Born and raised in Cape Town during Apartheid, the subjects of racial segregation and life in poverty have been central to many of his records. Born in 1961, Butler started singing and playing acoustic guitar as a child, and in fact began touring with a traveling stage show when he was only seven; by the tender age of 12, he was signed to a recording contract. He recalls: "I was signed to Zomba in South Africa. I had my first hit record. It was a Burt Bacharach song called "Please Stay," and it went to No. 2 on the pop chart. So I became the first black person to be played on the white radio in South Africa. The popularity and the fame spread so fast."
This first single earned a Sarie Sarie Award, South Africa's Grammy. After signing up to perform on a string of hit records, he emerged as a local teen idol. He joined Cape Town's best known jazz/rock band, Pacific Express, in 1978 and, with his bandmates' encouragement developed as a composer and songwriter. Two albums were recorded with the Express personnel, and some Pacific Express songs were later released on the 1988 7th Avenue album. All three releases were issued by Mountain Records.
Butler was signed to Jive Records in 1977, and in the early 1980s he moved to the United Kingdom where he remained for seventeen years. His international breakthrough came in 1987 with his Grammy nominated hit single, "Lies," and his cover version of the Staple Singers' song "If You're Ready (Come Go with Me)," which he performed with Ruby Turner.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Butler cultivated a loyal following in South Africa, the United States and Europe. In 2006, he was a featured vocalist on the album Gospel Goes Classical, produced by University of Alabama at Birmingham music professor Henry Panion. This recording, featuring arrangements by Panion, Tommy Stewart, Michael Loveless, and Ray Reach, rose to #2 on the Billboard Gospel chart, and #3 on the Classical Crossover chart. He was also nominated for a Grammy Award for his single "Going Home." In a career spanning over 30 years and 15 albums, Jonathan has proven himself not only a major presence in contemporary and smooth jazz, but also a deeply religious and spiritual man, reflected in his several religious-themed albums such as 2002's Surrender and 2004's The Worship Project.
He continues and extends his interweaving of jazz, gospel, Latin and other themes in his latest CD, So Strong, which Billboard describes as a "jaunty fusion of R&B, gospel, jazz and Latin rhythms [which] provides a fitting accompaniment to a theme that celebrates life." He overlays the urban, infectious driving rhythm with smooth jazz overtones and his powerful voice, especially on songs like the title track and "You Got to Believe in Something." The CD bursts with joy, romance and inspiration, with eleven songs written or co-written by Butler. Yet perhaps the most singular song on the collection is his bluesy rendition of Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now," a powerful reflection on "a tumultuous year wrought with immense personal loss, pain and suffering" during which he lost his mother and one of his best friends and supported his wife in her battle with cancer. Butler is not one to wallow in dispair but rather to celebrate life.
"You can't keep your head down all the time. You have to celebrate. With all that's presently going on in the world, I felt the need to give something to the fans, to offer hope. I had to get to that fun place again. The album is a departure; it's optimistic and positive. It's get up-and-dance, and feel good. It's all about just letting go. It's about fun with flavor and a lot of feeling. I call it the three Fs: fun, flavor and feeling," Butler chuckles. Butler produced and arranged the album and played most of the instruments, including guitars, bass and keyboards. He brought in a few noted horn men — Rick Braun, Dave Koz and Michael Lington — to add heat, and drummer Gordon Campbell to lay down beats to a number of tracks. Butler's daughters Randy and Jodie sing background vocals.
Jonathan's tour manager, John Schimpf, assisted with setting up Jonathan's new Telefunken AR-51 in his home studio. "I finally was able to get the AR-51 set up properly for Jonathan, that mic is really amazing! I have used a lot of C-12s and Tele 251s, originals, Klaus mods, etc., this thing hung right in there. It is suited really well to JB's voice. I am looking forward to working with the mic on his next record. We are planning to cut all of the vocals with that mic right in his home studio." Jonathan also uses the Telefunken M80 onstage; its dynamic range also captures Jonathan's strong voice beautifully.
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The AR-51 provides a smooth mid-range, open top end, and solid, well-balanced low frequency ...
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