Clip: Hoekstra on Jerry Butler
'Iceman' enters alderman's 'Twilite Zone'
December 27, 2005
BY DAVE HOEKSTRA Staff Reporter
Rhythm and blues icon Jerry Butler is the perfect choice to bring in a
Chicago New Year.
After all, he is "The Iceman."
Butler makes a rare hometown appearance this weekend at The Harold
Washington Cultural Center. His concert is part of a bash being thrown
by Ald. Dorothy Tillman (3rd) that she has pegged "The Twilite Zone."
Other festivities include an outdoor laser and space cannon light
show, an outdoor winter blues bazaar and a special appearance by Otis
Clay and others at The Spoken Word Cafe, 4655 S. King (separate $25
cover). The Butler concert is hosted by disc jockey Herb Kent, "The
Unofficial Mayor of Bronzeville" and the $75 ticket includes a
pre-concert buffet, midnight champagne toast and post-midnight
continental breakfast in the cultural center. After costs, proceeds go
to the Harold Washington Cultural Center.
"What Dorothy wants to do on 47th Street is what they do on Times
Square," Butler said last week. "You know how Dorothy thinks: the head
tries to keep up with the hat. She wants it to be old school. She told
me some of the radio stations tried to talk her out of using somebody
as old as me. That just made her more determined."
Tillman said 47th Street will be closed off "and the entire street
will come alive for the first time since the days of the Regal (the
cultural center site). People can purchase coffee and cider outside
and we'll have a DJ outside."
Inside, Butler's five-piece band (with three background singers)
includes legendary Chicago session man Gene Ford (Tyrone Davis,
Chi-Lites) on tenor saxophone and Butler's younger brother Billy on
silky-sounding guitar. Billy Butler had his own 1960s success with
Billy Butler and the Enchanters.
Jerry Butler, who turned 66 earlier this month, was born in Sunflower,
Miss. His family moved to Chicago when he was three and they settled
at 942 N. Sedgwick in Cabrini-Green. While growing up in Cabrini-Green
Butler met Curtis Mayfield, who was singing in the Northern Jubilee
Gospel Singers. Butler and Mayfield went on to form the Impressions.
Butler earned the nickname "The Iceman" for his cool baritone that was
the perfect counterpart to Mayfield's vulnerable falsetto.
Butler left the Impressions in 1959 -- only a year after their first
hit, "For Your Precious Love" --although he continued to collaborate
as a songwriter and singer with Mayfield, who died in 1999. Butler's
solo hits include "Mr. Dream Merchant" (1967), "Hey Western Union
Man," (1968) and "Only the Strong Survive" (1969).
"When I think of New Year's Eve, I think of the early and mid-1960s
when we were doing shows at the Regal," Butler said. "That's part of
what Dorothy's trying to do. Back then the theater-going public was
still used to vaudeville, so the Regal would have two or three groups,
a female act, male act, a comedian and maybe even a dancer. The Red
Saunders Big Band would play." Bronzeville drummer Saunders helped
launch the career of Joe Williams and others. Saunders' Monday morning
"breakfast" sets at the Club DeLisa were legendary in Bronzeville.
Butler is a Cook County Commissioner and still performs around the
world, though he has not cut a record in more than a decade. His
still-cool chops are worthy of consideration, notably for producer Joe
Henry's recent soul resurrections of Solomon Burke, Allen Toussaint
and others. "The problem is not do you record -- it is what do you do
with it after you record it," Butler said. "You can't get on Clear
Channel and they own every station in town. We're on satellite radio,
but do you hear new music by us? It's a tragedy. It robs a new
generation of music that preceded the music of today."
Not entirely. West Coast rapper The Game sampled Butler's "No Money
Down" (which Butler wrote in 1970 with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff) on
his 2005 hit "Dreams (The Game Song)," produced by Kanye West.
Butler chuckled and said, "Man, I made more money off that sample than
I did off the whole [Butler's original "You & Me"] album.