Jerry Butler (The Ice Man)

When people ask me “What’s your favourite Song”, I very seldom have an answer.  The reason is, I have many favourites that are Rockers from the 50’s & 60’s, Slow songs or Ballads from those era’s and even novelty and Bubblegum songs.  Tonight I will look at the Ice-Man, who with the Impressions in 1958 recorded, I guess maybe my favourite 50’s Ballad.  When Dick Clark first heard it, he thought it was too slow and would not be successful; well even The Great Dick Clark can make a mistake.  I have this song by Kenny Vance and the Planotones, Now that’s also a fantastic version, but in 1958 “For Your Precious Love” just blew me away and it still does.  So let’s take a look at “The Ice-Man”…

Jerry Butler and the Impressions

Jerry Butler and Betty Everett

Jerry Butler
Only the Strong Survive
1.   For Your Precious Love (with The Impressions)/ Abner 1013/ June 58/ #11 R&B #3
2.   He Will Break Your Heart/ Vee-Jay 354/ November 1960/ #7 #1 R&B (7)
3.   Find Another Girl/ Vee-Jay 375/ April 1961/ #27
4.   I’m A Telling You/ Vee-Jay 390/ August 1961/ #25
5.   Moon River/ Vee-Jay 405/ October 1961/ #11
6.   Make It Easy On Yourself/ Vee-Jay 451/ August 1962/ #20
7.   Need to Belong/ Vee-Jay 567/ December 1963/ #31
8.   Let it Be Me (with Betty Everett)/ Vee-Jay 613/ September 1964/ #5
9.   Mr. Dream Merchant/ Mercury 72721/ November 1967/ #38
10. Never Give You Up/ Mercury 72798/ June 1968/ #20
11. Hey Western Union Man/ Mercury 72850/ October 1968/ #16
12. Are You Happy/ Mercury 72876/ January 1969/ #39
13. Only The Strong Survive/ Mercury 72898/ March 1969/ #4 #1 R&B (2)
14. Moody Woman/ Mercury 72929/ June 1969/ #24
15. What’s the Use of Breaking Up/ Mercury 72960/ September 1969/ #20
16. Ain’t Understanding Mellow (with Brenda Lee)/ Mercury 73255/ February 1972/ #21

Jerry Butler‘s career spans four decades; he recorded more than 50 albums and his voice is one of the most distinguished voices in all of music. As soulful as ever, yet smooth as ice, his nickname “the Ice Man” epitomizes his demeanour — and sound. In spite of his status as a true music icon, he remains humble. Butler moved from Sunflower, MS, to Chicago, IL, at the age of three during the mass migration of blacks from the South to the North. (He grew up in an area which is now known as the Cabrini-Green Housing Projects.)

Butler acquired his initial music lessons as a young boy while a member of the church choir in Chicago. Curtis Mayfield, who was three years younger, was also a member of the same choir. The two befriended each other and began a collaboration that would have an everlasting impact on music. The twosome joined up with brothers Arthur and Richard Brooks and Sam Gooden to form the R&B group the Roosters. In fact, the Brooks brothers, Gooden, and a female had migrated to Chicago from Tennessee, and were called the Roosters & a Chick. But when Butler and Mayfield joined them, the group became simply the Roosters. In 1957, the quintet’s name was changed to Jerry Butler & the ImpressionsButler scored his first hit with the Impressions in 1958 with the timeless ballad “For Your Precious Love.” (He’d written the lyrics to the song when he was just 16.)

That same year Butler and the Impressions cordially split, and Butler began his solo career. He released his first single, “Lost,” on the Abner label. It peaked at number 17 on the Billboard R&B charts. Jumping over to Vee-Jay in late 1960 where his career blossomed,Butler had his first hit as a solo artist with “He Will Break Your Heart.” The single popped to the top of the charts at number one and stayed there for seven consecutive weeks.

In 1961, Butler bounced back with two Top Ten singles: “Find Another Girl” and “I’m a Telling You.” In 1967, he signed with Mercury and teamed up with the production duo of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. His work with these two master producers and songwriters resulted in some classic recordings, including the outstanding album The Ice Man Cometh. The album featured one superb track after another, including two number-one singles (“Hey, Western Union Man,” “Only the Strong Survive”) and two Top Ten singles (“Never Give You Up,” “Are You Happy”). Always known for being a crooner, “Hey, Western Union Man” revealed to many that Butler was more than capable of singing up-tempo songs.

In 1971, Gamble and Huff formed their own label and subsequently Butler formed a creative workshop to help provide material for his forthcoming albums. Material that did not make his albums, he marketed to other artists. In the spring of 1971, Butler hit the Top Ten with the number-eight single “If It’s Real What I Feel,” which was written by Chuck Jackson (the younger brother of Rev. Jesse Jackson). Butler continued his hit-making tradition with “Ain’t Understanding Mellow,” a classic soul-ballad duet with Brenda Lee Eager that peaked at number three on the Billboard R&B charts.

Butler scored a number-six single with Eager with a remake of the Carpenters‘ “(They Long to Be) Close to You” and a solo hit with a remake of the O’Jays‘ “One Night Affair,” which was also his last song to crack the Top Ten.

Never one to categorize singers because he believes that a singer is a singer — not based on genre, but on a person’s mere ability to sing — Butler himself covered several styles of music during his lengthy music career. He had many highs in his career; ranging from sharing the spotlight with such greats as Aretha Franklin
 to being the chairman of the board for the Rhythm and Blues Foundation (a non-profit organization). Butler also became a force in another field: politics. In the mid-’80s, he was a significant campaign supporter of Chicago’s first black mayor Harold Washington. A short time later,Butler himself became the Cook County (IL) Commissioner and by the late ’90s he was a Chicago City Alderman. When the great Jerry Butler is not lobbying for his constituents, he can be found on-stage giving one of his spine-chilling performances with Ice Man-cool delivery.


One response to “Jerry Butler (The Ice Man)

  1. What a great post. It brings back such great memories. Please do one on my brothers, The Kalin Twins.

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