2012 Marks 50th Anniversary For A Cappella Legends

Thursday, February 2, 2012 10:58

An Interview with Dave Revels of The Persuasions

by: Casey Pukl

50  years is one heck of a long time to imagine anyone doing any one thing. But legendary a cappella group, The Persuasions, is still at it! The group is currently celebrating their 50th Anniversary, and they’re bringing their signature soul-baring show to Anthology next week. Find out what they’ve been up to, what iconic artist’s material is next on their list, and how they choose their material in my candid chat with the groups producer/arranger, Dave Revels.

CP: When did you officially join the group?

DR: I officially joined the group in either 2008 or 2009, but I’ve actually been a part of it since 2002. In 2003, I produced and arranged the U2 album, “The Persuasions Sing U2”. And then I arranged and produced the latest album, “Knockin’ On Bob’s Door”. But I’ve also done some additional projects along the way. We’ve been working with J J Cale, and we did a few more Grateful Dead tracks. We released a couple of songs that didn’t make it onto the first album on the new release, “Might As Well.” But I guess full-time, I started performing with the group in 2008.

CP: You’re now the main arranger and producer for the group, correct?

DR: Yes, that’s right.

CP: How did you come into that role?

DR: Actually, my history with the group goes back close to 40 years ago when I met one of the original members of the group when I had my own group. I was a teenager at the time. I took my group up to him, you know, I thought we were so incredible and all, and he said, ‘Gee, that sounds nice, guys, but where’s the harmony?’

And we looked at each other and said, ‘Harmony? What’s that?’ And he sat down with us and we got to go through his classic albums, and that’s how I learned about harmony from an original member of the group, Jayotis Washington, back in that early period of my life.

I went on to sing a cappella with my group for about 5 years before I used any bands, and then I went on to be a member of The Drifters, the original group that was inducted into the Hall of Fame. So I’ve been producing and writing stuff ever since.

One day I went to see The Persuasions in 2001 or 2002, at BB Kings in New York, and they asked me to come up on stage and sing. And then about a week later, I got a call from their business manager saying that The Persuasions wanted me to record with them on The Beatles (The Persuasions Sing The Beatles) album. At the time, Jerry Lawson was their lead singer. So that’s where my real full indoctrination into the group started. I learned a lot from Jerry Lawson, who was an incredible producer and arranger, as we all know. So I learned quite a lot of a cappella technique in that time. I also really embraced the way he worked with Jimmy Hayes, the bass singer. They’d get the heart and soul of the song together first and then bring it to the rest of the group to fill in the rest of the harmony. That foundation between the lead singer and the bass though, I got that. 

After that experience, when I was called in to arrange the U2 album, I worked with Jimmy Hayes in the same way. I filled that void, and Jimmy and I continued to work with that same kind of chemistry and he and Jerry Lawson had. The chemistry is solid. I love Jimmy; he’s an incredible singer. The rest is history! 

The newest CD, “Knockin’ on Bob’s Door,” has gotten some incredible reviews so far, and it’s quite an enjoyable experience for us to watch people embrace that album. We loved doing it, and we loved the music. Bob Dylan is such an iconic character, writer, poet, singer, and musician. Just to embrace his music was an incredible experience. We really got heavily involved with it.

CP: You guys have such a fabulous way of choosing some seriously iconic music from the Grateful Dead to the Beatles, Jerry Butler, Bob Dylan. How do you choose?

DR: Most of the time, it comes from the fans suggesting things. A lot of them came through fans coming up to the group and suggesting it. With the Bob Dylan record, that’s what happened. We were out on the East Coast, and someone mentioned it to us, and then the next night on the West Coast, someone else mentioned the same thing. So we gave it a shot. If someone suggests something to us, we’ll listen to it and see how we feel, and if we like the lyrics, we’ll embrace the song.

There’s a young lady from Canada named Elena Yeung. She flew out from Canada to New York to record one of her songs with us. It was a cool experience. She’s a young artist, she wanted The Persuasions on her song, we liked it, so she came out and we did it.

CP: So you guys take requests?

DR: Yeah! Of course! The next one we’re actually thinking about doing is Bob Marley. A lot of people have been asking us, so we’re looking. We’re not jumping totally into it yet, but we’re going to start fooling around with redemption song first and see how we do with it. We’ll see if it’s a marriage for us, and if we can add something to it. If that works, then we’ll take another one and develop it.

CP: This is the group’s 50th Anniversary tour now, right? 

DR: Yes. 2012 marks 50 years. The group began in 1962. So this is quite an experience. On a lot of our stops last year, people came out and told us stories about how the group has been a part of their life for so long and what it means to them. It’s been like homecoming for a lot of fans.

CP: What’s that been like for you, stepping in to be a part of this experience?

DR: It’s like coming home for me too. I believe in circles, and everything comes to a close. This is quite a closure. Coming back to where I began, having been taught by the original group, and now I’m in their shoes, it’s an honor to continue the tradition of The Persuasions. It’s an honor that I take quite seriously. I devote myself to the group. I love singing, and I love the purity of a cappella. In a cappella, you’re naked! There’s nowhere to hide. That’s the essence of what it is, so you’re truly baring your soul every time you sing. You’re exposing yourself, so you have to come from a spiritual point of view in a cappella.

CP: What’s on deck for this year?

DR: We’re touring the Bob Dylan record as well as the Grateful Dead record since it has been re-released. It’s sort of going through the history of the catalogue of the group. We’re selecting different songs from different points in the group’s history. The concerts now are like a journey through the group’s history and albums and artists. That’s what this year is about; reminiscing.

CP: Anything in particular you guys are looking forward to about coming out to San Diego?

DR: Any opportunity to get away from the cold, although I guess I can’t really say that since I went out in New York in a t-shirt yesterday. They talk about 2012 being the end of the world, but I think I’ll be enjoying every last minute of it if it’s like this (laughs).

CP: (Laughs) Very good point!

DR: It’s a very interesting year to say the least, but we’ll enjoy heading out to the West Coast. It’s always great to reconnect with old fans and connect with new ones. We get a lot of emails from people on the West Coast wondering when we’re coming out there. There are a lot of people out there with love for the group, so we’re looking forward to give them a chance to see us.

Special thanks to Dave Revels for his time! This is a show that you absolutely won’t want to miss. Come out and hear the a cappella versions of some of your favorite classics! Be sure to preview their Bob Dylan record on Spotify at the link below!

The Persuasions on Spotify

WHAT: The Persuasions
WHEN: Thursday, February 9, 2012, 7:30pm
TICKETS: $10-$44 Buy Tickets
MORE INFO: Artist Profile