Something billed as DOO WOP REUNION II appears Saturday night at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, which is kinda curious because there won't be any doo-wop. It's an interesting lineup, but could anyone get away with billing a Slipknot/Marilyn Manson/Nine Inch Nails concert as, say, a ska festival? I rest my case.
The most succulent entre here is JERRY BUTLER, a pivotal figure in R&B whose name deserves wider discussion. With his smooth, reedy vocal style (his timbre bore a resemblance to Jackie Wilson's) and laid-back delivery, Butler came to be knows as the Ice Man. The Ice Man cameth as a member of the Impressions (the trio also included Curtis Mayfield), who first hit in 1958 with the wonderful and tender “For Your Precious Love.” The song is a missing link between doo-wop and the soul music from whence it sprang, and Butler soon left the group to pioneer new sounds in black pop. Along with Wilson, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Major Lance, Little Willie John and a select few others, Butler became a driving force away from street-corner harmony and toward (or perhaps we should say back to) the church. Several sonically delicious and highly influential hits—mostly sweet ballads—followed over the next decade or so, including “He Will Break Your Heart,” “Never Give You Up,” the uncharacteristically uptempo “Hey Western Union Man” and “Only the Strong Survive.” Unfortunately, Butler wasn't strong enough to survive the disco tsunami that swept away most of the great soul performers in the '70s, and he has been unfairly reduced to selling his wares on the oldies circuit ever since. That said, the man still sings with the same assurance as ever and with enough romantic grace and plume to make you want to start humping whoever/whatever is in your general vicinity. He epitomizes old school cool, a precious, rare and dying breed. Do not miss his performance.
Also appearing will be SHIRLEY ALSTON REEVES, better known as lead singer of THE SHIRELLES, who were also not a doo-wop act but were debatably the most successful and certainly the most influential of all pre-Motown girl groups, with a legacy of hits including “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “Mama Said,” “Soldier Boy” and “Foolish Little Girl.” But speaking of Motown, could there have been a Supremes, a Marvelettes, a Martha Reeves or a Mary Wells without Shirley and company? Purty damned unlikely, as the Shirelles created the template—both musically and in terms of the Shirelles' classy, coordinated wardrobes—employed by those acts to forge their own legacies. In fact, the Shirelles didn't just influence soul, but they were also instrumental in helping develop the British Invasion and folk-rock movements of the '60s: the Beatles covered their “Baby It's You” and “Boys”; Manfred Mann copped their “Sha La La”; and the Mamas & Papas sweetened up their “Dedicated to the One I Love.”
Lastly, we are presented with JAY SIEGEL, who originally sang with THE TOKENS, whose sole hit was the terrifyingly girlish “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” a song that makes one's testicles recede into the body every time it comes on your favorite oldies radio station, which seems to happen with alarming regularity. In keeping with the evening's theme, “Lion Sleeps” also was not a doo-wop tune but rather a rearranged pop version of a South African folk song called “Wimoweh.” I don't know what “wimoweh” means, but I bet if you chant it as a mantra several times per day in your garden, all the snails will go away.
Another highly influential old gent appears at the Cerritos Center this week, but LEON RUSSELL's most important work has taken place behind-the-scenes as an arranger, session musician and songwriter. Russell was a member of producer Phil Spector's legendary studio troupe, which churned out so many hits for many different artists that it would be folly even to begin to list them all here. As a recording artist, Russell has also had his share of success, most notably with the blues/jazz-infused hits “Lady Blue” and “Tight Rope” back in the '70s, which only tell a small part of the story. Russell's raspy, Dr. John-like vocals, plus his skills as a pianist and guitarist, appear in a large body of solo work, much of it so eclectic in nature that it has been difficult for fans to put a finger on exactly who Russell is. In his hands, blues, jazz, country and swamp rock all dance together, as he's collaborated with artists ranging from the Rolling Stones to Willie Nelson to the Byrds and Jerry Lee Lewis over the years.
Doo Wop Reunion II at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Dr., Cerritos, (562) 916-8900. Sat., 2 & 8 p.m. $35-$45. All ages; Leon Russell performs at the Cerritos Center. Fri., 8 p.m. $30-$40. All ages.