GEORGE JACKSON IN MEMPHIS.

George Jackson In Memphis.

Label: Kent Soul.

Format: LP.

Just like Sam Dees, George Jackson was a prolific songwriter but an occasional recording artist. During his career, he penned over 300 songs which were recorded by everyone from James Carr, Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, Clarence Carter, Z.Z. Hill, Candi Staton, Bettye Swann, Ann Peebles, Bobby Womack and Bob Seger. The only problem was with George Jackson spending most of his time writing songs for other people, this left little time for him to pursue a recording career. As a result, he only released just one album and less than twenty singles. This wasn’t much to show for a truly talented singer-songwriter who had the ability to breath life, meaning and emotion into songs. However, George Jackson just like Sam Dees, seemed content to write songs for other artists.

It was only when Ace Records acquired the Goldwax Records and secured the licensing deals with Fame and Sound Of Memphis that  it became apparent that there was much more to  George Jackson’s discography than one album and less than twenty singles. Within the vaults of Goldwax Records, Fame and Sound Of Memphis there was what can only be described as a veritable feast of music baring George Jackson’s name. For connoisseurs of soul music this was  a tantalising prospect.

So was the recent release on vinyl of George Jackson In Memphis by Kent Soul. It’s a reminder of one of the greatest soul singers you’ve never heard. His story began in 1945.

George Jackson was born in March 1945, and he spent the first five years of his life in Indianola, Mississippi. However, when he was five, the Jackson family decided to move to Greenville, in Washington County, where people soon realised that George Jackson was a gifted musically.

From an early age, it was apparent to those around George Jackson that one day he would embark upon a career as a singer or songwriter. He was a prodigious talent and was already writing songs when he was just a teenager. Then when he was just eighteen, George Jackson met a famous producer.

This was none other than Ike Turner, who George Jackson met in 1963. Despite his youth, he found the confidence to introduce himself to Ike Turner. The young singer-songwriter told him about his music and showed him some of the songs he had written. Ike Turner was so impressed that he wanted to record George Jackson.

Ike Turner took George Jackson to Cosimo Matassa’s studio in New Orleans where they recorded Nobody Wants To Cha Cha With Me. The song was then released as a single on Ike Turner’s Prann label in 1963 but wasn’t a commercial success. However, it marked the start of George Jackson’s career. 

Two years later, in 1965, George Jackson recorded Rufus Come and Get Your Dog for the Doro label but the single failed to find an audience. Despite two unsuccessful singles, George Jackson was still determined to make a career out of music.

Later in 1965, he released Blinkity Blink as a single for Dot Records but just like his two previous singles it failed to trouble the charts. This was a huge disappointment and many artists would’ve considered calling time on their career. However, George Jackson was made of stronger stuff and there was no way that he going to give up. Deep down, he knew he had what it took to make a career out of music.

After the commercial failure of Blinkity Blink, George Jackson decided to move to Memphis which had a vibrant and successful music scene. One of the most successful labels in Memphis was Stax Records. 

When he arrived in Memphis George Jackson secured an audition at Stax. Incredibly, Stax passed on George Jackson, just like they had on James Carr. Little did they realise that they had  missed out on a prolific and talented singer and songwriter. 

Next stop for George Jackson was Goldwax Records, where he cofounded The Ovations with Louis Williams. He 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 after two years of trying.

Soon, George Jackson was writing for other artists on Goldwax Records’ roster, and Spencer Wiggins and James Carr were beneficiaries of his songwriting skills. George Jackson also teamed up with Dan Greer, and formed the duo George and Greer. Alas, none of the songs this talented duo recorded for Goldwax Records were ever released. This was another disappointment and things got worse for George Jackson in 1968 when The Ovations split-up and this marked the end of his time at Goldwax Records.

Having left Goldwax Records, George Jackson enjoyed a brief spell at Hi Records. He recorded a number of songs for Hi Records, but none of the songs were ever released. History was repeating itself as this was what had happened to George and Greer at Goldwax Records. It was no surprise that before long, George Jackson was on the move again.

Following his spell at Hi Records, George Jackson signed to Decca and recorded a number of songs for his new label. When it came time to release them, George Jackson was billed as Bart Jackson. However, even a change of name didn’t result in a change of fortune for George Jackson, and he left Decca after failing to enjoy even a modicum of commercial success.

After Decca, George Jackson signed to Mercury and Capitol, but still commercial success eluded him. After three years of trying, George Jackson still hadn’t enjoyed a hit as a solo artist. This was hugely frustrating, as George Jackson knew he had what it took to enjoy a successful career within the music industry. All he needed was someone who could bring out the best in him. Fortunately, producer Billy Sherrill suggested George Jackson should get in touch with Rick Hall at Fame Records.

Fame Records in Muscle Shoals was what George Jackson had spent the last few years looking for and when he arrived at the famous studio it was like a homecoming of sorts. Straight away, he felt as if he belonged and was part of something. Buoyed by this new start, George Jackson’s career blossomed.

Soon, he was writing for some of Fame’s biggest stars including Candi Staton and Clarence Carter. George Jackson 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, he 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 Jackson wrote what was the biggest hit single of his career so far, One Bad Apple.

Originally, George had written with One Bad Apple with The Jacksons in mind. That was until The Osmond’s visited Fame Studios in 1970. When they heard One Bad Apple they immediately liked the song and decided to record it. When it was released as a single it gave the group  the first hit of their career when it reached number one in the US Billboard 200 and six in the US R&B Charts. One Bad Apple was the most successful song that George Jackson had written.

A number one single on the US Billboard 100 was what every songwriter dreamt of and was the ultimate accolade. It was what George Jackson had been working towards since he was a teenager. However, despite writing a number one single he hadn’t given up hope of becoming a successful singer.

Over the next couple of years, George Jackson divided his time between songwriting and singing. He continued to be a prolific and successful songwriter, but occasionally headed into the recording studio to record a new song. 

As a singer, he was noted for his versatility and ability to make lyrics come to life. If lyrics needed hurt, heartache or hope or anything from despair to joy George Jackson could deliver that. Despite this, commercial success continued to eluded him.

 Right up until George Jackson left Fame in 1972 he was more successful as a songwriter than singer. He wrote many hits for other artists, but his own singles never troubled the charts. This must have frustrated George Jackson who hadn’t given up hope of becoming a successful singer.

Having left Fame, George Jackson who was still living in Memphis, continued to divide his time between songwriting and his solo career. He wasn’t ready to give up on his dream of becoming a successful soul singer, and decided that when he was going to record his singles at one of city’s finest recording studios. That was how he came to base himself at the Sounds Of Memphis’ studio for the next five years. 

Ten of the songs that he recorded at the Sounds Of Memphis’ studio feature on George Jackson In Memphis. These  prime slices of Southern Soul feature George Jackson’s inimitable tenor as he breathes meaning and emotion into the lyrics as he continued his quest to become a successful singer.   

During the five years he recorded at the Sounds Of Memphis’ studio  George Jackson wasn’t signed to a label. Instead, he decided to lease the singles to different label. This was the case with the You Can’t Run Away From Love a funky slice of Southern Soul that was leased to MGM and released in 1973. Sadly, the single failed to find an audience but George Jackson continued to his quest for his first hit.

In 1974, he leased another single to MGM, How Can I Get Next To You? It’s a beautiful ballad with wistful, needy and heartfelt vocal  as braying horns punctuate the arrangement. It was one of the finest singles George Jackson recorded at the Sounds Of Memphis’ studio but sadly, it failed to trouble the charts.

Despite this disappointment, George Jackson wrote and recorded the Southern Soul ballad Things Are Gettin’ Better which was leased to Chess. It featured gospel-tinged vocals and an arrangement that could only have been recorded in Memphis. On the B-Side was another beautiful Southern Soul ballad Macking On You that features a needy, hopeful vocal. Sadly, when Things Are Gettin’ Better was released on Chess in 1975 the song sunk without trace. That was a great shame given the quality of the song. However, by then soul was no longer as popular as it had once been and disco was growing in popularity. 

Despite that, continued to write and record new songs. This included the beautiful paean Talking About The Love I Have For You. It’s another ballad which is one of George Jackson’s specialities. Proof of this is I Don’t Need You No More, which is about a relationship that never worked out. His vocal is tinged with sadness as he sings: “When I needed you, you were never around, remember babe” and relief as he adds: “Now I Don’t Need You No More I’m walking out the door.” It’s a cinematic slice of Southern Soul and was too good to be hidden away on a B-Side. Sadly, very few if any record buyers ever heard either song.

Having written and recorded Talking About The Love I Have For You  and I Don’t Need You No More George Jackson leased the songs to ER Music Enterprises. The label chose  Talking About The Love I Have For You as a single and copies were pressed up. However, nobody seems sure if the song ever made it as far as the shops and it’s one of the rarest George Jackson singles. 

The other four songs on George Jackson were never released at the time they were recorded and were belatedly released on various Kent Soul compilations. This includes Walking The City Streets which made its debut on Can’t Be Satisfied-The XL and Sounds Of Memphis Story which was released in 2007. It’s a ballad that begins with a soliloquy from George Jackson before he delivers a vocal that’s mixture of emotion, frustration and hope as he sings that: “I’m here to make a new life for my family.” This song is a welcome addition to the compilation and a reminder of a truly talented singer-songwriter.

That’s the case with the other three tracks on George Jackson In Memphis. They made their debut in 2009 on George Jackson In Memphis 1972-77 and included the Southern Soul ballad If You Never See Me. It’s about a relationship that’s broken up and features  a vocal that’s a mixture sadness, hurt and even defiance as  George Jackson warns: “you’ll be sorry you let me go” and “If You Never See Me Again you’re going to miss me baby.” Then Let’s Live For Ourselves is a hidden gem of a Southern Soul ballad where horns and harmonies accompany a vocal that’s heartfelt and emotive.   Closing the compilation is Dear Abby which features a soul-baring vocal that’s full of desperation as George Jackson tries to rescue his relationship with the woman he loves. Just like many compilations it’s a case of keeping one of the best songs until last.

Despite his lack of commercial success, George Jackson never game up on his dream of becoming a successful soul singer and after leaving Fame spent five years recording new songs at the Sound Of Memphis’ Studio. Some of these songs were leased to labels like Chess, MGM and ER Music Enterprises and feature on George Jackson In Memphis which was recently released by Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records. It’s a welcome release and a reminder of a  much-missed singer-songwriter

The ten songs on George Jackson In Memphis are variously beautiful, powerful, poignant and tug at the heartstrings. Ballads were George Jackson’s speciality and  there’s songs about love, love gone wrong and love lost. Other times, he paints pictures and with his hugely soulful tenor vocal that’s emotive and expressive as he breathes life,  meaning and emotion into the lyrics. Sadly, commercial success eluded George Jackson’s solo singles and nowadays, he’s better known as a songwriter than a singer.

That is a great shame as George Jackson had the talent, desire and voice to become a successful soul singer, but sadly that never happened and instead he spent most of his time writing songs for other artists.

That’s often the case when talented songwriters who just happen to be singers sign to a record label. Sometimes those running the label  sometimes would rather they wrote songs rather than record them. It takes time and money to develop an artist’s career, and maybe, record company executives thought that George Jackson like other artists who were also successful songwriters would be better employed concentrating on writing songs?  That was what the likes of George Jackson and Sam Dees were  good at. Looking back, maybe that was the case with George Jackson?

If that was the case, then George Jackson’s success as a songwriter was a double-edged sword? The more success he enjoyed as a songwriter the less chance he had of becoming a successful singer. Record companies would rather George Jackson spent his time writing rather than recording songs. This must have been frustrating for George Jackson who wanted to be a star, not the star-maker. Sadly, that never happened.

George Jackson passed away on April the ’14th’ 2013 aged just sixty-eight. He left behind a rich musical legacy including the ten tracks on George Jackson In Memphis. There’s singles, B-Sides and tracks that lay unreleased for over thirty years. This includes a number of hidden gems that are a reminder of singer who was blessed with the voice, talent and ability to bring a song to life. 

Despite this, commercial success eluded George Jackson who during the sixties and seventies was one of Southern Soul’s nearly men. He’s remembered primarily as a successful songwriter and star-maker who was an occasional recording artist but sadly never the star. That was despite recording songs of the quality of those on George Jackson In Memphis, which is the perfect introduction to one of most underrated Southern Soul singers of his generation and the star-maker.

George Jackson In Memphis.

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