Soul Cities CHICAGO Jerry "The Ice Man" Butler Interview
By Nelson | january 14, 2009 | Post a comment
Jerry "The Ice Man" Butler was the original lead singer of the R&B vocal group The Impressions and is also a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. His work with Otis Redding and Cur He continues to perform and also currently serves as Commissioner for Cook County, Illinois.
Due to technical difficulties we weren't able to include this interview in the Chicago Soul Cities episode:
Jerry Butler at DuSable Museum Interview by Nelson George
NG: When people talk about soul music so they tend to focus on Motown in Detroit or Memphis and Stax. You think Chicago gets it due as a soul city?
JB: No because of this reason: Motown had the Motown sound the sound of Philadelphia was the sound of Philadelphia, Memphis had the Stax sound, but in Chicago there were a multitude of sounds you know. You mentioned some of the people but when all of these people created their own style of music. First you say you had Gene Amonds, and Sonny Stitt --both saxophone players but both different in their style. You had Amad Jamal and Ramsey Lewis -- fantastic piano players with different styles and then when you add onto all the other music’s that came out of this city. For instance, I think were the only city that has a Grammy in symphonic music with the Chicago symphony orchestra and the polka, because we have more Poles here than any place else in the world other than Warsaw. So you get all of that flavor and mix it all up and stir it around and then comes jumping out in the form of Earth Wind and Fire and Chaka Khan, and so many others.
NG: One of the greatest song writers/performers ever was of course Curtis Mayfield. I always tell people the greatest soul album is Superfly. That’s because of the arrangements and the lyrical quality. To me this is a magnificent records and a major artistic statement. You knew Curtis so well. What made him special?
JB: I started with him and the Impressions along with Sam Goodman and Arthur and Richard Brooks but Curtis was just a unique person ya know. Found an old guitar in his grandmother’s closet and two three weeks later he was actually playing melodies.
NG: It is amazing about Chicago soul music. People talk about Philly’s sophistication but there’s something very elegant about Chicago soul music maybe it’s the arrangements maybe that’s a big part of the sweetening
JB: I think it’s the influence of the urban cities that have affected the music for instance if you came out of Philadelphia you were infected by Basey and Ellington and that you know in the mid west we had the big bands and so all of that. But it was always a big jazz town and so jazz influenced a lot of what was going including the arrangements and the players.
NG: How long have you been a soul singer now?
JB: (laughs) You know now what does that mean a soul singer? Does that mean I’m a singer with a soul? Or I’m a soul with a song?
NG: You have both you have both
JB; You know the beauty of this thing is that we were making music because we loved to make music. Not that I believed I was ever going to make a living making music. I look around now and see that 50 years later I’m still singing for your precious love I mean no body could have expected that even the folks who were my greatest cheerers would not have expected that a little ballad from a little 17 year kid at a high school on the south side of Chicago would have a song that would come out of the system that would last that long.
NG: You know one of the things I always think about with soul as well is the songs and that they tell great stories and they become part of peoples lives in ways that even you couldn’t have imagined that you’d be singing that song.
JB: Absolutely, absolutely. I hate to brag about our city but I must brag about our city because it’s worth bragging about with all its faults.
NG: Now have you ever thought about living elsewhere?
JB: Oh I’ve thought about it, even tried it. Stayed in Los Angeles for a while when I was working with Motown. Philadelphia was always a place that I had an office or something but I’ve never been able to beat this town for its location and for its vibrancy and for its universality and diversity. I mean this is probably the most diverse city that I can think of in the United States.
NG: Now I wanna end this by asking you a tough question okay there are so many great song associated with this town there are so many great songwriters what’s your favorite song to come out of Chicago?
JB: Wow I get in trouble?
NG: Yea absolutely
JB: Because you mentioned R Kelly before but “I believe I can fly” would to me be one of the anthems of this town. Now I don’t know a whole lot about R Kelly’s career I know a lot about the problems that he’s had but I was introduced to the song not by R Kelly but by a group of teen not teenagers but kindergarten children who were singing it in one of their programs and I said what a great lyric what a great song. And so that’s my choice.
NG: That’s a beautiful choice unexpected and beautiful
JB: Thank you
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1 comment for 'Soul Cities CHICAGO Jerry "The Ice Man" Butler Interview'
Tracey New on april 23, 2009 at 08:10:29 PM says:
Nelson, glad you spent some time with the legendary Jerry Butler. Being a Chicago native, my favorite cousins The O'Neils live two doors down from Jerry and I used to walk his twin sons Randy and Tony to school. I was a few years older so I had the young posse walking through the deep, cold snow as we headed to our elementary school. Jerry is a dear family friend and it's cool that you spent some quality time with this important musical legend.
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