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From Soul Express 2/2001
Every now and then from the South emerges a fine new talent, who after some investigation turns out to have been on the scene for years and years. Many of those discoveries, however, are way into their fifties or sixties and although, compared to them, we could call Jerry L still "a lad", he has studied the heritage of our genre enough to make the best of it in his music.
Born on December 5 in 1958 in Memphis, Jerry Lewis Minnis is the youngest of six with five others all being sisters. "Jerry L? As I was singing along my band, they started calling me Jerry L back in the late 80s, and it's been there ever since."
The gospel period was there, but not as influential as in most cases. "My oldest sister was a great singer. She loved to sing, but she never did it professionally. She formed a family gospel group called the Minnis Family, where she had me as a background singer. I had no interest in being a singer at all at that point, but she would always play these records - anything ranging from Brook Benton to Johnnie Taylor - all day, everyday, and these songs just kinda stayed in my heart. My favourite back when I was growing up would be Sam Cooke. I enjoyed a lot of Stax artists also - Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, the Soul Children - because that was the big thing happening in Memphis then.
"When I heard this one guy named McKinley Mitchell to sing a song called The End Of The Rainbow (in '77 on Chimneyville), at that point I knew then that I wanted to sing the blues. I formed a group in 1980 called Reliance. I still work with that unit right now. It's my band. Initially it was like nine of us. Today it's just six. I was the lead vocalist with two other guys assisting me on the vocals, two keyboards, two guitars, bass and drums."
"In 1981 I recorded my first song called Northern Boy on the Night Sound label here in Memphis. It's a slow blues song. Strange Things Happening was the b-side - just a little bit more upbeat. I didn't record again until 1993, when I did a CD single called Do Me, which has an uptempo shuffle kind of beat. The flip side was The Other Woman, which was a ballad. It was on my own label called Milo, and it did enough to grab interest from another local label here by the name of ENJ Records, which was really a gospel label. They did a project titled Jerry L - Something Special in 1996, which has eight songs on it. It belongs pretty much to the same format as my new CD - urban rhythm & blues. The strongest one on there was a song called Backstreet."
"Otherwise I've been just gigging all through the 80s and 90s. I've done a lot of stuff in this area, but I've also done some things outside of the Memphis area in surrounding states and I've even done some work in Singapore and the Phillippines."
Jerry's fresh CD called Last Word In Lonesome came out on Quinton Claunch's Soultrax Records, which also released Toni Green's Mixed Emotions CD a while back. "I know Toni Green. She was very instrumental in getting us together with a radio personality here at WDIA, a gentleman by the name of J. Michail Davis. He recommended me to Quinton."
Four tracks were produced by Quinton and the rest eight by Jerry and Michael Lowe. Among musicians you can spot such names as Preston Shannon, Michael Toles, John Ward and Carl Marshall on guitar, Jim Spake on sax and James Robertson on drums. The opening track, Too Poor To Die, is a blues song written by James Shaw. "He is a writer here in this town. James was a well-known writer back in the old day. He did some songs on Brook Benton." The set also closes with a bluesy slowie called Half Lovin' Me, written by James Griffin. "James is a good writer, but based on the demo that we got not too good with music, so me and Michael went to work on that, did a little surgery on it and put the right track with the lyrics to make it happen."
Two songs derive from James Carr's Soul Survivor set, a melodic mid-pacer called Put Love First (written by John Ward and George Jackson) and Quinton's own country & soul ballad titled That's How Strong My Woman's Love Is.
Jerry himself wrote six songs - four of them mid-to-uptempo bouncers (Ease It To Me, You Gave Her Up, Do Me and I Wanna Make Love) - and one of them, Do Me, was the song, which originally was released on the Milo label in '93. "I just redid it. It's actually the old track, but it's kinda enhanced a little bit. I didn't change it that much, because I really didn't see too much wrong with the way it was constructed. I just added a little bit, pumped it up and gave it a bigger sound."
"You Gave Her Up is a song about a couple that I know, where the guy had a good woman, didn't know it and walked away from her. In real life she finally met a good man, got married, but after only two years she died. That was a sad thing."
"I Wanna Make Love is a dance tune, but not taking away too much from the type of music I'm doing - urban r&b and soul music - only trying to give a small dose of hip-hop, just a little bit."
That's My Woman and The Rain are two ballads, which Jerry wrote and which he also names his favourites along with Ease It To Me and the title track. "I wrote The Rain, when I was separating from my wife - the changes I was going through. I do a lot of writing based on things that are close to me, and that was one of the episodes in my life."
A mid-paced bouncer called The Last Word In Lonesome Is "Me" was written by Quinton and James Griffin. "When he brought that song to me at first, the lyrics were kinda catchy to me, but I wasn't too enthusiastic about the track, so I had to put a little more singing to that song. Me and the other half of Mijay Music, Michael Lowe - a very gifted musician - we put those tracks down to breath some life into it."
Our Garden Of Eden is a beautiful country ballad written by Larry Kee. "When I talked with Quinton about that, he said that Johnny Nash was supposed to record that song originally, but it never happened. Another local artist by the name of King Saul did it about three years ago."
Soultrax Records want to treat Jerry's CD as a complete project, so they're not about to release any singles from it. "Now I will continue writing and releasing CD's, but basically - since I have a studio - one of my aspirations is to incorporate my own label to help other people, because there's a need for people out there to keep this music alive."
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