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INTERVIEW WITH GEORGE JACKSON

  As a `roots' music writer I really can't think of anybody else being more respected than George Jackson is today. Frank Johnson (he, by the way, is on our waiting list) has also been very active lately, Sam Dees is always there to deliver a goodie and of course there are many others, but when it comes to the remaining power and high quality, I don't think there's anybody to beat George.

  In spite of his enormous song book, not much is known about the man himself. Because there have been only a few articles and interviews (Soul Survivor, Voices From The Shadows), I decided to update the information and to hear about George's doings nowadays. Now we are mainly talking about the singer George Jackson and, to put it mildly, following his career isn't one of the easiest tasks. According to my calculations there have been twenty-five singles in thirty years, and some of them on very odd labels.

  A good way to start is to talk about one of George's dreams come true, an own album called Heart To Heart Collect. ”I've always wanted to record an album, that's been my plan from a long time ago.”

  The album was produced by Senator Jones, recorded in March '91 and first released by Black Grape in England a year ago and finally released on Senator's Mighty Grove Records in the USA towards the end of '93.

  ”Senator was looking for some material for some artists he was recording and he wanted me to write songs for them. At that time he was recording Pat Brown and Cadillac George Harris. He wanted to hear how I'd sing them, and I was glad to do the demos, and he liked them so much that we went on masters on those. All the tunes are new ones, they've never been out before by any other artist.”

  After the recording session some covers have appeared – Little Milton on Struggling Lady and Cafe Woman and Lynn White on Back In The Streets Again – and George also had a single out on Senator's Hep' Me Records.

  “Struggling Lady got a lot of airplay here in the United States, it was going real good. So far only Struggling Lady and Heart To Heart Collect have been released. They are planning I Want That Love Back.”

  George Henry Jackson was born 12.3. 1945 in Greenville, Mississippi. ”I have three sisters and one brother left, two deceased. None of them nor my parents are in music business. I was mainly influenced by my grandmother, who was very religious, so I come from a gospel background. I played guitar a lot in church, and I was influenced by a lot of gospel groups like Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi, Sam Cooke and his Soul Stirrers, Staple Singers, Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward.

  When I first started out, I was trying to write songs. I travelled to different places from Greenville to Chicago, Kansas City and I tried my luck also in New York where I finally got a chance to record my first record in Syracusa, New York.”

  But before that George had tried his luck with Sun Records.

  ”I worked with Sun Records in the early sixties. I was trying to get something recorded, but nothing ever happened. I did a lot of demos in Sun studios, but they were never finished.”

  Back to Syracusa and to the very first recording.

  ”It was called I Really Really Love You. It never came out on a record. We just cut the track, but we never did get anybody to put the money to put the record out. I was the writer, the producer was a disc jockey named Scott Hilton out of New York.”

  After demos and one master George finally had his own vinyls pressed.

  ”At that time ('63) I used to go to school in Greenville, and one of my classmates knew Ike Turner. During that time I had written this one song and I was trying to break into music business. Ike was down to do a show, he told Ike about me, I got a chance to meet Ike, I played the song to him and he liked it enough to take me to New Orleans to record it.

  That was my first released record (Won't Nobody Cha-Cha With Me / Who Was That Guy). It was a nice little record, produced by Ike and released on his Prann label. It was sort of an answer to Sam Cooke's record (Everybody Likes To Cha Cha Cha).”

  Next year George tried his luck in Memphis.

  ”I wanted to get to Stax, but I couldn't get nothing happening, so I ended up back in Greenville. I think during that particular time I really wasn't professional enough for what was going on. And I probably wasn't the kind of material Stax were looking for.

  Back in Greenville two people came out from Nashville. They were looking for some artists for Billy Sherrill. I took them to listen to my record I had done with Ike Turner. They liked my voice and took me first to Nashville, to Billy Sherrill. Billy was looking for an artist that could do a song like The Platters, so we couldn't get anything going there.

  Then they took me to Memphis, where they put out a record on me called `Tender Love' and `Rufus Come And Get Your Dog' on Hester Records. We recorded that in Bill Black's studio in '65. Bill used to play bass for Elvis.

  There's another one called Blinkety Blink / There Goes My Pride, but they leased it to Dot Records. There were some more things, but they never came out. I stayed with them for quite awhile.”

  While in Memphis George also hooked up with Goldwax, where he penned or co-penned some songs for James Carr (Coming Back To Me Baby, I'm A Fool For You) and Spencer Wiggins (Old Friend, He's Too Old, Walking Out On You).

  ”When I first started out with them it was great. I was really trying to get into the music business. The company was small, and they were going through some changes, but they helped me a lot with my material. They gave it a lot of attention and they tried to help me the best they could.”

  George also had some ties with the Goldwax recording group The Ovations, and those ties proved to be lasting ones, because in the 70's he still produced the group together with Dan Greer (say, Having A Party in '72) and later in the 80's he worked together with the group's vocalist Louis Williams.

  ”I didn't sing with The Ovations. I wrote some songs for them, me and another guy wrote `I Believe I Go Back Home' and `Qualifications'. I didn't write `It's Wonderful To Be In Love'” (The Ovations' '65 hit written by Louis Williams, Nathan Lewis and Lee Jones).

  George also formed a duo with a Memphis artist, writer and producer Dan Greer to record one single on Goldwax in '66. Good Times is party music and influenced more than slightly by Sam Cooke's Let The Good Times Roll. The flip, You Don't Know It But You Had Me is a dance track with a very hurried pace.

  There's some confusion about Dan's earlier own recordings on S&W and GreJac labels (Swing'n Place, Wait For Me) and about George's participation in them. ”Those are demos that we did. I did the demo, but those were never out as records as far as I know.”

  Dan is still in the business.

  ”As far as I know he's in Memphis. He's got a label called Beale Street Records, and Louis Williams is working with him.”

  Also while working in Memphis George had a single out on Public Records in Los Angeles called Cold Cold Love / I Just Got To Have You.

  ”It was Jim Horton's label and his tune. I had recorded it as a demo for him, he took it out to L.A., put some strings on it and turned to a master. He tried to get a break on it, but nothing really happened. He put it out locally, and they tried to get national distribution on it.”

  In '67 George's Goldwax period was coming to an end.

  ”They broke up with Bell Records and basically they were sort of going out of business, and they were also in the process of having a big law suit with O.V. Wright (concerning the label hassles and signings between Duke/Peacock and Goldwax).

  I saw an opportunity in Muscle Shoals after I had been talking to Rick Hall, and I think that there I could better myself as a songwriter.”

  Indeed, George's Alabama period turned out to be a fruitful one, but on his way he made acquaintance with Willie Mitchell.

  ”I was still working with these Hester people, and they took me to meet Willie Mitchell. I did a record called `I'm Gonna Wait' (b/w `So Good To Me'), which was my first Hi single” (in '67).

  The next single, Wonderful Dream / Dancing Man, was written by George and again produced by Willie, but what about the artist, Bart Jackson!?

  ”Just trying something different. Trying to get a different break in the music business as an artist. We wanted to put that on Hi label, but during that particular time the late Joe Cuoghi that owned Hi Records didn't want to deal with that, so we just leased it to another company, Decca.”

  In '68 George was already working for Rick Hall in Muscle Shoals and there he finally qualified himself as a significant songwriter churning out hits for a number of artists.

  For Clarence Carter he wrote or co-wrote among others Snatching It Back, The Feeling Is Right, Too Weak To Fight, I Can't Leave Your Love Alone and It's All In Your Mind. With Clarence he had a long time partnership as he kept writing for him also during Clarence's 70's ABC period, 80's Venture (It's A Monster Thang) and Future (Messin' With My Mind, Fast Young Lady) periods. ”Now Clarence mostly does his own writing and recording.”

  George was one of the writers on Wilson Pickett's '68 hit A Man And A Half, and later he delivered such deepies as Back In Your Arms, Search Your Heart and Covering The Same Old Ground. ”The last I heard from Wilson was that he's gotten into some trouble, and he was going to a rehab or something. He hasn't done any recording recently.”

  Bettye Swann recorded George's Victim Of A Foolish Heart in '72. ”I haven't heard from Bettye for a long time. She's a great singer. I would love to hear from her again.”

  Spencer Wiggins hit with Double Lovin' in '70. ”I think he has turned completely into gospel.”

  George Soule had a small hit with Get Involved on Fame in '73. ”He's still writing. He's still in Muscle Shoals, and we write together occasionally. He's got a new tune on Johnnie Taylor that just came out” (also wrote recently for Dorothy Moore).

  Arthur Conley cut I Got The Feeling and Stuff You Gotta Watch in '69. ”I think Arthur went to Europe, and he hasn't recorded anything since.”

  Candi Staton was successful with I'd Rather Be An Old Man's Sweetheart, Never In Public and I'm Just A Prisoner, but George kept writing for her also later in the 70's.

  George also had a couple of his own singles released on Fame, Find 'Em, Fool 'Em and Forget 'Em / My Desires Are Getting The Best Of Me in '69 and his first ever charted record, That's How Much You Mean To Me / I'm Gonna Hold On (To What I Got) in '70. The latter, That's How Much..., is one of my own favourites.

  ”Yeah, I want to put that out again. I think it's a beautiful song. I really have belief in that song.”

  Next we have Love Hijacker / I Found What I Wanted ('71).

  ”That was after the Fame singles, and after One Bad Apple. I recorded that in Memphis and leased it to Verve Records.”

  So, George was back to Memphis and back to Willie Mitchell. Starting from '71 he wrote material for many Hi recording and other Willie's artists such as Ann Peebles (Slipped, Tripped And Fell In Love, Old Man With Young Ideas), Otis Clay (Holding On To A Dying Love) and O.V. Wright (I Don't Do Windows). But nothing on Syl Johnson nor on Al Green.

  ”I never could get a song on Al. At first Willie promised me I would get a song on Al, a song called `Patricia' that Al really loved, but when Al got big I couldn't get a song on him. Al mostly started writing his own songs and Willie and whoever. But me and Al remained the best of friends.”

  Willie also let George record two singles, Aretha Sing One For Me (backed with a re-release of I'm Gonna Wait), a poignant, heartbreak ballad, which became George's second charted single in '72, and Let Them Know You Care (backed with the mentioned Patricia), a beautiful ballad with a very typical Hi arrangement in '73.

  ”That was a good period for me as an artist. When we did 'Hey Aretha' we got a lot of exposure. It was a hit, but it could have really been bigger, it almost made it. It was a tribute to Aretha Franklin, because I've always admired her.”

  During that time George hit it big as a songwriter with The Osmonds' One Bad Apple, a pop number one in '71.

  ”Yeah, I did a demo on that in Memphis and sent it to Muscle Shoals. When I wrote it I sort of had in mind The Jackson Five. Rick Hall told me about a group called The Osmonds that was coming over to record at Muscle Shoals. When The Osmonds heard the song, they went immediately to record it.”

  There are many famous George Jackson songs (The Only Way Is Up, Down Home Blues) but there are two big pop songs that stand above others as the ones to have earned George most money and most fame, and the other one hit in '79 – Bob Seger's I Love That Old Time Rock And Roll. Later Bob also hit with a Eugene Williams song Trying To Live My Life Without You – originally done by Otis Clay – which was published by George's own Happy Hooker Music.

  In '73 George joined MGM. ”I started working with MGM, because they had a studio in Memphis. Dan Greer was over there, too.”

  George released three singles in '73 and '74 (the Carpenters' pop hit We've Only Just Begun / You Can't Run Away From Love, How Can I Get Next To You / Willie Lump Lump, If I Could Get On That Soul Train / Smoking And Drinking), but without any chart action. And that was it with MGM.

  ”I ended on a good note. Mike Curb was leaving the company and I had made a deal with Mike, and the people I had been working with weren't there any more, so I also decided to leave.”

  Next we have a Chess single in '75, Things Are Getting Better / Macking On You. ”It was a one-shot deal, a leased deal. We had cut a record, and they leased it to Chess. Nothing really happened with it. I cut that in Memphis while I was with MGM.”

  Next year saw a single on ER Music, Talking About The Love I Have For You / I Don't Need You No More. ”I had a manager called Doctor Ruff and she had formed a little label, an independent one, and we cut this session and just put it on that label.

  It's a pretty song, a ballad. I wish I could get myself a copy of it. I haven't heard it for a long time. I had forgotten about that beautiful song.” The flip is also a slow ballad.

  In '79 George cut his next single on Muscle Shoals Sound, Fast Young Lady – later recorded by Clarence Carter and Little Milton – and Funky Disco Music. George getting into disco?

  ”Well, I tried to, because it seemed like everybody was into it. Eventually I ended up writing a song about it for Johnnie Taylor called `Play Something Pretty'”. That beautiful and gently flowing ballad can be found on Johnnie's '79 album She's Killing Me with the lyrics saying `baby, let's stay home tonight, I don't want to see you in disco light'.

  That same year George appears as a vocalist for a group called Gotham Flasher, Try A Little Tenderness / I'm Never Going To Leave You (New York) on Keylock label. ”This was a disco project that they had somebody in mind to do the vocals on. They wanted to get a Memphis artist named James Govan, but James couldn't do it at the time. So they let me do the vocals. Keylock was out of Canada, out of Montreal.”

  As a starter for the 80's George recorded as a duet with Louis Williams a tribute to Sam Cooke, Sam We'll Never Forget You (b/w A Little Extra Stroke) for his own Happy Hooker label. ”Yeah, I think it probably was in '80. I was trying to get things going just independently as an artist.”

  One year later George appears on Howard Craft's Crosstown label with a social statement, Ain't Nothing But Sorrow (Down Atlanta Way) / We Need You More. The conscience awakening continues three years later on Washataw label with Times Are Tough backed with a one more tribute to Sam, Bringing It Home To Me. ”I was trying to make more money and something going on as an artist independently. I was hoping that if I can get records out there I might get a big company interested enough to pick it up on a major label. Washataw was a label that my manager, Doctor Ruff, had.”

  The last eighties single ('88) was a duet with Barbara Carr on her label BarCar. The song, Not A Word, was written by George and Tommy Junior.

  Today, in spite of many fine singles, George, however, is best known as a Malaco staff writer. During the last ten plus years he has provided almost each Malaco artist with individual gems. Z.Z. Hill poured Down Home Blues, Cheating In The Next Room (originally done by Otis Clay), Help Me I'm In Need, It's Been So Long. Bobby Bland did Sweet Surrender, Heart Open Up Again, Hurtin' Love, Somewhere Between Right & Wrong.

  Dorothy Moore balladeered Seein' You Again and Before I Fall In Love Again, whilst Denise LaSalle cut Give Me Yo' Most Strongest Whiskey, Too Many Lovers, Wet Match and Too Many Hungry Mouths Around The Table.

  On Latimore we remember Bad Risk, Out To Lunch, Deal Down And Dirty and an excellent version of The Only Way Is Up, and Little Milton bluesed away with Annie Mae's Cafe, Room 244, I've Got To Remember and Strugglin' Lady.

  Johnnie Taylor's repertoire includes This Is Your Night, Wall To Wall, Nothing As Beautiful As You, When She Stops Asking, Don't Make Me Late and Without You, whilst also Shirley Brown (I Wonder Where The Love Has Gone) and Ruby Wilson (Seeing You Again, I Thought I Would Never Find Love) got their share. By the way, no news from Ruby lately. ”I think she's still singing on Beale Street. She just had a small part in a movie, and she's doing a lot of shows in Memphis.”

  How did George join Malaco in the first place?

  ”I had been working off and on with them. Muscle Shoals Sound had been working with Malaco, and when they started having problems and I was working independently in Memphis and also had some tax problems and wasn't financially able to keep pressing my own records, I started talking to Malaco about making a deal with them. I made a deal with them in '81 about writing songs for them.”

  With almost every respectable 'roots' artist having recorded George's songs, who are the ones George likes to write for most of all?

  ”It's hard to really say. I had a couple of songs recorded by Bobby Womack, and he is a great guy to write for. Also Wilson Pickett is a great guy to write for.”

  With such a writing tempo nowadays, where does George get his ideas?

  ”Sometimes it's everyday life, and sometimes it's just ideas. I always try to come up with a good title, a good hook line.”

  When writing does George have a certain artist in mind?

  ”It sort of depends. If there's a certain artist that they are looking for a certain song for, then I'll start to work on a song to fit that certain artist. That was the case with Wilson Pickett and Clarence Carter. We knew what type of a song to look for.

  In some cases I was lucky to know the artist and I would ask them what type of a song are you looking for. That would give me a good idea what to write.”

  Recently George's tunes have been recorded by many off-Malaco artists. Robert Tillman did Tear This House Down (originally done by Tommy Tate, but meant for Bob Seger), Cicero Blake cut Just One Of Those Things and Girl I'm In Love With You, while Lynn White has recorded My Heart Is Over You, Broken Hearted Woman and Back In The Streets Again.

  ”I'm exclusively signed to Malaco Records. All my songs go to Malaco Publishing, but I can write for other artists who need a song.”

  What about Malaco recording George?

  ”At one time I had records on Muscle Shoals Sound that were distributed by Malaco Records, `Fast Young Lady' and another song called `Sweet Surrender'.

  I don't know, apparently I'm not the kind of artist Malaco wanna put out. They deal with more established artists. I have told Malaco that if they gave me the chance I believe I could really be a great artist for them. But there's no hard feelings there. And I'm still recording as an artist for any label that gives me a recording deal.”

  Of all the about three thousand songs George has written he names Old Time Rock And Roll as his own favourite. How about artists?

  ”This is hard to say. I like the way Johnnie (Taylor) sings. I really liked the late Z.Z. Hill, but Aretha Franklin's got to be my favourite singer.

  I would idolize Sam Cooke. I like to do material in the style that Sam used to sing. He had a unique way of getting a song over.”

Heikki Suosalo


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