Anyone who has read this blog before knows of my love of ‘50’s/early /60’s rock and roll and especially, doo-wop. By the time the early ’70’s rolled around, we were a long way away from the Fifties, whose music was largely represented by Sha Na Na who played it as much for laughs as anything.
So it was refreshing, in 1971, to discover an album called We Came To Play by a band named The Persuasions. Play was an entirely a capella album with large measures of soulful doo-wop. According to the book Doo-Wop Acapella: A Story of Street Corners, Echoes, Three-Part Harmonies, this album “established the Persuasions as the premiere acapella group in the world.”
Give a listen to “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home,” a great tune written by the late Joe South who probably deserves his own post. No instruments. No dancers. No pyrotechnics. No bullshit. Just the naked, unadorned, unprocessed human voice, as good as it gets:
So how did the Persuasions get themselves a contract on a major label at a time when no one gave a crap about a capella? Well, a recording artist on Reprise (founded by Frank Sinatra no less) was a gentleman you may have heard of, one Frank Zappa. Now for all the weird shit you may or may not know about Zappa, he was die-hard doo-wop fan.
In fact in 1968, Frank and the Mothers of Invention had released a concept album called Cruising with Ruben & the Jets wherein they took on the persona of a fictional doo-wop band. (And in a “life imitates art” scenario, a singer named Ruben Guevera approached Zappa and told him he had a band. That band then became the real Ruben and the Jets.)
Anyway, Frank heard the Persuasions sing over the phone and instantly knew he had to get them onto his own label, Straight. (Side note – I find it ironic that Frank Sinatra – a man who pretty much loathed rock and roll – maintained a financial interest in a label, Reprise, that released albums by Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, Jethro Tull and Captain Beefheart.)
It’s impossible for me to list in one post all the great songs The Persuasions have done, covering everyone from Sam Cooke to Curtis Mayfield. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t post another favorite from We Came to Play called “Walk On the Wild Side.” Nope, not the Lou Reed song but a tune from a 1962 movie of the same name. It was sung in the movie by Brook Benton who later sang a classic called “Rainy Night in Georgia.”
Sinner, sinner, sinner
Sinner, sinner, sinner
One day of prayin’ and six nights of fun
You better believe that the odds ‘gainst going to heaven
Are six to one
But the Persuasions were pretty hip and didn’t limit themselves to old soul songs, R&B and classics. No, they also took rock songs and bent and twisted them to fit their style. So they record songs by the Grateful Dead, The Beatles, U2 and Bob Dylan. Surely, you’re saying, they didn’t do songs by their old patron, Frank Zappa. Yes, they did and don’t call me Shirley. 😀
In 2000, the guys released an album called Frankly A Capella: The Persuasions Sing Zappa. “Frank gave us our start,” they said, “and this is our way of saying thanks.” (Frank died in 1993.) Now Zappa is known as much for his bent sense of humor as his compositional skill. So how the hell do you take a song like, say, “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing” and make it into a Persuasions song? Like this:
While researching this post, I stumbled on the fact that the Barenaked Ladies have just released an album called Ladies and Gentlemen: Barenaked Ladies and the Persuasions. According to Wikipedia, this album grew out of the bands’ meeting at a concert. Strange bedfellows?
From their website:
The Persuasions continue today with original members Jimmy Hayes and Jayotis Washington, along with Raymond Sanders who joined in the early ‘90’s, Dave Revels, who sang with the group on its Beatles album and later arranged and co-produced The Persuasions’ tribute to U-2 in 2005 and again in 2010 when he arranged and produced their Bob Dylan tribute entitled, “Knockin’ On Bob’s Door.”
The saga continues in 2015 with a hit by British DJ, Jamie XX featuring a sample of the group”s recording of Good Times. Later in 2016, the group appeared on ABC’s “The View” and live appearance in Central Park with Barenaked Ladies and a recording project with the group.
The Persuasions started out as a bunch of kids hanging around singing a cappella. They have gone on to become the undisputed grand old men of the genre.