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.
19 thoughts on “The Persuasions”
Interesting stuff. I didn’t know about The Persuasions. I can imagine Sinatra hating rock ‘n’ roll. But he did cover George Harrison’s “Something,” calling it one of the great love songs, although he always introduced it as a Lennon-McCartney tune. I think people were afraid to correct the Chairman of the Board.
Pete, that surprises me you didn’t know these guys given your background and access to (I assume) shelves groaning with records. You are correct in Sinatra’s statement about “Something.” He called it something like “the greatest love song of the past 25 years.” Word eventually got back to Old Blues Eyes about George having written it and I believe he later started saying that. I like how Frank says, “You stick around Jack it might show.” 😀
Not to ramble on here, but I found Sinatra’s quote which came from an interview he did in the era of Elvis, Chuck Berry, et. al. It is instructive to read it. (For the record, my stepmother could just as easily have said this. She is Frank all the way.) Sounds like Frankie got it just about right:
“My only deep sorrow,” he said, “is the unrelenting insistence of recording and motion picture companies upon purveying the most brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression it has been my displeasure to hear—naturally I refer to the bulk of rock ‘n’ roll.
“It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people. It smells phony and false. It is sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons and by means of its almost imbecilic reiterations and sly, lewd—in plain fact dirty—lyrics, and as I said before, it manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth.
“This rancid smelling aphrodisiac I deplore. But, in spite of it, the contribution of American music to the world could be said to have one of the healthiest effects of all our contributions.”
Ultra-cool, these guys really don’t need any instruments! The singing reminds me a bit of the Temptations and the Impressions. As a huge Beatles fan, I’m particularly intrigued about their gospel version of Let It Be!
Well then, let’s share it with everybody!
Not with everybody, I’m afraid. “This video is not available” here in the UK. 😦
Right. That’s why I started adding Spotify links in for each song a while back. Directly below each YouTube video, no?
Thanks Doc this is a good one. I knew the FZ connection but never indulged enough. That is going to change. ‘Good Times’ sounds so good. I like the doo-wop also. Nice follow up to your last posts.
Ironically, I indulged in the music and literally had no idea about the Zappa connection. Or if I did, I’d long since forgotten it. It’s so funny to hear them just dive right into his stuff. As you know it’s not for everybody. They probably had to search his 100+ albums to find just the right tunes. Anyway, I love these guys. I’m glad they’re still doing it or some version of them is. If they tour, I am definitely going.
BTW, my reblog of your post from a while back is in the queue. Our team is looking at it now and it will be served up in a few days, broiled to perfection!
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I’m a Zappa guy from way back. I’m going to be giving that a spin. The Barenaked Ladies was kind of cool after that Canadian thing we touched on. I do like The Persuasions sound better than some of the acapella Ive heard.
“Broiled to perfection’ you are to kind Doc. Belated 4th. I listened to Dave Alvin’s ‘4th Of July’ yesterday. Love that tune. ‘X’ do a good version. “Broil it real good!”
Oh, just to clarify. I knew about Zappa’s doo-wop thing, had no idea he signed the Persuasions. Never made the connection. Thanks for the Fourth thing. Heard some good music, saw some fireworks, etc.
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“My only deep sorrow, is the unrelenting insistence of recording and motion picture companies upon purveying the most brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression it has been my displeasure to hear—naturally I refer to the bulk of rock ‘n’ roll.”
Yes.. And your comment is… ironic? Wistful? Channeling Old Blue Eyes?
Oh, wait. I see what happened here. You were quoting Sinatra but you probably didn’t see my comment above. I used the same quote in response to a comment from Pete. But I quoted the whole thing. It’s even nastier. Check it out.
Ah the joys of the wordpress app. Renders my comment redundant. Yes, thoroughly nasty but then I don’t think he had necessarily the best temperament / personality. This is an interesting piece, if you fancy it: https://www.ft.com/content/2cb885e8-f461-11e6-95ee-f14e55513608?mhq5j=e2
Frank aside; really liked this post, completely unknown group to me but pretty decent stuff here.
No, Frank was not a nice person. Oddly he was one of the best celebrity spokesmen for race relations we’ve ever had. But in his personal life, he could be a real piece of work.
I read that article. (BTW, it took me to the Financial Times where it wanted me to subscribe. So I just kept looking till I found a site that had it on free display.) Interesting that the article says he had to keep singing ‘My Way’ and “stand before his adoring audience and expose the ugly truth about his aggressive disregard for the thoughts and feelings of other people.” I never got any of that from that song at all. All I got was that, well, the singer of the song did it his way whatever that might have been. Interesting that it bombed here and was a smash in the UK. And they shoot people over it in the Philippines! I’ll avoid that one.
As to the Persuasions, yeah, I figured they’d be unknown to a lot of people. But they’ve been around a long time and in their circles, they are renowned. Forgot to mention in the post that I saw them opening for bluesman Albert Collins some years ago. They pull it off.
Very amused by the lyrics of The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing. Haven’t heard the original but I imagine it sounds funnier because of that a cappella doo-wop treatment.
So, puzzled. Is it the Zappa stuff you can’t hear but the Persuasions (Spotify) you can?
Yes, thoroughly nasty but then I don’t think he had necessarily the best temperament / personality. It’s so funny to hear them just dive right into his stuff.
I assume you mean, Zappa?
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