George Jackson “Let The Best Man Win – The Fame Recordings Vol.2” (Kent CDKEND 380)
By Pete Nickols
Mini Skirt Minnie; Get It When I Want It; I’m Just A Prisoner; Victim Of A Foolish Heart; Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right; I Bit Off More Than I Can Chew; Let Me Comfort You; Forbidden Love; Looking For Some Action; Save Me; Let The Best Man Win; Hit And Run; I Lived Through A Losing Battle; Hold That Feeling; My Nerves Fail; Love Came Knocking At Your Door; Pollution; It’s Not Safe To Mess On Me; Soul Lovin’; Your Love Lifted Me; I’m Living Good; The Darkest Hour Is Before Dawn; You Got A Lot To Like; Ain’t That Some Good Lovin’.
Wilson Pickett was not renowned for lauding other singers but even the Wicked One, who normally did not readily relish ‘competition’, was so impressed with George Jackson’s performances on the many demos he cut for Pickett, that Wilson recommended Jerry Wexler to sign George up as a solo artist. No long-term contract with Atlantic resulted; however, the story helps demonstrate just what a fine singer (as well as a songwriter) George Jackson is.
Therefore it’s nice to report that UK Kent’s assertion that there is a welter of good quality demos by George lurking in the Fame vaults is validated by this second dip into them, which some feared might result in the arrival of the first ‘cutting-room floor turkeys’ - but most certainly doesn’t.
What I find interesting is that, although the CD includes several Jackson demos of songs which did indeed see release by other performers, most of the other tracks here which feature never-before heard songs from Jackson’s pen are at least as good, and, in some cases, even better!
There are two songs included which were not penned by Jackson himself, namely two O.B. McClinton compositions, both cut by Fame’s Clarence Carter, and it seems likely that George cut his demos for Clarence to listen to, as this was an easier way to ‘guide’ the blind singer. “Let Me Comfort You” is a lovely melodic piece of lay-back country-soul, as indeed is “Your Love Lifted Me”, albeit this one is a tad faster-paced.
Of the Jackson songs recorded by others, the CD opens with the driving, assertive “Mini-Skirt Minnie”, duly cut by Pickett and also Mack Rice. The sound on this track is a tad muffled with rather too much bass, but George, more used to a somewhat smoother singing style, really digs in hard to give it all he’s got. Two Candi Staton favourites follow, the great if extremely risqué mid-paced groover “Get It When I Want It” and the driving big hit for Staton, “I’m Just A Prisoner”. Next we get a fine bouncy-paced demo of Bettye Swann’s “Victim Of A Foolish Heart”, which Joss Stone ‘pinched’ for her initial “Soul Sessions” CD.
The most recorded of George’s demos on offer here is “Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right”, of which I have versions by the Patterson Twins, Otis Clay, Z.Z. Hill, Freda Payne and Barrett Strong. I’m sure there are others. George’s pleading vocal is beautifully expressive, so no wonder the song attracted so many takers.
“Save Me” is another strong mid-pacer, demoed personally for the guy who cut it, Wilson Pickett, while the lovely deep winner “Hit And Run” would see two ‘unissued-at-the-time’ recordings by two of soul’s ‘legends’, a faster-tempoed cut for River City by James Carr (was there an even earlier demo at this pace by George perhaps?) and a very emotive version by Spencer Wiggins recorded at Fame.
The lilting and genuinely ‘pretty’ song “I’m Living Good” would see release by the Ovations and also by Arthur Conley during his Capricorn ‘period’. However, for me, the best version of all was the ‘slowed down’ deep interpretation by that ‘gentle giant’, Rosey Grier, cut for MGM in 1967. Dan Penn was co-author of the piece and some recordings apparently wrongly credit it simply to him and Spooner Oldham. Penn featured it in his live “Moments From This Theatre” set and Freddie Waters included it on his “One Step Closer To the Blues” collection.
I was surmising above about a possible Goldwax faster-paced demo and that certainly happened in the case of “Let The Best Man Win”. Here we get George’s slower and very expressive Fame re-make of this fine song.
Of the other tracks which, to my knowledge, are demos which didn’t see much, if any subsequent action, “I Bit Off More Than I Could Chew” is a nice deep if somewhat overly-wordy piece; “Forbidden Love” is a great mid-paced cheatin’ song; “Looking For Some Action”, “It’s Not Safe To Mess With Me” and “Soul Lovin’” sound as if they were aimed (in vain on this occasion) at Wilson Pickett; “I Lived Through A Losing Battle” is a truly wonderful ‘deep find’ and a standout track for me, with George in front only of organ and drums and (probably his own) piano; “Hold That Feeling” is probably even better, a truly magnificent melodic deepie, which would have made a terrific vehicle for Carr or (even better) Wiggins; “My Nerves Fail” (although George seems to say “My Nerves Fall”) sees Jackson unable to tell his girl what he wants to say as he’s just too shy; “Love Came Knocking At Your Door” is another real winner, a great, slightly swampy groover with a fine lyrical message too; “Pollution” defines what I feel is ‘good’ funk, again with a fine groove, great lyrics and loads of ‘feel’, never forfeited at the expense of the beat; the bluesy “The Darkest Hour Is Before Dawn” has a lovely infectious lilting rhythm that you never really want to end; “You Got A Lot To Like” sees a duo-vocal-track lead here and there plus some male back-ups, some probably provided by George himself but perhaps Clarence Carter may be in there too; “Ain’t That Some Mighty Good Lovin’” brings us back to some tasty mid-paced funk and also brings this fine CD to a close.
Frankly, the overall standard of George’s songs (and his performances of them) is most impressive and I’m not surprised that Kent feel there’s at least another CD’s worth yet to come. If this kind of standard really can be maintained, I shall certainly be looking forward to that.