As a songwriter George Jackson's list of credits reads like a who's who of southern soul over the last four decades - he has over 400 song titles registered on BMI’s website. But in a way his enviable and well-deserved reputation as a songster of genius misses some of the point. He is a first rate singer as well, with a tenor voice of flexibility, and emotion. He’s not a flashy singer, but rather in the manner of slow-burn specialists like Paul Kelly, gets his message across subtly and with considerable depth.
George Henry Jackson was born in 1945 in Indianola, Mississippi, best known as B B King’s birthplace, but brought up in the bigger nearby town of Greenville. He grew up listening to the gospel sounds of the Soul Stirrers, Staple Singers and everybody’s favourite, Sam Cooke. His first taste of recording came with an introduction to Ike Turner who took him to Cosimo Matassa’s famous New Orleans studio to cut “Won’t Nobody Cha-Cha With Me” an answer song to a recent Cooke hit. The 45 did bring George to the attention of Dorothy and John Hester who brought him to Memphis and recorded him there. There Goes My Pride is a splendid deep soul piece and should be called the first recognisable Jackson single. This came out in 1965, as did the midpaced tuneful “Tender Love”.
Around this time Earl Forrest tried to get George to break his contract with the Hesters and cut for Don Robey’s Duke label. While nothing came of this, Forrest did get him to overdub vocals onto 4 rhythm tracks that he had in the can. These sides came out on Forrest’s own Bootheel logo, with George moonlighting as “Louie Palmer”. “How Do You Quit Drinking Wine” is cornball R &B, but the uptempo shuffle flip “Don’t Ever Leave Me” packs a much meatier punch – could be a winner on today’s rhythm and blues dance scene. “I Don’t Care” is an early southern soul ballad, with good sax support, but the slow blues ballad Have I Been Untrue is the pick of the bunch, no question.
The key thing about those releases is that George’s name didn’t figure, and this was to become a fairly regular feature in his recordings. How much damage this did to his career as an artist is hard to tell, but it certainly can’t have helped. This trend is well illustrated by his next 45 from ‘66, which came out on a label, Gre-Jac, he started with Dan Greer, who was to be associated with him in Memphis for many years. The by-line said George & Greer, and even though they managed, through their writing connections with Quinton Claunch and Doc Russell, to get “You Didn’t Know It But You Had Me”/”Good Times” reissued on Goldwax, their identities remained a mystery to record buyers.
He was able to use his real name next year for his first single for Willie Mitchell’s Hi label, which coupled the uptempo dancer “So Good To Me” with the plaintive, haunting “I’m Gonna Wait”, surely one of his very best efforts. But when Mitchell leased a couple more sides to Decca as part of the major label’s use of his studios for such artists as Tony Ashley, Ray Scott, Howard Peters, Gladys Tyler, the Rayons and others, he became Bart Jackson. Although Wonderful Dream is a pretty strong ballad, it’s “Dancing Man” that the clubbers go for – even to the extent that it’s come to the attention of the bootleggers.
That same year, Jim Horton released a demo of Cold Cold Love that George had cut for him, with overdubbed strings, on his own Public label. This is simply outstanding deep soul music, and although this was released without George’s knowledge, all cognoscenti will be forever grateful that it came out. By this time George was under contract to Goldwax as a writer, and had contributed material for the Ovations (he loved Louis Williams’ Sam Cooke sound-a-like style) and Spencer Wiggins among others, but as that label wound down, he left Memphis for the hot recording scene at Muscle Shoals.
Rick Hall wanted him as a writer, and he did provide some excellent material for the likes of Candi Staton, Wilson Pickett and Clarence Carter, but the song that brought him both money and fame from this period was “One Bad Apple” which was cut by the Osmonds and for which he got his first gold disc. George did persuade Hall to put out a couple of 45s of his own, and both “Find ‘Em Fool ‘Em And Forget ‘Em”/”My Desires Are Getting The Best Of Me” and “I’m Gonna Hold On (To What I Got)”/”That’s How Much You Mean To Me” are first class and these days highly sought after. Love the way he sings about “the 4 F’s” in the funky “Find ‘Em”, and it’s flip is a beautifully melodic beat ballad that has had some modern soul scene action. But although the similar feel of “That’s How Much” put him in the charts for the first time, it’s the heartfelt beauty of the deep I’m Gonna Hold On that die-hard Jackson fans most enjoy. I think it is yet another tribute to the production talents of Rick Hall that on these cuts Jackson's voice is at its very best, with a gritty feel often absent from his lighter toned tenor.
While he was under contract with Fame George also cut a couple of tunes that Mike Curb, then President of MGM where the Osmonds resided, liked and picked up for his Verve subsidiary. The hard funk of “Love Highjacker” was coupled with the more mellow and tuneful I Found What I Wanted on Verve. By then George was disillusioned with the Muscle Shoals scene, and went back to Memphis and Willie Mitchell. The first result of their new collaboration “Aretha Sing One For Me" was cleverly constructed, with a very memorable hook, as well as being a natural for his pleading tone. Not surprisingly it became a very big local hit. The flip was a remastered, revived “I’m Gonna Wait” from his earlier Hi sessions. For the follow-up George went with the much more orthodox ballad “Let Them Know You Care” but despite both the top side and “Patricia” on the B-side being right in the classic Hi groove sales were very disappointing.
George started working with his old friend Dan Greer again, who was cutting artists like Spencer Wiggins and Barbara and the Browns for the Sounds Of Memphis label with distribution arranged with Mike Curb’s MGM. His first solo side was a version of the Carpenter’s standard “We’ve Only Just Begun” with the hard hitting funk of “You Can’t Run Away From Love” on the flip. The more downbeat “How Can I Get Next To You” was an attempt to update his Aretha hit, with references to Bobby Womack, Al Green and Pickett and other soul heroes. His final single for MGM was probably the best. The chugging Memphis beat of “Smoking And Drinking” featured some tasteful Syl Johnson-flavoured blues harp, and the lively “(If I Could Get On That) Soul Train” contained enough mentions of the hit TV show to warrant attention – but it didn’t get it.
Jackson’s next 45, Things Are Getting Better, with it’s social reality theme, was a version of his song that Clarence Carter had cut for Fame a few years earlier as “And They Say Don’t Worry”. Eddie Ray, who had worked on Mike Curb’s staff, placed it with GRT. It had the slow, sexy “Macking On You” as the flip. Ray also put up the money for his next single a year later as well. The brilliant combination of the delicate floater “Talking About The Love I Have For You” with the deep, deep ballad I Don’t Need You No More makes this one of George’s very best records. But nobody in the biz picked it up, and it has become terminally obscure and his hardest record to find.
Now back in Muscle Shoals, George severed his connections with Rick Hall, for whose Fame Publishing a lot of his 70s songs had continued to be written, and went with the crew who left Hall in 1969 to set up their own studio. The A-Team of Barry Becket, David Hood, Jimmy Johnson and the wonderful Roger Hawkins were still the best soul musicians in the world, and Jackson cut a long series of demos with them from 1977 to around 1981. During this time George himself had a 45 out on the newly created Muscle Shoals Sound label, the funky toe-tapper “Fast Young Lady” and the rather obvious “Funky Disco Music”. Through other connections he also cut an out-and-out disco 45 for producer Gino Soccio called “I’m Never Going To Leave You (NY)” which appeared on Keylock 7201 with a very strange disco version of Otis Redding’s old war-horse “Try A Little Tenderness” on the flip. The artist was tastefully billed as The Gotham Flasher but George’s voice was unmistakeable. Listening to the disc though it’s the one time he was absolutely right in masking his true identity!
Hits too came from his pen at the end of the 70s. “Old Time Rock And Roll” went top 10 for Bob Seger, and “It’s Too Funky In Here” put Brother James Brown back in the top 20 R & B charts in May 1979, the first time for 3 years. He also produced the Ovations cut of “Sweet Thing” for XL in 1980. Lead singer Louis William collaborated with George on a couple of 45s during the 80s. They dueted on a version of Sam’s “Bring It On Home To Me" and another tribute “Sam We’ll Never Forget You”. Both other sides of these indie 45s, the ballad “Times Are Tough” and the dancer “A Little Extra Stroke” were Jackson solos.
The only other single he put out during the 80s was a moving tribute to the children killed in the infamous serial murders in Georgia, “Ain’t Nothing But Sorrow (Down Atlanta Way)”, with another typical Jackson ballad “We Need You More”. This quiet time for his own career was due to the fact that he signed a writer’s contract with Malaco records in 1982, linked to the enormous success of Z Z Hill’s “Down Home Blues” cut. Look on any album from the Jackson, MS company during the 80s and you’ll see George’s name – almost always under the best tracks as well. Outside singers like Otis Clay continued to utilize his material, most notably with “The Only Way Is Up” (Echo 2003), a version of which was taken to the top of several European charts by Yazz later in the 80S, and “Messin’ With My Mind” (Echo 2002). This was also cut by Clarence Carter and Barbara Carr, who actually had George singing with her on Bar-Carr 002, but he didn’t receive a credit, and his vocals were removed by the time the song reached Barbara’s first album.
George’s final 45 to date was his demo of Struggling Lady which came out in 1991 on Senator Jones’ Hep Me label. This superb song was subsequently cut to great effect by Little Milton for Malaco, and he enjoyed considerable success with it too. George’s version, and the flip “If It’s Love You’re Trying To Find”, formed two of the cuts on George’s first CD “Heart To Heart Collect”.
George Jackson remains one of my greatest heroes. His songs - both in his own versions and when covered by other often more famous artists - have given me almost unlimited plaeasure over the past 45 years or so. Now that Malaco is quiescent there is no regular outlet for his pen but everybody who loves southern soul will surely join me in sending him our best wishes for his health. And that he continues to write and perform his wonderful musc.
Won't nobody cha-cha with me / Who was that guy ~ PRANN 5003 (1960/1)
Blinkety blink / There goes my pride ~ DOT 16724 (1965)
Rufus come and get your dog / Tender love ~ DORO 888 (1965)
How do you quit drinking wine / Don't ever leave me ~ BOOTHEEL 179 (mid 60s) (as LOUIE PALMER)
Have I been untrue / I don't care ~ BOOTHEEL 181 (mid 60s) (as LOUIE PALMER)
You didn't know it but you had me / Good times ~ GRE-JAC / GOLDWAX 313 (1966)
So good to me / I'm gonna wait ~ HI 2130 (1967)
Dancin' man / Wonderful dream ~ DECCA 32317 (1967) (as BART JACKSON)
Cold cold love / I just got to have you ~ PUBLIC 1002 (1967)
My desires are getting the best of me / Find em fool em and forget em ~ FAME 1457 (1969)
Thats how much you mean to me / I'm gonna hold on ~ FAME 1468 (1970)
Love hijacker / I found what I wanted ~ VERVE 10658 (1971)
Aretha sing one for me / I'm gonna wait ~ HI 2212 (1972)
Patricia / Let them know you care ~ HI 2236 (1973)
You can't run away from love / We've only just begun ~ MGM 14680 (1973)
How can I get next to you / Willie lump lump ~ MGM 14732 (1974)
Smoking and drinking / Soul train ~ MGM 14767 (1974)
Macking on you / Things are gettin' better ~ CHESS 2167 (1975)
I don't need you no more / Talking about the love I have for you ~ ER MUSIC ENTERPRISES 101 (1977)
I'm never going to leave you (New York) / Try a little tenderness ~ KEYLOCK 7201 (1979) (as GOTHAM FLASHER)
Fast young lady / Funky disco music ~ MUSCLE SHOALS SOUND 9801 (1979)
We need you more / Ain't nothing but sorrow (down Atlanta way) ~ CROSSTOWN 581 (1981)
Bringin' it home to me / Times are tough ~ WASHATAW 1001 (1982)
Sam we'll never forget you / A little extra stroke ~ HAPPY HOOKER 1080 (1985)
If its love you're trying to fight / Struggling lady ~ HEP ME 1051 (1991)
Gotham Flasher - KEYLOCK K2501 (1979) (as GOTHAM FLASHER)
Heart to heart collect~ BLACK GRAPE (1993)
In Muscle Shoals~ GRAPEVINE 2000 (2002)
What would your Mama say ~ GRAPEVINE 2000 (2006)
With special thanks to my friend Martin Goggin whose groundbreaking interview with George in Juke Blues magazine #50 provided so many details for this page.
1. The artist on Cameo, Double R and Mercury is another guy altogether.
2. There are acetates of George Jackson in existance but the only ones to have been formally issues are "Old Friend" and "I Don't Understand" which appeared on a P-Vine LP "Early Memphis Sounds".
3. It says a lot about the US treatment of one of it's most gifted songwriters that the only compilations of his work have been issued in England. All are essential purchases. The Black Grape contains some Malaco demos, the Grapevine 2000 CDs is an excellent collection of his Muscle Shoals demos from the 70s and the Ace CD contains all his MGM 45s, both 70s Hi singles, and the wonderful chess and ER 45s. It also has some unissued demos from the same mid 70s period.