Where do i begin ! The dream of a lifetime for me to finally see Jerry Butler live. Jerry was playing four nights (two gigs a night 8 and 10 PM) at 'Blues Alley' in Georgetown Washington D.C. He does this every year over Valentines week ,kicking off on Valentines'Day itself. A few years back I went to see Nathan Heathman and his wonderfull wife Ora in D.C. and they took me to see 'Ahmad Jahmal' (legendary Jazz pianist) at Blues Alley. Nathan has sadly since passed on. That night though i remember picking up an itinery which listed forthcoming Artists who'd be appearing and there it was 'The ICE MAN' himself MR Jerry Butler' ,this was New Year 2001 and I promised myself that one day i'd make it over in February and see him. Well just over five years later here i was sat in this small intimate supper club with my good friends Paul Woosnam (Soul Shrews) ,Mandy Williams, John 'Kipper' Kerr and Carlos Vargas ,and on the final night Ora Heathman joined us (it was so special to see her again) I say final night because we also saw the first show and the late Thursday show ,we were fast becoming part of the fixture and fittings by the end of the week . Now don't think i'm greedy but well I thought what if I never get another chance? All I can say in my defence was 'money well spent'!

From the minute he was announced and came bouncing down the steps to the opening bars of 'I'm just thinking about cooling out' I was totally transfixed, he moved swiftly, shaking hands as he went, up onto the small bandstand and straight into the lyrics, frankly I was speechless his sheer coolness and manner were perfect for this intimate venue, to be so close was unbelievable.
The Backing band were faultless and included one 'Mr Billy Butler' on guitar and what a sweet sound that was ,every intro was lovingly coaxed from his instrument, if ever a musician and his work were inseparable then this is the guy, a perfect foil to Jerrys' rich vocal.

The backing vocals were impeccable too,courtesy of Jerrys' younger sister 'Matty' and a young Lady (we'll be hearing a lot of I feel) by the name of 'Terisa Griffin' and Boy ! can she sing !!

Having barely recovered my senses from Jerrys' first assault...bang ! He was straight into 'Moody Woman' (and each night it sounded better) then a triple-whammy 'Just because of you' everyone singing along, then some light-hearted banter about the heavy snow in Washington saying 'you must have known 'The Ice-Man' was on his way' ' you really couldn't help warm to this guy ! Then 'Brand new me' could it get any better...well yes ! straight into 'Moon River' a few tears in the eyes at nearby tables ! Then a sublime rendering of the 'Bacharach & David' Classic 'Make it easy on yourself' this guy is pure genius ! Up next 'I need to belong' superb is too shallow to describe this mans'voice. Then an all-time favourite of mine 'He will break your heart' I was singing along like a demented fool by now. Then 'Let it be me' with 'Matty' Duetting. Then what he described as 'A Blues Trilogy ' with a twist and a joke about Jimmy Reed singing two types of Blues...'The My woman leaving Blues.....and you guessed it 'My woman coming back Blues' to much laughter, lots of other quips punctuated the shows...this was a seasoned performer in his element ...totally relaxed and in full ownership of the room !

THe Trilogy consisted of 'You don't have to go' Jimmy Reed 'Boom Boom' John Lee Hooker 'Lucky so and so' this segwayed perfectly into a rendition of 'Duke Ellingtons'..'It don't mean a thing if it aint got that swing' which in turn gave way to some 1940s and 1950s classics like 'Satin Doll' and 'Don't get around much anymore' sublime !

The band crashed straight into 'Western Union Man' and away we were again singing along like there was no tommorrow.

Next came the spotlight which (for these shows) was fixed firmly on 'Terisa Griffin' singing 'My Funny Valentine' talk about WOW !! She takes no prisoners and every night had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand,then a duet with Jerry on 'Call me an Understanding fellow' .....and if that wasn't enough he gave us the story of how he received his moniker of 'The Ice Man' .After he'd left 'The Impressions' to go solo...his first gig was at 'The Uptown Theatre' in Philidelphia...when he went on he was jeered (such was the affection for 'The Impressions' ) he sang 'For Your Precious Love' and by the end they were cheering whereupon the Compere announced 'Man you are one cool dude i'm gonna call you The Ice-Man' then he sang it for could hear a pin drop...absolute magic !

If that wasn't enough we were blessed with 'What Love can do' The first show brought a standing ovation and Jerry never made it from the room....he turned back , more handshaking...then onto the bandstand for 'Only the strong survive' The perfect end ,long may Jerry keep performing...though he's a busy guy these days as he's also 'County Assessor' for 'Cook County'.....I think he'd make a great President !

AS a footnote to this , before the Thursday night show I had the honour of chatting with Jerry and Billy in their dressing room and what true Gentlemen they are .John and I peppered them with questions and they filled in a lot of gaps for us, Billy is such an unassuming guy he didn't say much but chuckled ......yes I asked if they planned to come to the U.K. or Europe but no time soon i'm afraid ...but all things being equal you can bet your bottom Dollar they'll be in D.C. next Valentines make a date with wont be dissapointed !!!!!

BEARSOUL February 2007

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