Graham Reid | | 1 min read
Jerry Butler, one of the greatest soul singers to emerge out of Chicago, came up through the usual route: gospel in church, inspired by Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers, formed a group (the Impressions) and recorded for Vee-Jay down on what was known as Record Row.
"Record Row was the scene," he said. "It went from just south of the Loop all the way down to 23rd St where Chess was. There was always something happening, we threw the best parties."
Back then Vee-Jay was the only real rival to Chess (where Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howling Wolf and dozens of other blues artists recorded) but Butler was one of the first soul artists to sign to the label.
The Impressions became big (Butler's friend Curtis Mayfield was also in the group) and enjoyed a string of hits . . . but Butler had left by '62 for a solo career where he took his smooth style to ballads like Moon River, Let It Be Me (with Bettye Everett) and other songs which crossed onto the charts.
But he could also deliver aching soul (When a Man Loves a Woman, he co-wrote I've Been Lovin' You Too Long with Otis Redding) and here he turns his attention to a theme which is familiar.
If the best songs write themselves into our autobiography, so too they can dredge up hurtful associations when the love or golden days have gone (as Aretha sings on Don't Play That Song For Me).
Songs also articulate what we sometimes cannot say and here Butler -- with some heavy orchestration and backing up singers -- asks the radio DJ to play that special sad song that speaks to spirit of the heart-broken.
When Butler tears his heart out here you know you are in the presence of one of the greats.
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