As a teenager in Florida, Jerry Lawson remembers being mesmerized by the music on the radio. He began to listen to many of the stations throughout the South, but one in particular kept him tuning in a little bit more: WLAC in Nashville.
With its clear channel of 1510 on the AM dial, the station brought to Lawson's attention music from the likes of Lloyd Price, Chuck Berry, Charles Brown, the Coasters, the Del-Vikings and many more. "My uncle had a juke joint called the Two Spot," Lawson recalls. "And it had a jukebox, with the bubbles and all the beautiful lights. He would let me pick the records to put in there whenever the record man would come around, because I listened to the radio and I knew all the hits. I used to play those records on that jukebox over and over and sing along. I knew every song."
During the summer months, Lawson would spend time with relatives in Philadelphia, and he would become more and more entranced with New York City. It was a trek he knew he had to take one day. That happened when he was 17.
"I pawned my TV to this young man to take me to New York," he says. "I thought he was going to take me there and get me settled. He put me out at night, so I had to call my mother and tell her I was in New York. She said, 'Boy, if I could just get my hands on you. What are you doing there?' She asked where I was, and she told me I had an uncle who lives on Hancock Street, which was two blocks away. I went there the next morning. He offered to put me back on the bus. I said, 'Please, don't do that.' He kept me in New York for a month or so, and I got a job. I ended up working at a printing company that printed album covers of people like Frank Sinatra and Johnny Mathis. I would say to myself, 'Oh, Lord. If I could just be on one of these album covers.' God works in mysterious ways, because now I've been on about 24 album covers. And the new album is my 25th."
Of course, in between that time was a four-decade stint as a member of the a cappella group the Persuasions. He also joined another vocal group, Talk of the Town, which was featured on NBC's The Sing Off. On April 28, Lawson will release his first-ever solo album, Just a Mortal Man, on Red Beet Records -- at the age of 71. Billboard is excited to bring you the title track, which he said took on a very personal turn not too long after recording it.
"I went in the hospital to get two new knees, and they gave me a pill to calm my nerves down and everything, but the pill didn't go down. They were looking to see why it didn't and thought I had a poor esophagus. That led to complications," he says. "We had just gone into the studio to record this album, and on this song it says, 'I was just thinking to myself this morning how helpless I really am. My hair is turning gray. I get a new wrinkle every day. I guess I'm just a mortal man. I can't make myself live forever. God knows I try. I can't make one little flower grow. It takes water for that. To roll back the years, Lord knows I try, but the hands on the clock keep ticking on by. One day, you're young, and the next day you're old,'" he says, quoting the lyrics. "We had actually chosen this song to be the title track before any of that had ever happened. Then when it did, I said, 'This is a testament to God's magic.'"
Enjoy this exclusive premiere from Billboard.com: