Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Jermaine Jackson
Jermaine Jackson Jermaine Jackson Jermaine Jackson Jermaine Jackson

In 1968 five precocious young black kids from Gary, Indiana set aboard their father’s van and headed east for Detroit - the destination was, course Motown Records, a journey that would ultimately change their lives forever.

The ‘American dream’ had never been particularly kind to America’s black population, but in the midst of an era forever tarnished with civilian unrest, iconic murders and the devastating Vietnam war, Berry Gordy’s inspirational record company stood firm in utter defiance of everything the bitter, divisive American way of life had represented. As the decade drew to a close Motown became unstoppable, effectively ending the Beatles monopoly on the US charts in spectacular fashion via the release of 'I Want You Back' - a wonderfully infectious dance track performed effortlessly by new teen sensations, The Jackson 5. Sigmund Esco (Jackie), Tariano Adaryl (Tito), Jermaine LaJuan, Marlon David and Michael Joseph the group’s mercurial lead singer, had performed their signature tune on the Ed Sullivan Show in December 1969 and never looked back. A wind of changed blew across America in the early seventies and swept right through the Motown hit factory which had now relocated in LA. Smokey Robinson’s picturesque, poetic lyrics were now sadly defunct - Holland Dozier Holland’s sweet ‘n’ soulful melodies that had made legends of The Supremes were replaced by Norman Whitfield’s exciting new psychedelic arrangements. Stevie Wonder’s breathtaking innovation had secured the company’s first Grammy Award courtesy of “Innervisions” and the re-invention of Marvin Gaye duly delivered the landmark release 'What’s Going On'.

The Jackson 5 however, remained true to Motown’s purest traditions - their own unique brand of engaging black pop music contained no protest, politics or psychedelic-funk just Michael’s soaring vocals. Michael Jackson was a child prodigy and the group’s focal point - having been thrust onto the cover of Rolling Stone magazine at the tender age of 12 - he went on to become, without question, the most written about and photographed entertainer of his generation. Next in line was elder brother Jermaine, an equally adept singer, a gifted bass guitarist and a little wiser but overwhelmed nonetheless at being showcased before the nation while still a teenager. The extraordinary public fascination with the Jackson family has never waned - their success, occasional failures, public feuds and numerous legal disputes have been covered by virtually every media outlet the world over.

So I wondered as I prepared to meet Jermaine Jackson, still in town after appearing in the infamous Celebrity Big Brother show, whether there had ever come a point when the never-ending public scrutiny became just a little too much resulting in he or his five bothers and equally famous sister (Janet) thought about calling it a day? Composed as ever and still looking so ridiculously young at 52, Jermaine’s response was almost instinctive...

“This has been part of my life from day one! Why would I or any of us want to turn our backs on a business that’s given us so much both as individuals and of course as a group?”

The ‘group’ appears to be never too far from his thoughts, particularly now with the eagerly awaited Jackson 5 re-union imminent. Rumours of a comeback have persisted since their record breaking Victory tour in 1984 but only a brief appearance at Michael Jackson’s 30th Anniversary show at New York’s Madison Square Gardens in 2001 has ever materialized. For the legions of frustrated Jackson fans scattered around the globe, their apparent reluctance to perform together has been both difficult and surprising to take. Let’s not forget The Jackson brothers have sold over 100 million albums and are indisputably the biggest selling black group of all time. Jermaine remained outwardly calm as I continued to air my grievances. “Don’t worry, it’s going to happen for real this time! The original Jackson 5 plus Randy have reformed for an album and a possible world tour. In fact, I used the break we had during recording to spend in the Big Brother house. Michael went to Vegas, Tito joined me in London and the others stayed in LA. We all agreed that the record wouldn’t be released until the music was right because of the obvious level of expectation. “I think we all recognize how much music has really changed over the past 40 years. There was a lot more lyrical content when we started out at Motown, a lot more structured melodies. They were real songs with real musicians playing and that would add to the song’s dynamic - 'I Want You Back' is a perfect example.

“Unfortunately we’re living in a musical time now where everything’s done at the push of the button and black kids in particular don’t seem to want to pick up a guitar anymore, not like the way Tito and I did. Music is up for grabs now especially R&B - black music isn’t as diverse now as it once was. “I don’t see the same longevity with a lot of today’s songs - people will, however, remember Motown 500 years from now. I’m sure of that. Rap music, to be fair, has made a huge impact in the modern era and should certainly be respected.”

The success the Jackson 5 enjoyed at Motown has been well documented as were their issues particularly when it came to artistic control. The brothers were never allowed to write their own songs or play their own instruments which ultimately lead to their controversial Motown departure in 1975. Father Joseph Jackson who managed the group clearly felt his talented sons’ creativity was being stifled as did Michael but, significantly perhaps, not Jermaine?

“It wasn’t really frustrating initially because I guess they saw what we could do i.e. the raw material and then how they could take what we had to a whole new level and let’s face it they had such incredible writers and musicians at Motown we couldn’t really argue with that. “When we performed live we did then get to play our own instruments so we created the Jackson 5 formation which we’ve kept intact to this day - from left to right it goes Tito playing lead guitar, Marlon, Jackie and Michael then me playing bass. When we first signed we just wanted to be like the Four Tops or the Temptations. The issue of creative control only became serious as we got older and wanted to broaden our horizons especially Michael who’s always been a quietly ambitious person.”

Those ‘issues’ refused to go away and by the midseventies the Jackson 5 were at the cross-roads of their career. In his autobiography, Michael claimed the group was in danger of becoming ‘just another Vegas act’ as their star began to fade.
Jermaine, who was married to Berry Gordy’s daughter Hazel and always considered the more outspoken even rebellious member of the Jackson clan took a different view.

“Well, there’s been so many stories about the reason why I left the group it really got to me eventually the same way it would get to anyone else in my position,” sighs Jermaine. “For years fans would refuse my autograph and blame me for splitting up the group or blame Hazel because she was my wife at the time as well as the boss’s daughter - but it just wasn’t true. “This is what really happened. People often said the only reason I stayed was because my position was compromised - frankly, that was garbage. Hazel always said I should follow my heart; I believed at the time that Motown had made the Jackson 5 and therefore deserved our loyalty. I still remember that day like it was yesterday; I was hanging out at Barry White’s house in LA when my father called and said he wanted to see me. I assumed he had tied up a new deal with Motown and we’d simply move on with perhaps the artistic freedom my brothers were asking for. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I entered my father’s room and there were 5 signed contracts on his bed from Jackie, Tito, Marlon, Michael and Randy, all of whom had agreed to move to Epic Records. My father had the sixth contract with him and told me to sign it. I told him I wouldn’t. He got mad so I left and that was all there was to it.”

So Jermaine stayed with Motown in the hope of forging a solo career and The Jackson 5 were consigned to history. “That was a really tough time especially when they toured without me for the first time. However, although my brothers respected my position I could see they were hurt, especially Michael. Epic had basically said amongst other things that they could launch The Jacksons into Beatle territory. How could an independent label like Motown compete with promises like that? “They managed it with Michael as a solo artist but I’m not so sure about my brothers who had to work really hard just to re-establish the Jackson name.”

As the eighties approached Michael was indeed hovering in ‘Beatle territory’. In 1979 his majestic 'Off The Wall' album became the biggest selling album ever by a black artist. 4 years later 'Thriller' sold a staggering 52 million copies cementing his place in music history. Meanwhile The Jacksons had also released their hugely successful 'Triumph' album in 1980 and the resurgent wave of Jackson mania was even more voracious than the first.
The Motown 25th Anniversary tribute show in March 1983 then offered Jackson brothers the ideal opportunity reunite and for Michael to confirm his position as the biggest act in entertainment. His brilliant staging of his smash 'Billie Jean' left the audience spellbound. The Jackson 5, along with their classic formation, were back. “I officially rejoined the group for Motown 25,” Jermaine recollects. “By this time I had actually left the company too and had signed to Arista so the circumstances had changed. When I did finally return it seemed as though I’d never been away. Our situation as a group has always been unique in the sense that we grew up together, slept in triple bunk beds, toured together and knew each other inside out in a way most groups just wouldn’t understand.”

Talk of growing up once again led Jermaine to reflect on his childhood and the two bedroom house he shared with his 8 siblings, mother Katherine and strict disciplinarian, father Joe.

“Well it was tough,” recalls Jermaine. “sometimes we’d go weeks on end just living on boiled potatoes or vegetables - but we never went hungry - that’s the thing about black families, you always know how to survive - its inherent. That’s why when I was in the Big Brother house things like washing my own clothes and living off a shopping budget were second nature. I think Marvin Gaye might have lost it in the first week! But seriously, it doesn’t matter how famous or rich you become you don’t lose those values. “I definitely think there’s a price to pay for fame. The problem we had in our neighbourhood was more to do with us not being able to play with our school friends because we were forever rehearsing for one show or another. I think that sacrifice affected Marlon and Michael more than Tito, Jackie and myself because they were at an age where playtime seemed a lot more important. “Contrary to what some people have said about our family over the years, the Jacksons are from Gary, Indiana. We could never be from anywhere else apart from that tiny house on 2300 Jackson Street (the street was thus named before the family group became famous). “We all still go back regularly, unfortunately a lot of friends we grew up with are either dead or in jail. That’s a bit sad but I guess that’s life; we were fortunate to have a supportive mother and a very driven father who instilled the need for focus and discipline. When the lights went out at 8 o’clock you had to be home - if you weren’t you got it - simple as that!”

Blues and Soul magazine was first published the same year the Jackson bothers turned professional so who better to sum up 40 years of black music than their original lead singer, Jermaine Jackson. “To be perfectly honest I think black music needs to return to its roots and we need more innovators like Berry Gordy. Maybe I was spoiled working with someone of that calibre. Take for example Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson. Their music dealt with everyday life, and that’s why it became so influential.
'What’s Going On' changed my life - simple as that. There’s nothing out there like it at the moment. R. Kelly? Yeah, he’s good but he ain’t no Marvin Gaye!”

Now, as the man said: ain’t that the truth!
Words (((((B&S)))))

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