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Jerry Butler is among the very few singers that qualify as a true Soul Pioneer. He formed the Impressions with founder members Sam Gooden, Curtis Mayfield, Richard and Arthur Brooks in 1957 and they went on to write and record ‘For Your Precious Love’ that became a huge US R&B and Pop hit in July ’58. Though this historic record propelled the quintet to US stardom they could not maintain that high level of success with their next few records and Butler had left the group for a solo career on VeeJay within a year. Jerry continually toured the USA in the months that followed and his records hit the charts on a regular basis for the following three decades. His earliest hits were achieved with the writing and musical talents of co-writer Curtis Mayfield, who parked the Impressions for 18 months while he accompanied Jerry on the road. This team came up with ‘He Will Break Your Heart’ that went on to reach #1 on the R&B charts in October 1960. They followed on with ‘Find Another Girl’, ‘I’m A Telling You’ and ‘Need To Belong’ providing Jerry with even more big hits in ’61 and ’62. Butler cut the original versions of ‘Moon River’ and ‘Make It Easy On Yourself’ and scored big US hits with both songs before they were buried in an avalanche of inferior cover versions. His classic duet with Betty Everett ‘Let It Be Me’ also sold well despite the Everly Brothers big hit three years earlier.
When VeeJay collapsed in ’66 Jerry signed to Mercury and the hits continued with ‘I Dig You Baby’, ‘Mr Dream Merchant’ and ‘Lost’, before he teamed up with Philadelphia’s finest writer/producers Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff. Over the next couple of years Jerry and his new production team hit a purple patch that raised him to international stardom when ‘Never Give You Up’, ‘Hey Western Union Man’, ‘Are You Happy’, ‘Only The Strong Survive’, ‘Moody Woman’ and ‘What’s The Use Of Breaking Up’ became worldwide hits. When Gamble & Huff split with Mercury in 1970 over a royalty disputes Butler was tempted to go with them but opted to stay in Chicago and set up the Butler Workshop. This company was a creative hub for Chicagoan writing and musical talent and over the following decade they supplied songs, production skills and hits for the Dells, Terry Callier, Independents, Natural 4, Infinity, Ronnie Dyson, Natalie Cole, Jerry Butler and a host of other artists. Butler continued to hit the US R&B charts with Mercury until early ’76 when he signed with Motown. Only had one major hit ‘I Wanna Do It To You’ charted in the next two years. He signed to Philadelphia International in ’78 but only managed four middling R&B hits with them. Hits or no Jerry has made many fine records and over a fifty year career span he has proven himself consistently versatile at not only making hits for himself but a host of other artists. He also made hit duets with Gene Chandler (‘You Just Can’t Win’), Brenda Lee Eager (‘Ain’t Understanding Mellow’ and ‘Close To You’), Debra Henry (‘Don’t Be An Island’) and Patti Austin (‘In My Life’).
In America Butler clocked up 16 Top 40 and 58 R&B hit singles between July ’58 and August’83. He released many fine albums, 20 of which made it into the Top 100 R&B albums the three greatest sellers being The Iceman Cometh, Ice On Ice and You And Me. Though Jerry still tours the States today, he has also served as the Commissioner for Cook County, Chicago since the mid 80s and has been Chairman of the R&B Foundation for a similar period of time.

Peter Burns August ‘04

Other SoulMusicHQ references
Impressions
Curtis Mayfield
Billy Butler
Knight Brothers

More research available by email
from SoulMusicHQ.com
Billy Butler biography by Peter Burns
Discography
Sessionography
Photographic & graphic scans

Recommended reading
‘Only The Strong Survive’ Jerry Butler & Earl Smith – Published by Indiana University Press /2K
‘People Never Give Up’ Peter Burns – Published by Sanctuary /03

Recommended listening
Moon River/Delicious Together (23) US Collectables 7241 /2K
Iceman/The Mercury Years (44) US Mercury 510968-2 /92
The Philadelphia Sessions (22) US Mercury 31458498-2 /01
Time And Faith (9) US Urgent 1151 /92


 
   
   
             
               
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