Prolific. That’s the best way to describe George Jackson. As a songwriter, he wrote over three-hundred songs. This includes penning tracks for James Carr, Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, Clarence Carter, Z.Z. Hill, Candi Staton, Bettye Swann, Ann Peebles, The Osmonds, Bobby Womack and Bob Seger. George first started writing songs as a teenager, when he recored his debut single.

George was only eighteen when he recorded his first single.This came about after he introduced himself to Ike Turner in 1963. So impressed was Ike, that he took George Jackson to New Orleans and the studio of Cosimo Matassa to record Nobody Wants To Cha Cha With Me. It was released on Ike’s Prann label, but failed to chart. This marked the start of George Jackson’s career as a singer. However, it was at Fame Records that George Jackson’s career took shape.

Having cofounded The Ovations, been rejected by Stax and briefly recorded for Hi Records, producer Billy Sherrill suggested George should get in touch with Rick Hall at Fame Records. At Fame, George was a staff songwriter and enjoyed a parallel career as a  singer. However, when success eluded him, George Jackson decided to concentrate on his songwriting career. That was Southern Soul’s loss. A reminder of this is Kent Soul’s recently released George Jackson-Old Friend-The Fame Recordings Volume 3. It’s a poignant reminder of George Jackson, who sadly, passed away in April 2013. Before I tell you about George Jackson-Old Friend-The Fame Recordings Volume 3, I’ll tell you about George’s career.

It was in March 1945, that George Jackson was born. Until he was five, his family lived in Indianola, Mississippi. Then when he was five, his family moved to Greenville, in Washington County. From an early age, it was apparent that George would become a singer or songwriter. He was already writing songs when he was just a teenager. Then when he was eighteen, he met a famous producer.

This was Ike Turner. The encounter took place in 1963. George was just eighteen. Despite his youth, George found the confidence to introduce himself to Ike Turner. George told Ike about his music and showed him some songs. So impressed was Ike, that he took George Jackson to New Orleans, to Cosimo Matassa’s studio. They recorded Nobody Wants To Cha Cha With Me. It was released on Ike’s Prann label, but wasn’t a commercial success. This however, marked the start of George’s career

Two years later, in 1965, George recorded Rufus Come and Get Your Dog for Doro. The same year, he released Blinkity Blink for Dot Records. Neither single gave George the commercial success he was wanting. He wasn’t going to give up though.

After that, George headed to Memphis, which was home to Stax Records. George auditioned for Stax, but they passed him over. Little did they realize they’d missed out on a prolific and talented singer and songwriter. Next stop for George was Goldwax, where he cofounded The Ovations with Louis Williams. George penned and sang on their 1965 classic, It’s Wonderful To Be In Love. It reached number twenty-two in the US R&B Chart, while reaching number sixty-one in the US Billboard 100. For George Jackson, this was his first hit single. 

Soon, he was writing for other artists on Goldwax’s roster. Spencer Wiggins and James Carr were beneficiaries of George’s songwriting skills. George also teamed up with Dan Greer, forming the duo George and Greer. They recorded for Goldwax, but never released any singles. Then in 1968, The Ovations were no more. They split-up. That marked the end of George’s time at Goldwax.

Having left Goldwax, George enjoyed a brief spell at Hi Records. He recorded for them, but this never came to anything. Neither did the recordings he made for Decca, Mercury or Capitol. The Decca recordings were released using the alias Bart Jackson. Whether it was George or Bart, success eluded George as a solo artist. Then producer Billy Sherrill suggested George should get in touch with Rick Hall at Fame Records.

Fame Records at Muscle Shoals, was what George Jackson was looking for. It was like a homecoming of sorts. He felt as if he belonged. Soon, he was writing for some of Fame’s biggest stars. Among them were Candi Staton, Clarence Carter and Wilson Picket. George enjoyed instant success, when Clarence Carter’s Too Weak To Fight became a huge hit. It reached number thirteen in the US Billboard 100 and number three in the US R&B Charts. Buoyed by this success, George penned a string of hits for Fame’s artists. This included Candi Staton’s I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart (Than A Young Man’s Fool), I’m Just A Prisoner (Of Your Good Lovin’) and Never In Public. Then in 1970, George wrote the biggest single of his career so far.

Originally, George had written with One Bad Apple with The Jacksons in mind. Then in 1970, The Osmonds visited Fame Studios. When they heard One Bad Apple immediately, they liked the song. They decided to record it and it gave them the first hit of their career. Not only did it reach number one in the US Billboard 200, but number six in the US R&B Charts. For any songwriter, including George Jackson, this was the ultimate accolade. Despite writing a number single, George hadn’t given up hope of becoming a successful single.

Over the next couple of years, George divided his time between songwriting and singing. He continued to be a prolific and successful songwriter. As a singer, he was noted for his versatility and ability to make lyrics come to life. If lyrics needed hurt, heartache or joy, George could deliver that. Despite this, commercial success eluded him. Right up until George left Fame in 1972, he was more successful as a songwriter than singer. This must have frustrated George. After all, he was blessed a hugely, soulful, emotive, expressive and mesmeric voice. Anyone whose heard any of George’s music will agree with that. The twenty-four tracks on George Jackson-Old Friend-The Fame Recordings Volume 3 reinforce that.

None of the songs on George Jackson-Old Friend-The Fame Recordings Volume 3 have ever been released before. Twenty-three of them have lain in Fame Records’ vaults until compiler Tony Rounce discovered them. The other track is a home demo of George’s debut Nobody Wants To Cha Cha With Me. These twenty-four tracks are a poignant reminder of George Jackson the singer and songwriter. I’ll now pick the highlights of George Jackson-Old Friend-The Fame Recordings Volume 3.

Opening George Jackson-Old Friend-The Fame Recordings Volume 3 is It’s Up To His Woman. This explosive slice of Southern Soul was written by Osbie Burnett McClinton. Bursts of urgent blazing horns usher in George’s vocal as he sings about the power of a woman. Braying horns envelope a vocal that’s emotive, and sometimes feisty and sassy. Other times it’s full of confusion. Then when George sings: “It’s Up To His Woman,” it’s as if he can’t believe how his friend has changed. Accompanied by a sultry, Southern  Soul arrangement George vamps his way through song wondering what happened to the man he used to know?

Straight away, you wonder why I’m In The Middle Of A Good Thing was never released as a single? It was written by George with Raymond Moore and Claude Williams. They certainly didn’t spare the hooks. The legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section seem determined to make this song work. As they drive the arrangement along, George’s vocal is joyous and full of disbelief: “at the way my baby is loving me.” Quite simply, this glittering, hook-laden, hidden gem is one of the highlights of George Jackson-Old Friend-The Fame Recordings Volume 3.

Dan Greer, who George collaborated with at Goldwax, wrote Don’t Let A Good Thing Go To Waste. Here, George demonstrates his versatility. While the Hammond organ is at the heart of the arrangement, his vocal is delivered in urgent bursts. Then power and passion gives way to a loose, languid vocal. When George leaves space, drums pound, then George yelps and vamps, mixing elements of Southern Soul and funk seamlessly.

Just Another Day which was written by George, Earl Cage and Ronald Townsend, sees the tempo drop. Washes of Hammond organ provide the backdrop to the piano and George’s heartfelt, soul-baring vocal. Needy, he pleads: ”can I have just one more day?” You can share and feel his hurt. Guitars chime, drums mark time and stabs of piano add to the drama, as George delivers a heartbreaking paean to the one he loves and looks like losing. A truly captivating and beautiful song.

On You Got To Make A Decision, which George and Ralph Brown cowrote, we hear another side of George. His vocal’s a mixture of anger, frustration, defiance and despair as he delivers his ultimatum. “You Got To Make A Decision” he tells his two-timing woman.  Defiantly, he tells her:“decide who do you want, you can’t love him and me too.” Behind him, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section match him every step of the way, mixing Southern Soul and funk, as George delivers his ultimatum. However, the only thing is, we never discover who she chose?

Bad Case Of You is another tale of love gone wrong. It was written by George and Raymond Moore. A mid-tempo track, it features a heartbroken vocal. George has loved, lost and is struggling to get over his loss. His vocal is akin to a cathartic outpouring of emotion. Driven along by the piano, George’s pain and hurt is very real, as he brings the lyrics to life. So realistic is George’s portrayal of the lyrics, it’s as if he’s loved, lost love and survived to tell the tale.

All He Can Do Is Love You, which George wrote, is another of the slower tracks on George Jackson-Old Friend-The Fame Recordings Volume 3. Again, the Hammond organ provides an atmospheric backdrop. It’s accompanied by hypnotic drums and chiming guitars. Meanwhile, George digs deep, delivering an impassioned vocal. His vocal oozes emotion, sadness and regret. He regrets not being able to offer his former the material things other men can. However, he cares for her still, and worries that she’s being treated properly. This outpouring of concern, emotion and love results in one of the most moving and beautiful songs George on the compilation.

Add A Little Sunshine is a breezy, uptempo track written by George. The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section provide the heartbeat as George unleashes a joyous vocal. Having found love, he’s finding his way in life. Suddenly, everything seems right. He gives thanks, his vocal joyous, sincere and thankful, on what’s essentially a three minute fusion of soul and pop perfection.

Without doubt, Jimmy Webb is one of the great American songwriters. He cowrote Old Friend (You Ask Me If I Miss Her). It’s a heartbreaking tale of love lost. Here, producer Rick Hall is responsible for a mini-masterpiece. A harmonica adds a heartbreaking backdrop for George’s vocal. It’s tender and full of heartache and hurt. It’s accompanied by cooing harmonies, lush strings and rasping horns. Later, the harmonica adds the finishing touch to this lost country soul gem.

My final choice is That From The Heart, which features an arrangement that has Southern Soul written all over it. At the heart of the arrangement are The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. They provide a slow, melancholy heartbeat. Meanwhile, a piano accompanies George’s vocal. As he delivers the lyrics he wrote, he seems to draw inspiration from Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. His vocal is a mixture of emotion, passion, sadness and joy as the track reaches it dramatic, emotive crescendo.

During his time at Fame Records, George Jackson was better known for his songwriting skills. Accompanied by The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, who included some of the best session players in the South, George had the ability to bring songs to life. Whether it was heartache, hurt or happiness a song needed, George could bring all that and more to a song. Blessed with a voice that can inject emotion, meaning, and energy into a song, lyrics come alive. It only takes one listen to George Jackson-Old Friend-The Fame Recordings Volume 3 to realise this. Whether its sadness or joy, hurt, heartbreak and happiness  George can deliver this and more. Love songs, breakup songs and makeup songs George delivers them with feeling. Grabbing the song by the scruff of its neck, he can makes songs come to life. Despite being able to do this, George Jackson never enjoyed the success his talent deserved.

While George Jackson was a successful songwriter, commercial success eluded him as a singer. He was one of Southern Soul’s nearly men. That will be hard to believe when you listen to George Jackson-Old Friend-The Fame Recordings Volume 3, which was recently released by Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records. George was certainly not lacking in talent. Far from it. One listen to George Jackson-Old Friend-The Fame Recordings Volume 3 and you’ll realise that. The problem was Lady Luck never shawn on him. George never got the break his career needed. As a result, he ended up writing songs, not singing them. 

At least George enjoyed a tantalising taste of commercial success when he was a member of The Ovations. Back in 1965, commercial success made a fleeting visit. Having enjoyed a tantalising taste of commercial success, George Jackson never enjoyed its delights during his time at Fame Records. That’s why he’ll be forever remembered as one of Southern Soul’s nearly men. That’s a great shame, but not unknown.

Often, when talented songwriters who just happen to be singers, sign to a record label, those running the label are more concerned with getting them to write songs, not record them. After all, it takes time and money to develop an artist’s career. That would’ve been the case with George Jackson. That time, maybe people thought, could be better spent writing songs. After all, that was what George was good at. So, in many ways, George’s success as a songwriter was a double-edged sword. The more success he enjoyed, the less chance he had of becoming a successful singer. That must have been frustrating. He wanted to be a star, not the star-maker. Sadly, that never happened. However, it should’ve happened. 

George Jackson had the talent and desire to be a successful singer. George Jackson-Old Friend-The Fame Recordings Volume 3 is proof of this. Featuring twenty-four previously unreleased tracks, produced by Rick Hall and featuring The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, George Jackson-Old Friend-The Fame Recordings Volume 3 feature one of Southern Soul’s best kept secrets at its best. 

George Jackson-Old Friend-The Fame Recordings Volume 3 is also a poignant reminder of a talented singer and songwriter who died in April 2013, aged just sixty-eight. That day, Southern Soul lost one of its most talented sons, and one of the men who made Fame Records one of the greatest labels in the history of Southern Soul. Standout Tracks:and Old Friend (You Ask Me If I Miss Her).


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