Thursday, June 19, 2008

For Your Precious Love, The Impressions (1958)

"The chicks would melt when we danced!!!" - YouTube commenter

Can you blame them? Probably the most exquisitely moving doo-wop song ever recorded was penned by Jerry Butler, the Chicago baritone who was briefly the lead singer for the Impressions.

Butler's ability to project an eerie serenity while singing intensely emotional songs earned him the moniker "The Ice Man." Nowhere is that talent more on display than in For Your Precious Love.

Starting out as the Roosters, the original Impressions were tenors Arthur and Richard Brooks, who put the song's music to Butler's lyrics, baritone Sam Gooden, and Butler and his childhood friend, the tenor Curtis Mayfield, both of whom performed with the Traveling Souls Spiritualist Church's Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers. Mayfield's grandmother was a pastor there.

But gospel wasn't their only influence - according to the history at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, which inducted the Impressions in 2003, both Butler and Mayfield sang with secular groups on the side to supplement their families' incomes, Butler with the Quails and Mayfield with the Alphatones.

So these guys were probably destined to end up doo-wop singers.
Defined as a mixture of a capella singing and instrumentation, Butler explained the genesis of doo-wop in an interview with the Associated Press in 1999:

"When most of the groups started they didn't have instruments,'' he said. "So they used voices as instruments. The bass singer would sing a bass line, the tenor would sing what a saxophone might play and the lead singer would sing the lyrics. But then when they'd go to perform it in a studio, the producer would say, 'Let's use a real piano. Let's use a real guitar and maybe throw in a real saxophone.'''

On For Your Precious Love, the marketing whizzes at the Vee-Jay label felt the need to bill one group member over the others, to the dismay of the entire group (see Butler's memoir, Only the Strong Survive), and there was only one more single with Butler - Come Back My Love - before he went out on his own. Mayfield was Butler's guitarist and backing band musical director for awhile, and co-wrote some of Butler's early singles, including He Will Break Your Heart, but eventually returned to the Impressions where he remained throughout the 60s.

Butler, who has been a Cook County Commissioner in Chicago for many years, has been a tireless champion of rhythm & blues' influence in American culture - he is chairman emeritus of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation - and can often be seen on PBS as host of several different doo-wop specials. Almost 80, his inimitable voice is still incredibly strong and icy. I shiver every time I hear it.


Norrin2 said...

Hey, if you estivate, shouldn't you be asleep right now?
: )

wendy said...

Well, Robert, I was going to say I had to wait until summer to do that, but I just realized - this evening it will be summer officially!

I feel my chaise lounge beckoning ...

Mombi said...

When will "Estivator's Greatest Hits" CD's be available? I'm anxiously awaiting my copy. Or you could develop Estivator iPods preloaded with your musical selections--I would certainly buy one!

wendy said...

Estivator iPods ... now there's a concept with some serious legs!