Rip Rense (second from left) with piano player Vince Welnick (second from right), and The Persuasions (from left to right): Jayotis Washington, Jim Hayes, Jerry Lawson, Joe Russell, and Ray Sanders.
Album cover for "Might as Well"
Album cover from "Frankly A Cappella"
When Rip Rense found the sound of the Persuasions, he wanted to make sure it didn't get lost again. He knows the group's sound as intimately as anyone. And as a producer of The Persuasions' most recent three albums, he has helped them to find new aspects of that sound. When The Kitchen Sisters, Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson, dropped in on The Persuasions' last recording session for Might as Well..., they met up with executive producer Rip Rense. He talked about the idea for an album of Grateful Dead music by The Persuasions, and how that idea came to fruition.
"I'm the man behind the curtain. I'm Cromwell. And sometimes Machiavelli. About three or four years ago I took a great interest in The Persuasions. I had been a fan for a long time. I kind of plotted their return to main-stream limelight — as opposed to cult status — with a series of albums. The first one was the children's album, On The Good Ship Lollipop, which won for Amazon.com album of the year.
"But, having heard them sing 'The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing' by Frank Zappa, I had in mind a Frank Zappa tribute album. I had known the late Mr. Zappa for quite a long time and wanted to do two nice things at once. I wanted to do something nice in Frank's memory and at the same time do something nice for the Persuasions and give them the kind of forum to get the recognition that they deserved. Well, Frank had a philosophy, a method of working which was fill in the blank. You file away a whole lot of disparate stuff that doesn't seem to have any purpose or relationship — acquaintances, information — until the blank is revealed. So in this case, the blank was the album and I filled it with Frank Zappa music and The Persuasions. Jerry [Lawson] was very keen to do Frank Zappa music. It was a great challenge to him and he worked, they all worked, harder on the project than they had ever worked on any other project.
"Well, along the way, I also thought, 'Gee, wouldn't it be great if they could do a Grateful Dead record?' Because I knew what they could do with those songs... I thought, 'Geez, maybe I should call up [David] Gans. Maybe he knows some record labels in the Bay Area that might want to do this.' So I did. He actually suggested a couple, but in the conversation he said that he was putting together this album called Stolen Roses, this compilation album of Grateful Dead tunes by various artists. He invited the Persuasions to record a track or two for that compilation. They recorded 'Black Muddy River.' Which is quite wonderful. David said on the strength of that he might be able to pitch Grateful Dead records on a full album idea. And that's what happened.
"In e-mailing back and forth with David, the idea came up to consult Robert Hunter, who wrote the lyrics (and in some cases, melodies) for eighty percent of the original Grateful Dead songs. Hunter e-mailed us about fifteen or sixteen song suggestions and then David and I put together an additional fifteen or so and we sent a tape of all the songs to Mr. Lawson who, as I understand it, listened to them while flying across country and at first blush just picked the ones for the record. The interesting thing is that, as it turns out, about three quarters of them were also Robert Hunter recommendations. Which is very nice. Kind of a happy accident."