"In April, it will be 45 years together," said Hayes, who will bring his group to Weehawken for the third time Saturday night, as part of a special concert produced by both the Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center and the Weehawken township council. "We've been through a whole lot and we keep on hanging on. When we started out, a capella was dead and gone. Another era of music was coming in, called the 'British Invasion,' headed by the Beatles. But somehow, we survived. We maintained and survived. And we're still here."
Saturday's event is being called a "special Weehawken community concert," which is free like most HRPAC concerts, but tickets are needed to attend the 7:30 p.m. show at the Weehawken High School auditorium.
It marks the third time that the Persuasions will have performed in Weehawken since the HRPAC came into existence five years ago.
"We love performing in Weehawken," Hayes said. "We've become good friends with Bruce (Sherman, the HRPAC's executive director). We have a good time in Weehawken. The crowds are very supportive. It's a great place to perform. Everyone has a great time."
A Jersey City connection
After finding each other while playing basketball in a New York courtyard in 1962, the nameless group used to sing in basements, garages and subway stations, where Hayes said was a "perfect echo for a capella."
About six years later, one of their recordings was being played in a Jersey City record store, when producer David Dashev happened to hear the music as it was piped into the street.
Dashev heard the sound and made a call to California. He sent a tape to a record producer in Los Angeles by the name of Frank Zappa. Yes, that Frank Zappa helped to discover the Persuasions, who didn't even have a name when they first met Zappa in 1968.
Hayes found the word "persuader" in the Bible and figured he had to persuade people to listen to a capella music. So the five guys from New York who were discovered in Jersey City became the Persuasions and signed their first record contract with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Frank Zappa on Zappa's Straight Records label.
In 1969, the Persuasions recorded an album in a tiny studio in Jersey City, but the record wasn't picked up and released for another 10 years.
Capitol Records released three albums by the Persuasions, including "Street Corner Symphony," which became a big hit. The song, "Buffalo Soldier," was featured on that album.
The group then went through a period of adjustment. One recording company wanted to turn the Persuasions into a pop group with instrumental backgrounds. But they always wanted to go back to their a capella roots.
"It's the kind of music that is ageless and timeless," Hayes said. "Doing a capella music, you don't need to have a set show with major rehearsals. You can just walk out on stage and give the people what they want. If they want the oldies, but goodies, you can do it. We also work right up to the present date. We have the ability to change and adapt. It's like a quarterback looking over a defense and not seeing what he likes, so he calls an audible. Well, we look over the audience and call an audible depending upon the audience."
Spike Lee takes notice
The group has enjoyed a rebirth in recent years, ever since famed director Spike Lee featured them in a documentary about a capella music in 1990.
In recent years, they have recorded practically every genre imaginable in a capella, ranging from the Beatles, U2 and James Brown to a children's CD.
Ray Sanders and second tenor Jayotis Washington hit the high notes, with "Sweet" Joe Russell hits the powerful notes as second tenor, Hayes as the bass and Reggie Moore as the baritone.
"We've been through a lot, but we've endured," Hayes said. "And it all began for us in that record store on Journal Square in Jersey City, then that recording studio. We're thankful that there are people out there who still support us after 45 years. We still love what we're doing. If it comes to a point where we don't enjoy what we're doing, we'll walk away. But it still feels like we first started. We have the same enthusiasm."
Returning to Weehawken
HRPAC executive director Sherman was overjoyed to be able to bring the Persuasions back for this special production.
"We had such a great reaction to the Persuasions when they sang on the Atrium Series that I figured they would be a natural to bring to a larger audience," Sherman said. "I raised the topic with our Board and they agreed that the Persuasions would be an excellent choice for a community concert. They are a group that has widespread appeal. They've influenced so many of our contemporary singing groups and I think that young people coming out to hear this concert will learn about a bit of musical history."
Sherman said that he was glad that the township's administration agreed to assist the HRPAC in producing the show.
"We're very pleased to be able to hold the concert in the high school and for the cooperation and support that we are receiving from the Mayor, Town Council, and the Board of Education," Sherman said.
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner thought it was a good idea to help produce the show.
"We suggested to the (HRPAC) Board that we should have a free concert for the residents who can't make it to the concerts during the day," Turner said. "I think it's a very nice idea. There should be a concert to benefit the residents. It's a free show in the high school auditorium and it's a great form of entertainment. It's a way to bring the HRPAC idea to the public and see what the HRPAC is all about."
Needless to say, Hayes is excited.
"It's going to be great, man," Hayes said. "It's going to be a great show. The love is still there."
The HRPAC, in conjunction with the Weehawken Township Council, presents the Persuasions, on Saturday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m. at the Weehawken High School auditorium. Tickets are required to attend. Township residents and/or employees can pick up the free tickets at any of these locations: Weehawken Town Hall, the Weehawken Free Public Library, the Senior Citizen building at 525 Gregory Avenue, the Senior Nutritional Center on Highwood Avenue and the Town Hall Annex on Park Avenue.
For further information regarding tickets, contact the HRPAC hotline at (201) 716-4540 or log on to the HRPAC website at www.hrpac.org.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org