Jerry Butler Biography

8 December 1939, Sunflower, Mississippi, USA. Jerry, older brother of Billy Butler, moved to Chicago as a child and was later part of the city’s burgeoning gospel circuit. He subsequently joined several secular groups, including the Roosters, an aspiring trio of Sam Gooden and Richard and Arthur Brooks. Butler then suggested they add his friend, Curtis Mayfield, on guitar. Now called the Impressions, the quintet secured a Top 3 US R&B hit with the haunting ‘For Your Precious Love’ (1958). However, the label credit, ‘Jerry Butler And The Impressions’, caused friction within the group. A second single, ‘Come Back My Love’, was less successful and Butler left for a solo career. His early releases were minor hits until ‘He Will Break Your Heart’ reached number 1 in the US R&B and number 7 in the pop charts in 1960. The song was written by Mayfield, who also added guitar and sang backing vocals. Their differences clearly resolved, two subsequent hits, ‘Find Another Girl’ and ‘I’m A Telling You’ (both 1961), featured the same partnership.

Mayfield’s involvement lessened as the Impressions’ own career developed, but Butler’s chart run continued. ‘Make It Easy On Yourself’ (1962) and ‘I Stand Accused’ (1964) were among his finest singles. Butler switched to Mercury Records in 1966 where he honed the style that won him his ‘Ice Man’ epithet. ‘Hey Western Union Man’ and ‘Only The Strong Survive’ topped the soul chart in 1968 and 1969, while duets with Gene Chandler and Brenda Lee Eager punctuated his early 70s recordings. With his brother, Billy Butler, he formed the Butler Writers Workshop, which encouraged aspiring songwriters and musicians, among whom were Marvin Yancey and Chuck Jackson of the Independents and Natalie Cole.

Butler’s releases on Motown Records preceded a more successful spell with Philadelphia International Records, while the 80s and 90s saw his work appear on Fountain and CTI. Since the mid-80s Butler has balanced his music career with his involvement in politics, and is currently an elected official in Chicago.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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