Our voices are stronger than ever. And our hearts, too."



by Geoffrey Himes, from the Washington Post

WHEN LEAD singer Jerry Lawson and the rest of the Persuasions appeared on "Do It A Cappella," the PBS special directed by Spike Lee last year, Lawson saw it as the ultimate vindication of his whole career. As he looked around the soundstage, Lawson saw examples of the worldwide resurgence in unaccompanied singing: South Africa's Ladysmith Black Mambazo, England's Mint Juleps, New Jersey's Rockapella and the Grammy-winning Take 6.

"It was such a wonderful feeling for the Persuasions," Lawson recalls, "because it proved we had accomplished something; it showed we weren't one of these groups that just put out a few records and disappear. When we started out 28 years ago, a cappella barely existed, but we kept it alive and now a cappella is happening all over the world. It's like working on a car for 28 years, and when you're finally finished, people see it and go, 'Wow!' "

The Persuasions, who perform at the Birchmere Saturday, shared a dressing room during the TV special with Take 6, the Alabama a cappella gospel sextet whose shows now sell out.

"Their success makes me feel wonderful," Lawson proclaims in the same husky, booming voice he uses on stage. "There's always room for others. I'm 47 years old and the guys in Take 6 are kids; they're going to carry it on. When they told us in the dressing room how they listened to the Persuasions all through

college or when they praised us on TV on 'Good Morning America,' it makes me feel like there was a purpose to the Persuasions. I feel like we've opened the door for someone else."

The Mint Juleps, an all-female sextet from England, were especially excited to meet the Persuasions at last. It seems that the women had never heard of a cappella singing until a few guys they knew tried to impress the women with some street-corner harmonies.

"They asked the boys, 'What's that?'," Lawson relates. "The guys said they learned it at a workshop led by the Persuasions in London about 15 years ago, and that got the Mint Juleps interested in a cappella singing. Like they say, 'Everything that goes around comes around.' "

Lawson was particularly impressed with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the stars of Paul Simon's "Graceland" album and tour.

"I had to sit down and really listen hard to Mambazo," Lawson says, "because that's our roots. When we started singing a cappella on the street corners, we had no idea it reached all the way back to Africa. We were singing it for self-enjoyment, but for them it's a way of life -- it's their national anthem and their prayers. They showed us a whole other side of a cappella."

The "Do It A Cappella" TV special and the subsequent soundtrack album on Elektra (featuring three Persuasions tracks) have provided a new lift to the group's career. The special was broadcast all over the world, and the Persuasions' agent has been getting calls from the most unlikely places. The least likely of all was Vietnam. It seems that a lot of U.S. soldiers had tapes of the Persuasions' 1972 "Street Corner Symphony" album and many Vietnamese still listen to it. Lawson hopes that Vietnam will be included on the group's upcoming Far East tour.

In conjunction with the TV special soundtrack, Elektra Records also rereleased the Persuasions' 1977 album, "Chirpin'," which Lawson calls his favorite second only to "Street Corner Symphony."

"It's been nine years since we've had any album at all under our own names, but we just started work on a new one last week," Lawson says. "Ichiban Records should have it out by the time we come back to D.C. to play Anton's in May."

When the Persuasions were at Anton's last July, they asked D.C.'s Finest, an a cappella quintet of three active-duty D.C. police officers and two retirees, to open each show. It's been common practice for the Persuasions to befriend the local a cappella group that opens the show in nearly every city they play regularly. Often the friendship extends to dinners in private homes -- a personal touch that makes touring much more bearable. Last summer in Washington, Lawson lost a dental plate, but the officers in D.C.'s Finest wouldn't rest until they had safely delivered him to a dentist.

It's stories like that provide Lawson with satisfaction after a long and sometimes difficult career.

"Oh, there were lean times," he admits, "but we never had to take day jobs and we never thought about quitting. There was a time when the family tree of a cappella singing was only a single stem, and that was the Persuasions. But look at that tree now: It has lots of branches and all the flowers are blooming."


The Persuasions sing a cappella Zappa
by Julio Martinez (Daily Variety),Apr.12, 2000

HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - Frank Zappa's wacky, surrealistic lyrics actually take on a new level of meaning and hilarity coming from the mouths of this tradition-bound, tuxedo-clad a capella sextet.

The Persuasions, led by Jerry Lawson, do not possess the smooth, velvet-voiced harmonic inventiveness of such contemporary a cappella groups as Take 6, Boyz II Men or Rockapella, but they do infuse every number with an energetic commitment that is infectious.

Back in 1969, master of rock 'n' roll absurdism Zappa signed an unknown a cappella R&B-gospel quintet from Brooklyn to his record label, launching the recording career of the Persuasions. As a tribute to their mustachioed mentor (who died of cancer in 1993), the ensemble has just released a CD of his music titled ``Frankly a Cappella.''

Beginning with a zesty, scat rendition of Zappa's quirky instrumental ``Lumpy Gravy'' (featuring a recurring riff on the word ``duodenum''), the ensemble winds its way through a representative sampling of Zappa fare culled from Mothers of Invention recordings from 1963 to 1969.

Lawson handled the solos through most of the one-hour concert, including the philosophical ``Any Way the Wind Blows,'' the hard-driving, politically incorrect ``Hotplate Heaven at the Green Motel'' and the deceptively tender, doo-wop inspired ``Love of My Life.''

The Zappa highlight of the evening has to be the decidedly irreverent ``The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing,'' led with revival meeting fervor by a choir-robed Lawson. It is amazingly affective to hear this quintet of church-trained vocalists warn the audience that the prophets of old are ``a waste of time and it's your ass that's on the line.''

To give evidence of their own vocal roots, the Persuasions added several R&B hits, including ''Sincerely,'' ``Good Night Sweetheart,'' ``Speedo'' and a unique, rumba-soul rendition of the Latin classic ''Besame Mucho.''

Presented inhouse. Band: Jerry Lawson, Jimmy Hayes, Joe Russell, B.J. Jones, Jayotis Washington, Raymond Sanders.

L.A. Reader:

The Real Feel-Good Film of the Year
By Andy Klein

Feeling depressed? Life got ya down? Is that your problem, Binky?

If it is, I can think of no greater remedy than towatch Fred Parnes's documentary, Spread the Word: The Persuasions Sing A Cappella---a funny, moving, and invigorating look at a vocal group that is one of America's national treasures.

There is a strong chance you've never heard of these guys. After thirty-some years and more than a dozen albums, The Persuasions have never had even a minor hit. (They just barely cracked the soul charts a coupel of times in the mid-seventies.) Despite the nineties mini-revival of a cappella harmony records by groups like Boyz II Men, Shai, and Color Me Badd. . .despite the fact that most groups acknowledge their debt to, and respect for, The Persuasions. . .despite the high regard they command within the music industry. . .real commercial success has eluded them.

Part of the problem may be the group's commitment to a capella. They've relentlessly refused to record with instruments, not that you'd necessarily notice. Back in the early 70s, when their album, We Came To Play was released, I used to play their version of The Temptations' "(Loneliness Made Me Realize) It's You That I Need" for friends. I'd then ask if they noticed anything, well, odd about the record; so full was the sound that almost nobody ever picked up on the fact that there was no orchestra.

Actually, I can think of one greater remedy for despondency than Spread The Word: If The Persuasions happen to be playing around town, go see them instead. No film could possibly capture the sheer joy and energy of the group live. The very notion that it could approaches sacrilege, like trying to photograph the face of God. A shadow image is the best you can hope for.

That said, Parnes provides as substantial a shadow as one could hope for. He does a remarkable job of conveying just what is so special about these guys, musically and personally. In particular, he captures the sense of ensemble that spills over from their singing into their talking. In conversation, they constantly interrupt eachother with perfect timing---the kind of timing that can't be faked, that only comes from years of being close. The banter is rhythmic, slipping into classic call-and-response gospel style. It gives you the kind of sheer pleasure of performance that is usually reserved for music or movement: It's the conversational equivalent of Jeff and Beau Bridges's rapport in The Fabulous Baker Boys or Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao in a dozen films, brawling with the precision of brothers.

The film includes excerpts from about twenty-five songs. We hear only a few all the way through, which is a pity. The selection ranges from The Temptations to country to Men at Work to blues to "My Yiddishe Mama" to the Wyatt Earp TV theme. But, not matter what the material, The Persuasions inevitably turn it into secularized gospel. You being to suspect that they could find the emotional, spiritual roots of anything---"Billy, Don't Be a Hero," or "Playgrounds of My Mind" or "Something Stupid."

Spread the Word really is, to use a debased expression, the feel-good film of the year. It's nearly impossible to watch it without (a) wanting to go hear the group live; (b) wanting to sing along: and (c) wanting to be their friend.

The Persuasions may be just four guys and a ghost---they carry with them the spirit and memory of departed member Toubo Rhoad---but, all together, they also form a kind of unintentional suicide-prevention hotline. On stage and on screen, they generate the kind of pleasure that reminds you why life is worth living.


Billboard (April 1, 2000)
SPOTLIGHT: THE PERSUASIONS, "Frankly A Cappella: The Persuasions Sing Zappa"
In a work of absurdist inspiration worthy of its subject, gospel a cappella heroes the Persuasions offer up a surprisingly soulful collection of…that's right, Frank Zappa covers. The vocal quintet -- expanded to a sextet for this outing -- pays homage to Zappa, who inked them to their first album deal in 1969. The 12 featured songs are a savvy survey of Zappa's legendary catalog of avant-garde rock and jazz, spanning the years 1963-1989. As a bonus, the album features contributions from former Zappa collaborators like trombonist Bruce Fowler on "Cheap Thrills" and guitarist Mike Keneally on "My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama." But the Persuasions, who previously covered Zappa's "Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up" on 1994's "Right Around The Corner," have no problem translating his complex musical arrangements with just six-part harmonies. As evidenced on tracks like "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing" and "Lumpy Gravy" (A Zappa instrumental composition), "Frankly A Cappella" is a novel re-working of a true original. Great Googly-Moogly, indeed.

The Washington Post (Mar 26, 2000)
Let's start with an obvious question: How did a gospel-leaning African American a cappella act from Brooklyn end up recording a batch of songs by California's surrealist rock weirdo Frank Zappa? Through a friend of a friend, as it happens, Zappa auditioned the band over the phone back in 1969 and liked what he heard. The following year, the Persuasions--who later scored some minor R&B hits and steadfastly refused backing instruments--recorded an album on Zappa's Straight Records, titled simply "A Cappella."

The Persuasions and their mustachioed mentor met only a few times, once opening for Zappa's Mothers of Invention at Virginia Beach in 1971. (The show marked the first time an African American act played that stretch of sand, by the way.) Zappa died of cancer in 1993, and now the Persuasions are paying tribute with cover versions of some of his best-known songs.

"Frankly A Cappella" turns out to be a pretty inspired idea. Putting Zappa's odd, wickedly acerbic lyrics in the mouths of six church-choir gents adds layers of humor to the music that simply weren't there when sung by a self-avowed satirist. On "Lumpy Gravy," the Persuasions must weave "duodenum" into a doo-wop number. Most subversive, by a mile, is the Persuasions' rendering of the anti-liturgical "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing," which features this incomparable couplet: "Some take the Bible for what it's worth, when it says that the meek shall inherit the earth/ But I heard that some sheik has bought New Jersey last week, and you suckers ain't getting a thing."

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

San Francisco Chronicle's Joel Selvin writes:
As a composer, Frank Zappa never attracted a lot of interpreters. His own versions were so exacting, he didn't leave a lot of wiggle room for other people. A great deal of the essence of Zappa lay in careful juxtapositions of highly detailed music and pointed lyrical sentiments. But The Persuasions have struck a near-perfect balance. The long-standing a cappella group doesn't really change its trademark style, but rather brings Zappa into its world---and not just his comical doo-wop, but even orchestral pieces such as "Lumpy Gravy." These singers understand both the content and the spirit of Zappa's songs, which is why this album is as good as it is. To have these black voices joining together in gospel harmonies over Zappa racial commentaries in "Electric Aunt Jemima" or "You Are What You Is" brings entirely new meaning to the compositions. And Zappa's slightly bent takes on both romantic and carnal love---such as 'Harder Than Your Husband'---gets a much more goofy grin on the faces of The Persuasions. Zappa's iconoclasm went all the way to the bone and The Persuasions are savvy enough to keep their own charming eccentricities intact while tackling Zappa's."

PEOPLE MAGAZINE's Steve Dougherty writes: (APRIL 17, 2000)
And now for some bizarre bedfellows. On this tribute to the late avant-garde composer and social satirist Frank Zappa, leader of the Mothers of Invention and wearer of surreal facial hair, the Persuasions perform 13 Zappa titles, among 'Lumpy Gravy,' 'Electric Aunt Jemima,' and 'My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama,' from Mothers albums such as 'Freak Out,' 'Uncle Meat,' and 'Weasels Ripped My Flesh.' Unusual fare for a group of six middle-aged gentlemen famous for their earnest a cappella vocalizing. Yet The Persuasions---who launched their recording career in 1969, when Zappa signed them to his Straight label after listening to a tape a friend played for him over the telephone---deftly manage the complex arrangements and intricate rhythm structurs that Zappa wrote to challenge a generation of virtuoso instrumentalists. And the group does not shy away from the bitter sarcasm of tunes such as the Mark Twain-inspired 'The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing.' We're persuaded.

ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER's Steve Plesa writes: (April 7, 2000)
This is a record about which, if you were unfamiliar with the original artist, you would say, if you heard it at a party, 'What the heck is this?'And if you were familiar with the original artist and knew the tunes, you would say, 'WHAT THE HECK IS THIS?' very loudly and demand to see the CD case to prove your ears weren't lying. The Persuasions are among the best a cappella bands ever recorded, and their easy handling of the often complex and challenging Frank Zappa material here is refreshing and reverential, unique and highly amusing. Executive producer Rip Rense, who has written extensively for many publications about both The Persuasions and Zappa, has put together one of those rare combinations where the result is well worth the risk. Voices! Voices rising and falling, careening around corners and harmonizing exquisitely, combining falsetto, tenor and bass in seamless precision, covering diverse FZ tunes such as the brooding 'Any Way The Wind Blows' and the sinister 'My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama.' And when this gospel-based group sings 'The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing,' you conjure a picture of them singing it along the sidelines as the masses queue up trying to make it through the Pearly Gates. Zappa the instrumental composer is also represented here, in the album-opening 'Lumpy Gravy,' a stunning piece of work where the voices capture the notes made originally by instruments, resulting in a rather mad moment of very professional and well-executed silliness. This is much like the FZ live version of 'Stairway to Heaven' in which the horn section took Jimmy Page's guitar solo, note for note. WHAT THE HECK IS THIS? It's an equal blend of sincerity and nuttiness you should buy and play at your next party.

CDNow! review:
by Drew Wheeler

In 1969, with rock'n'roll at its psychedelic zenith, Frank Zappa ignored prevailing trends and signed a cappella R&B group the Persuasions to his Straight Records label. The Brooklyn, NY-based Persuasions had been performing for the better part of that decade, but it was under Zappa's aegis that they recorded their debut album, 1970's A Cappella.

Zappa, a lifelong doo-wop connoisseur who co-wrote the 1962 single "Memories of El Monte" for the Penguins, recognized the Persuasions as the real deal. And even though Zappa's name conjures up a welter of musical connotations -- transcendent guitar soloist, "serious" composer, jazz-rock innovator, scatological songwriter -- his music was often grounded in the type of close R&B harmonies that are still the Persuasions' forte. With Frankly A Cappella, the Persuasions make explicit Zappa's R&B-vocal connection, and pay tribute to a Renaissance man with a streetcorner soul.

The Persuasions (Jerry Lawson, Jimmy Hayes, "Sweet Joe" Russell, Jayotis Washington, Bernard "BJ" Jones, and Raymond Sanders) could easily have stocked this album with the most a cappella-friendly songs in Zappa's voluminous catalog, but they fearlessly delve into some of his earlier, more comically surrealistic songs. "Electric Aunt Jemima" gains a poignancy that was buried under the electronic modifications of its original version, and "My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama" is a solid, call-and-response groove, with in-the-spirit guitar breaks from guest FZ alumnus Mike Keneally. The album's opening track is a wordless vocal remake of an instrumental theme from the uncategorizable Lumpy Gravy album, and it does justice to its sweeping, heroic melody.

The Persuasions deepen the roots of Zappa's more straightforward R&B songs like "Love Of My Life," now set to finger-snapping accompaniment and featuring the guest voice of Zappa veteran Robert Martin. (The song originally appeared in 1968 on the twisted, not to mention curiously-timed, '50s tribute Cruising With Ruben & the Jets.) The heartbreaking descending chords of "Any Way The Wind Blows" sound like they were written with the Persuasions in mind, as do the beaming harmonies of "Tears Began To Fall," which features Martin, Keneally, and ex-Mothers trombonist Bruce Fowler.

A churchy feel suffuses "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing" (a gospel-like melody that sardonically trains its sights on religion as well as government), and a funky throb punctuates the rousing reflection on poverty-line living, "Hotplate Heaven At The Green Hotel."

Originally arranged as a country song, "Harder Than Your Husband" benefits from the group's soft vocal timbres, giving it a gentler cast than its first incarnation. And "Find Her Finer," a melody that always sounded like a throwaway, seems to have finally find its true self in the Persuasions' streamlined, soulful groove.

The album also echoes the absurdist antics that Zappa could never resist, with well-timed interjections, impromptu shtick and between-song weirdness. Yet the Persuasions remain truest to Zappa in the rich sonic fabric woven by their commanding choral blends. With an appeal to doo-wop fans and Zappa-heads alike, Frankly A Cappella makes a Persuasive case indeed.

Alternate Music Press Review
by Don Zulaica

"The way I see it Jerry, this should be a very dynamite show." So opens one of the more interesting tribute albums you're going to hear. For 30 years the Persuasions have been one of the more celebrated American a cappella groups. For about the same amount of time, probably a little longer, Frank Zappa has been either celebrated or vilified as a composer with...well, big onions.

But at the heart of this album, beyond Zappa's irascibility, "Black Pages," PMRC senate hearings, and voting registration booths, is his unbridled love of doo-wop. In 1970 he heard a rough tape of the Persuasions, and promptly put out their first album "A Cappella" on his own label, Straight. Now it's time for the favor to be returned, and if the results don't make you smile, you probably need to see a doctor about getting something removed.

The vocal dexterity of Zappa's bands was rarely written about (George Duke, Ray White, Ike Willis, Bobby Martin, et al), which may make this even more of a pleasant surprise to the uninitiated. From the pure '50s rock "Any Way The Way The Wind Blows" and "Love of My Life" (featuring Martin), to latter material like 1980's "You Are What You Is," it all translates beautifully to six-part vocal orchestrations. And before you think they shy away from the more controversial political or religious material, they also tackle "Hot Plate Heaven At The Green Hotel" and the classic "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing." A high point among high points is when the Pers are joined by Frank's last touring stunt-guitarist, Mike Keneally, for a rousing rendition of "My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama."

For all the symphonies and musician-savants paying tribute to one of America's most formidable musical entities, this has got to be bringing a smile to that goatee-- where ever it might be. Somebody pass the dog food!

The Las Vegas Weekly
by Richard Abowitz

It may seem weird on the surface for a vocal group to offer an album of Frank Zappa covers. After all, Zappa was a guitar wizard known for his love of high-tech sounds. But Zappa always saw himself as a composer of music more than as an writer of rock songs. He was also obsessed with doo-wop music, and 30 years ago he signed The Persuasions to a boutique label given to him briefly by Warner Brothers. Of course, The Persuasions never found commercial success there or anywhere else. If remembered at all, the group is still best known for its versions of Curtis Mayfield songs. But The Persuasions are sadly under appreciated. The move from "People Get Ready" to "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama" is one that few other groups could make. The singing group is relaxed and at ease with Zappa's frequently tricky material. The Persuasions fill out the usually abstracted melody line on "Lumpy Gravy," and are naturals with the faux gospel of "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing." The country parody "Harder than Your Husband" is presented here in a hilarious soulful interpretation. "Find Her Finer" is also transformed, going from a stalker anthem to a bemused complaint. Whatever the approach, however, throughout Frankly A Cappella, The Persuasions stay true to Zappa's eclectic and perverted spirit.

Classical Audio File
by John Fleming, St. Petersburg Times (May 19, 2000)

Frankly A Cappella: The Persuasions Sing Zappa (Earthbeat) -- The Persuasions and Frank Zappa? Sure, both are great American originals, but they don't seem to have much, if anything, in common. Zappa was a Southern California rock 'n' roller influenced by avant-garde classical composers such as Stravinsky and Varese. The Persuasions, who met on Brooklyn basketball courts in 1962, salvaged the lost art of a cappella singing decades before Take 6 and Rockappella came on the scene.

But, in fact, there is a longtime connection between the two. It was Zappa and his wife, Gail, who signed the Persuasions to their first album deal. The quintet made its recording debut on Zappa's Straight label in 1970. Now the group -- expanded to six members -- pays tribute with an improbable, delightful a cappella treatment of Zappa's music.

The album gets off to a breathtaking start with rapid-paced wordless vocalizing on the jazz instrumental, "Lumpy Gravy". Zappa composed the work, according to executive producer Rip Rense's liner notes, with the word "duodenum" in mind, and the Persuasions even manage to work that into their bravura performance.

Zappa, who died in 1993, tends to be underestimated because he is best known for novelty hits like "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" and "Valley Girl", but the Persuasions might change people's minds about him with their version of "Any Way the Wind Blows", a lyrical love song, or the gospel shouter "Find Her Finer".

Many of the 16 selections on Frankly A Cappella are sparkling arrangements in the tradition of the doo-wop music Zappa loved, but with the twist of weirdness that only he could dream up. The Persuasions turn to his classic album of faux '50s greaser rock, Cruisin' with Ruben & the Jets, for a pair of streetcorner song symphonies, "Cheap Thrills" and "Love of My Life". They deliver a gorgeous rendition of "Tears Begin to Fall", featuring the upper-register acrobatics of guest vocalist Robert Martin.

The album is not totally a cappella. The lineup on several songs includes guitarist Mike Keneally and trombonist Bruce Fowler, both former Zappa bandmembers. There are also three short interludes and a mystery track cooked up by the Persuasions in homage to Zappa's off-kilter humor. Grade: A-

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 19, 2000

The Santa Fe New Mexican
Terrell's Tune-Up: Pop CD Reviews
by Steve Terrell (May 12, 2000)

Early contender for the most bizarre tribute album of the year: Frankly A Cappella: The Persuasions Sing Zappa.

No, that is not some belated April Fools’ joke. I’m talking about those Persuasions, that fine black a cappella sextet that for more than 30 years has recorded sweet and stirring instrument-less soul, gospel and doo-wop, never ceasing to remind a listener of the power and glory of the human voice.

And yes, I’m talking about that Zappa. Not Moon Unit, not Dweezil, but Mother Frank, who sang of mud sharks and Goblin Girls and penguins in bondage.

So, yes, hearing the Persuasions singing about "Electric Aunt Jemima" and declaring "My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama" seems strange.

But there’s a connection. Back in 1969 Zappa’s Straight Records company signed the Persuasions for their first album. Zappa œ who, remember, was an old doo-wop cat at heart, having written "Memories of El Monte" for the Penguins œ had heard a cassette tape of the Persuasions and loved it.

Lead singer Jerry Lawson and the other Persuasions, bless their hearts, remained grateful through the years.

Granted the novelty aspect of Frankly A Cappella likely guarantees few sales. But fortunately the Persuasions quickly get beyond the silliness and deliver impressive performances throughout.

Some Zappa songs that easily translate to the Persuasions’ treatment are "Anyway the Wind Blows", "Love of My Life", Zappa’s doo-wop send-up Cruising With Ruben & the Jets and other Ruben-esque Zappa tunes including "Tears Begin To Fall".

"Cheap Thrills", a Ruben tune, sounds a little out of place on Frankly A Cappella just because older guys celebrating "cheap thrills in back of my car" seems a little odd. But who am I to judge another’s cheap thrills?

The songs in which the Persuasions really impress, though, are the ones you’d least expect them to do. The group gives a near classical edge to the instrumental "Lumpy Gravy", for example.'

The Persuasions also cover "You Are What You Is", which makes fun of people who try to transcend their own race while emulating another.

But Frankly A Cappella’s mightiest moment is "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing," a humanist sermon against religious hypocrisy and materialism, sung in full gospel fervor:

"Those Jesus freaks, well they’re friendly but, the shit they believe has got their minds all shut."

Frankly A Cappella serves both Zappa and the Persuasions well. For Zappa, it shows how his material has depths many never had suspected.

Perhaps the record will inspire other musicians to take a stab at reviving other Zappa material from different angles. And hopefully the record will stir interest in other Persuasions material, the regular soul and doo-wop material they do so well.

Amplifier Magazine:
The Persuasions: Frankly A Cappella
by Stewart Mason

It may sound like a bizarre gimmick, having a vocal group of the classic doo-wop style record an entire album of Frank Zappa Tunes, but the concept is actually perfectly logical. Not only was Zappa an enormous fan of '50s R&B---remember Cruisin' with Ruben and the Jets---but he released The Persuasions' first album, A Cappella, on his own Straight Records in 1970.

The execution is the concept's equal. Listening to this album, it's shocking to realize how thoroughly Zappa's musical style was rooted in '50s R&B. Of course, Zappa wrote pastiches of that style, like "Electric Aunt Jemima," "Any Way the Wind Blows," or "Love of My Life," but even songs with little obvious connection to the genre, such as "You Are What You Is" and the classic, "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama," sound naturally, unapologetically right when performed by a vocal sextet. The opening track, where The Persuasions essay the opening theme of Zappa's first extended instrumental composition, 1968's Lumpy Gravy, is a staggering exercise in vocal acrobatics, effortlessly recreating with only six voices what had originally been recorded by a full orchestra. If you're a fan of Zappa, doo wop, or both, this album will be a delight.

by Floyd Kucharski

"Electric Aunt Jemima! Where ya been so long, Aunt Jemima Baby!?"

"Frankly A Cappella," the newest musical release by the legendary Persuasions, is arguably the finest album of its kind in modern history. A tribute to icon Frank Zappa, who gave the group its start in 1969, the album features an unprecedented blend of vocal harmony and creativity.

The stack of 15 tunes spans the late Zappa’s career from 1963 to 1989 and roams the full artistic spectrum, from the irreverent "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing" to the spiritual "Any Way the Wind Blows"; from the doo-wop flavored rendering of "Love of My life" to a raucous interpretation of "Find her Finer"; from a philosophical treatise on "You Are What You is" to a playful ditty titled "Harder Than Your Husband."

A mystery track, number 16, adds a hushed spiritual essence to the album and draws all the pieces together, for a finale.

The group’s founding members have been together since l962 and, as always, the only sound we hear is the human voice. The vocal talent on display is astounding, nearly intimidating. The harmonies are sweet as ice cold apple cider on a bright October afternoon. Jimmy Hayes’ amazing, relentless bass carries the melodies start to finish, while lead singer Jerry Lawson spins tales of nostalgia, philosophy, and earthy humor.

The Persuasions have toured the world, leaving audiences in a state of joy and excitement after every live performance. Despite having released dozens of albums over the decades, their commercial exposure has been limited due to their decision to sing purely a cappella rather than "go commercial" and hide their voices behind musical instruments.

As the signature tune from their l984 "No Frills" album proclaims, "We been making music all these years … and we still ain’t got no band!"

They are the music industry’s best kept secret.

Appearing on "Zappa" are founding members Lawson, singing lead; Hayes at bass; Sweet Joe Russell at tenor; Jayotis Washington at baritone and tenor; joining them this time around are Bernard "BJ" Jones at baritone and Raymond Sanders at tenor.

The album is available through the Internet at Amazon.com and cdnow, and also through Earthbeat records.

We predict you’ll quickly fall under their musical spell. By track three you’ll be irresistibly tapping your fingers and twitching your feet, swaying and grinning, wistfully humming along … "Electric Aunt Jemima, fix me something good to eat, cook a bunch for me … caress me, electric Aunt Jemima, caress me …!"


"On the Good Ship Lollipop:" People (May 31,1999)

    "'Christ had to persuade people to listen,' baritone Jerry Lawson once said, explaining how the a cappella group he helped form in 1962 got its name, "and so do five guys without a band.' Fans who've heard some of the 18 albums and countless live shows the Persuasions have performed in their 37-year career need no inducements. As adept at percussive vocal effects as they are at soaring quartet-style gospel harmonies, the singers---Lawson, tenor Joe Russell, bass singer Jimmy Hayes, tenor Jayotis Washington, and baritone B.J. Jones (a former member of the Drifters)---make instrumentation superfluous. Here the quintet aims to entertain a new generation of listeners with 14 tunes, ranging from ditties like "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?" and "On Top of Spaghetti" to a delightful obscurity cowritten by Country Joe and the Fish's Joe McDonald that will give boomer parents a kick: 'I'm so glad that I've got skin/ 'Cause that's what keeps my insides in.'  Bottom line: Kids will need no persuading to play this."---Steve Dougherty

Billboard  (June 5, 1999)

Persuasions Bring Their Vocal Charms To Kids' Music, by Moira McCormick

   A SWEET TRIP: Venerable a cappella group The Persuasions, who've been harmonizing for some 37 years, are the latest grown-up artists to toss their collective hat into the children's audio ring.

    The Persuasions' purely delicious Music For Little People (MFLP) offering, "On The Good Ship Lollipop," contains 14 tracks both traditional ("Big Rock Candy Mountain," "On Top of Spaghetti") and original ("Persuasions' Nursery Rhyme Medley," "A Cappella Fellas") along with a most welcome helping of African-American folk standards ("Swing Low,Sweet Chariot," "Shoo Fly, Don't Bother Me"). Without a doubt, "Lollipop" is one of the freshest-sounding, most outstanding kids' albums of the year.

    Actually, it's a bit of a surprise that it took this long for The Persuasions to release a children's record. Unlike most moonlighting celebs from the pop world, this five-man outfit from the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, N.Y., actually has a history of performing for kids. They have been singing for young audiences and putting on music workshops practically since day one, according to lead singer Jerry Lawson. "We would practice in the park in our early days," he says, "and a lot of kids would always join in. We're kids at heart ourselves, and have children of our own."

    The workshops began in the '70s, according to Lawson, whose fellow group members are bass Jimmy Hayes, tenors Jayotis Washington and "Sweet" Joe Russell and baritone Bernard "B.J." Jones. "We put them on at local Bed-Stuy schools," says Lawson, noting that one summer the New York school board had them perform for children at housing projects across the city. Still, he says, "we never thought anyone would ask us to do a kids' record. But we were doing a concert in Oakland, Calif., and (MFLP founder Leib Ostrow) came up and said, 'Would you guys consider doing a children's album?' When we came back to New York, our producer called us and said, 'Did a guy from Music for Little People contact you about a kids' record? He sounded sincere.' The following month, we were in the studio."

    The material on "Lollipop" is strikingly diverse, including songs popularized by Patti Page ("How Much is That Doggie in the Window?"), Shirley Temple (the title track), and Country Joe McDonald ("I'm So Glad I've Got Skin"). There's a "Train Song Medley" "to end all train song medleys," featuring "People Get Ready," "Little Red Caboose," "Choo-Choo Boogaloo," and "To Stop The Train." "Before we started recording," says Lawson, "I said, 'Everyone come up with at least six kids' songs. We started getting calls from people: 'What about this one?' We ended up with 100, and before we left for California, we'd gotten it down to 13.But some songs we put on the album caught on later---'On The Good Ship Lollipop' wasn't on the schedule when we left New York, and neither was 'Teddy Bears' Picnic.' But when we got there, they worked their way in."

    Ostrow, who produced the album with Lawson, served as executive producer, and wrote the charming Persuasions-history tune, "A Cappella Fellas," was also responsible for bringing in some top-notch kids' chorus that guests on some of the tunes. The Persuasions may do a family concert tour highlighting "Lollipop," says Lawson, noting with a grin that their motto is "Still Ain't Got No Band."

    "Leib's also asked us to do a kids' gospel album," he adds. In the meantime, the versatile fivesome (editor's note: they are now six---see "The Pers' Story")will continue to demonstrate its far-reaching musical range, recording a tribute album to early mentor Frank Zappa, according to Lawson, as well as "an album for the Grateful Dead family, too."

Los Angeles Times (July 8, 1999):
 The Persuasions Do Doo-Wop So Well, by Lynne Heffley

    In a Brooklyn neighborhood 38 years ago, five young guys---four of them still in their teens---would get together to shoot hoops. Afterward, they'd sing. No instruments, just a couple of baritones and tenors and a deep, deep bass, rising in harmony on the corners of some of New York's toughest streets. In 1962, they became The Persuasions.

    Today, The Persuasions, with their innovative vocal style rooted in Southern gospel, R&B and pop, are esteemed as a cappella masters---the "godfathers of a cappella," Spike Lee called them in his video production, "Do It A Cappella."

    Singers' singers who have performed and recorded backup vocals for major artists from Paul Simon to Stevie Wonder, their influence on the art of four-and-five-part harmony singing can be heard in '60s doo-wop, and in the music of Boyz II Men and Bobby McFerrin.

    Baritone Toubo Rhoad died in 1988, but lead singer and baritone Jerry Lawson, tenor Joe "Jesse" Russell, tenor and lead Jayotis Washington and basso profundo Jimmy Hayes are still going strong. With recent fifth member, former Drifter B.J. Jones, the group has just recorded a children's album.

    From the opening "bumb-ba-dum-ba-dum-da-dum" and "diddy-wop, diddy-wop," you know that the Music For Little People release, "On The Good Ship Lollipop," is never going to gather dust on a CD shelf. Whether it's Hayes' extraordinary velvet bass in "Teddy Bears' Picnic," Lawson's husky-sweet baritone in Dan Conley's tender, "My Daddy Do, Too," or the soulful rendition of "On Top of Spaghetti," this mix of old and new children's songs is infused with exuberant life and cross-generational appeal.

    Spreading good cheer through a cappella is what The Persuasions do. Upbeat Lawson, who frequently breaks into song during an interview,says that music is much more than a profession for the group.

    "It's something God wanted us to do," Lawson said. "He wanted us to use what he gave us naturally, and that's our voices. And when you get together and you sing and that harmony comes out ringing,that's just something special."

    "It's like getting up in the morning and mixing the grits. You can put grits on the plate and you can put eggs on the plate, but when you mix the grits and the eggs together with a little black pepper, ohhh. . .It goes right down just right.

    "And when you put the tenor and the bass and the baritone in there together and they've got that sweetness, it's just like that."

    Although a children's album is a first for The Persuasions, they often perform in schools and children's hospitals, and their rapport shows on the album with the songs and with their Lollipop Kids Chorus.

    "Id go off sometimes and shed a tear, because when the kids came in, they were Chinese, they were black, they were Jewish, they were Korean, they were Mexican---and they were singing 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.' I went out and started crying. Chills just came up and down my spine to see these kids having such a good time.

    "I played (the album) in Brooklyn at our favorite barbershop, where they're used to listening to rappers. When it got to 'Swing Low,' people came in from outside. They kept playing it over and over and I was saying to myself, this is amazing: they don't know that there's a little white Jewish kid (Bernie Steinberg) singing---and they wouldn't care, you see what I'm saying? Teenagers came in and were getting down off of this 'Good Ship Lollipop,' and they didn't even know who we were."

    Lawson says passing the a cappella torch is what it's all about.

    "I think it's deep in people that they were born wanting to sing."

    "The Persuasions' latest project, recorded with a new sixth member, high tenor Raymond Sanders, is an album of songs by the late Frank Zappa. Zappa gave them their break in 1968, signing them to his Straight label after hearing them sing over the phone.

    "Now we're doing a tribute album to Frank," Lawsons said. "I really believe he is going to love it."

 Publisher's Weekly (May 10, 1999)

    All hands will want to be on deck for this listening pleasure cruise. Many of the song titles here may be familiar, but the lush harmonies of male a cappella group The Persuasions could not be fresher. For young listeners new to this style of singing, producer Leib Ostrow has penned the song, "A Cappella Fellas," as a snappy introduction: "Our voices are our instruments/the flute, the harp, the gong/ in harmony together. . .a vocal symphony." With nary a note of traditional instrumentation, the five rich voices, ranging from basso profundo to baritone, enliven a broad array of favorites, including "How Much is That Doggie in the Window?"; the perennial kid-pleaser, "On Top of Spaghetti"; and the title tune, madefamous years ago by Shirley Temple. The Persuasions have much experience working with children and it shows on such numbers as "Persuasions Nursery Rhyme Medley," which includes a silly twist on "Humpty Dumpty": "All the king's horses and all the king's men. . .had scrambled eggs for breakfast!" The group sometimes shares personal anecdotes, too, making listeners feel as though they are listening to a private concert. Another standout: "Train Song Medley," melds "People Get Ready," "Little Red Caboose," "I've Been Workin' On The Railroad," "Choo-Choo Boogaloo," and "To Stop The Train," with appropriate chug-a-chug sound effect throughout. All Ages.

 RARB (Recorded A Cappella Review Board), by Karl Schroeder

    The mighty Persuasions have been belting out solid, heartfelt, genuine-article a cappella for well over 30 years and - incredibly - don't show signs of quitting any time soon. When I ran into them in April, they were super excited about the upcoming release of this CD, and now I know why. The fun they had recording this project is evident on nearly every track, and their love of making music together shines through. The most striking aspect of this whole recording for me is the juxtaposition of a run-ragged group like The Persuasions - who have recorded such classics as Women and Drinkin' - with an album aimed mainly at children. A small group of kids even joins the masters on a number of tracks (the most tender of which is Teddy Bears' Picnic, but How Much Is That Doggie is a treat too), which makes it all the more interesting.

    I'm nowhere near having kids of my own, but I hope I'll still have this CD lying around if that day ever comes. Probably my favorite childhood album (back in the days of vinyl) was a solo effort by Ken Blackwood, bassman for The Blackwood Brothers. I loved to hear him woof out solos and would smile my whole way through, dreaming about the day when I could make all those crazy sounds. The Persuasions' resident sub-woofer, Jimmy Hayes, has a few moments here that remind me of that, and I imagine it's great fun for kids to listen (or feel, if you play it loud enough) as he thunders out notes below low C again and again.

   Any fan of The Persuasions should have this album. Any fan of a cappella who remembers anything at all from their childhood should have this album. It's a rollicking good time from the godfathers of a cappella; a fun listen for both kids and oldsters and pretty much everyone in between.

David Allen

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