(courtesy of Collectors Choice Music)
Jerry Butler was accorded the nickname "The Ice Man" by a Philadelphia DJ who once called Butler's show "the coolest thing I ever saw." That was in the early â€˜60s after Butler had left the Impressions, with whom he'd scored the doo-wop hit "For Your Precious Love." More than 40 years later, he's still the Ice Man, but you can call him "Commissioner Ice Man," as he is Cook County Board Commissioner in his native Chicago.
Collectors' Choice Music has reissued two of Butler's seminal solo albums on one CD - The Ice Man Cometh and Ice on Ice, both produced by the multi-platinum Philadelphia writing and production team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Pop historian Gene Sculatti wrote notes on the reissue, which includes an interview with Butler.
Butler was first approached by Gamble & Huff in Philly, a city that's proven fortuitous in his career. The duo had freshly scored with the Soul Survivors' "Expressway to Your Heart" and Archie Bell & the Drells' "I Can't Stop Dancing." The meeting led to a collaboration resulting first in The Ice Man Cometh, which made its Billboard Top Albums chart debut in January 1969 and included three big singles: "Lost," "Hey, Western Union Man" and "Only the Strong Survive." Of the many Gamble and Huff-produced artists, including the O'Jays, Billy Paul, Lou Rawls and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Butler enjoyed the distinction of being the only one with whom the duo co-wrote.
Butler was hopeful through the years that Western Union would utilize his like-named hit in a commercial, but it was never to be. "And," he told Sculatti in the notes, "now email has screwed us out of that deal."
Ice on Ice arrived in stores later in 1969, and contained two Gamble-Huff-Butler-penned hits, "Moody Woman" and "What's the Use of Breaking Up?" In addition, one of the album tracks, "A Brand New Me," became a huge hit not for Butler but for both Aretha Franklin (it was the airplay-gleaning B-side of her version of "Bridge Over Troubled Water") and Dusty Springfield. It was even covered by Liberace.
Following Butler's two career-making albums with Gamble and Huff, the duo decided they would do no further outside production, focusing their efforts on their Philadelphia International imprint, selling 10 million record in a nine-month period. Butler had just re-hitched with Mercury Records in Chicago. Or, as he told Sculatti, "I would have gone with them."
Butler went on to have other hits, most notably "Never Gonna Give You Up" and "Ain't Understanding Mellow," the latter a duet with Branda Lee Eager. In the early â€˜70s, he opened his own Fountain Productions on Chicago's erstwhile Record Row (South Michigan Avenue between Roosevelt and Cermak Roads, the stretch where the Chess and Vee-Jay labels had made their homes a decade earlier). And in the â€˜80s, he was elected Chicago alderman (councilman) and later Cook County Board Commissioner. He also hosts PBS' doo-wop concert series and performs as a sideline.
But for those who want to hear The Ice Man in his prime, there is no better way than Collectors' Choice Music's single CD reissue of these two pivotal albums.