There really should be few people in this world who have never heard music from a member of the Jackson family. This is probably the most “sparkling” family in the music industry from the members of which we will always be looking for new material. Although for a long time there has been a relative silence from their part, at least discographically, Tito Jackson, the “quietest and most hardworking of the family” as he declares, makes the most unexpected comeback with a brand new album which is set to be released soon, “Under Your Spell”.
But on the occasion of this release and of the first single from this album, “Love One Another” featuring his brother Marlon and Bobby Rush, Kenny Neal and Stevie Wonder, we reached Mr. Tito Jackson, looking for more information about these releases and maybe some of his unknown stories from the ones that only he knows how to recount.
But why did he choose to put his solo career aside and become the last of his family to record a solo album? Why did he choose to do a blues record and what can we expect from the release of his new album? What pushed him to go to the studio once again and what messages does he want to convey with his songs? What collaborations will there be in “Under Your Spell” and what role did B.B. King’s music play in his songwriting? These and many more are issues that we discussed in the exclusive interview he gave to SounDarts.gr … Ladies and gentlemen … Mr. Tito Jackson !!
Lately you released your single “Love One Another”, a song with a strong message. What was your need to write a song like this? Do the lyrics describe an attitude of life or a personal need of yours?
I don’t know if you’re aware but this album has started right prior to the pandemic. I had almost finished recording it in the studio. I had almost 20 songs to choose from and I said to my writing partner “Mike this is a great album but we’re missing an element”, he said “Oh yeah? What’s going on?”, I said “Look Mike a lot of things have happened to this world like #BlackLivesMatter, the attack in the Capitol building and Trump and Bidden fighting and this country and that country… we really need to love one another man, we need to put this in a song”. So I have a song on this record telling people to respect and love one another. Remember yesterday when we were pushing peace and love. We need this time for that to come back and that’s how we came up with this tittle and that message. It refers to people who wanna carry this message even further. I don’t know how wide my arm reaches, as far as this type of thing, but if I can reach even one or two people that’s more than none.
This song features your brother Marlon Jackson and also Kenny Neal, Bobby Rush and Stevie Wonder. How did this team came along in the first place?
We had the music basically and I was going to sing the complete song and again I said to my writing partner “You know Mike, I think this should be a collab man because we’re telling people to love one another and I want to spread this message, I think this should happen through a collaboration”, and I was thinking of songs like “We Are The World” and how it had different artist-singers singing a small portion of the song to spread the message. So I said this is that kind of thing. I wanted it to be “Stevie Wonder and the Jackson brothers” or “Stevie Wonder and the Jackson family” whether there was Janet and other members along with my brothers. My brother Jackie has broken his ankle in two places and the doctor had his hand elevated above his head so he couldn’t get out of his bed to go down to the studio to record his part and I thought “Oh my Gosh what am I gonna do now?”… I had Marlon and Jackie who were supposed to share a verse. In addition I was gonna try and get Janet and maybe another family member whether it would be 3T or somebody else but then I said “my album is a blues album, I should try and reach for some blues legends”. So I reached for Bobby Rush and Kenny Neal. Kenny Neal worked a lot on this album and I thought “Kenny is an artist I should do a song with him”. I’ve done a song with everybody except from one of the main people who’s involved in my album and that was Kenny Neal and so I decided to add him to this record.
So there are thoughts of having a future collaboration with your family members too?
Right! Also the video for this song is going to be released soon and there I have a lot of surprises! My mum’s in the video, my sister Janet has a short cameo where she just throws a peace sign. Just little things where I have celebrities sharing their love, telling us to love one another. It’s about time man. You know this world like is going backwards and it’s time to stop and think to where we’re heading.
Your album, ‘Under Your Spell’, is set to be released on August 6. What can you tell us about the concept behind it?
The title of the album didn’t come until later because I had a few choices. One of the choices for my album’s title was “Love One Another”, then it was “Under Your Spell” and then another one was “Wheels Keep Turning”, which I thought they were all great but I went with “Under Your Spell” because I think that was something I felt was catchy and a strong song. I’m definitely considering that as one of my next releases as a single. Not to mention that having Joe Bonamassa as featuring on that song, it was a great honor for me. I also wanted to do the album-cover down the Mississippi, my idea was to do it at Crossroads but the setting wasn’t correct so I couldn’t do it there. Still the whole “Under Your Spell” concept was Jack Johnson and Crossroads and all these came together to that title so that’s why I went with that. I think it’s a fair title.
What was your main motivation for going back in the studio?
See what people don’t know about Tito is that I’m always dabbling in music more than any other member in my family probably. A lot of songs I create on my own, I engineer on my own, I play my instruments… I work on these things all the time. I’m probably one of the hardest workers in the family. You know I’m one of the people at the top of the list as a hard-worker. My motivation is that every member in my family had recorded and my first recording was “Tito Time”. It was a record I did just for the record you know .. just to say “Tito did a little album. He was the last one of the Jackson family to record”. That was just to show to certain people that I can record and I am an artist. I’m just what they call a quiet artist. It doesn’t matter whether I get noticed or not or my costume is more flashy than others’. I’m just a part of that package the way I’ve always have looked at it. But then it came to a point where I heard a few smart, wise comments that I didn’t appreciate from a few people that were famous, people like Charles Barkley he had said that if I wasn’t in the Jackson 5 would the world really miss me not being in the group. That really alerted me and I said I really need to do a record. And many many many years ago I worked on my sons’ 3T productions, to form that group which I did and when that was done I said I’m still gonna do an album and I decided not to because my boys had just done that thing. And what do I have to prove? I’m in the Grammys, I’m in the Hall of Fame, I’m in the Walk of Fame, I played for the Queen of England, I’ve done some great things in my career. What else do I have to prove? Do I have to prove to the public that I have an album? I didn’t think so but I did it anyway. But I knew that if I ever did the record… I wanted it to be a blues record. Then I started thinking “but my family is pop” so that’s why “Tito Time” was done and I thought if I did another record it’s gonna be with the music I actually love which is blues.
But why did you choose to get involved with blues? In what ways do you feel connected to this kind of music?
People don’t know that the Jackson 5 started out doing blues. Prior to Motown we used to have a set where we did like 4 or 5 blues songs as well because we sung in the clubs and we did the circuit. We had these 45 minute shows and we did 5 per night and you just take a 15 minute break between sets and you do this until like 2 in the morning. So that was my love and I said “I’m gonna do a blues album, where my heart really is” . This is basically what I did with “Under Your Spell” album and I knew I wanted the intel of some of my friends in the blues business as well as the pop world because my whole idea of blues is to build it. Blues has been around for a long long time but I’ve noticed that some of the older sounds of blues haven’t really changed where other music genres like RnB, rap, hip-hop, punk, hard-rock and other genres, they were births from the blues and they had evolved. But the blues never changes identity or structure as far as sound. So my whole thing was trying to do music that has this blues feeling but also has some type of pop feelings which come from a person who was in the pop music. People didn’t really pay attention to blues and now they’re playing it and unconsciously they’re hearing blues and digging it. The whole focus there is to get those who don’t really know the structure of what they’re listening to today and understand that all these come from a kind of music such as blues.
On this album there’s also the cover of B.B. King’s 1964 classic, “Rock Me Baby” which features B.B.’s daughter, Claudette King. How did this cover and collaboration with Claudette occur and what are your feelings about it?
Well I love that record but let me back up. B.B. King is one of my heroes and he was coming through Calabasas, California. There’s this club in the next city, Agoura Hills, called The Canyon Club, where he was coming every couple of years so this time I wanted to go and catch B.B.. I show up in the club while he was in the middle of his set. Then I ran into Steven Seagal, and he had his guitar with him and I asked “Stevie why do you have your guitar with you man?”, I thought he had opened up the show or something and he said “Man you don’t know?”, I said “I don’t know what?” he said “B.B.’s got this part on his show that if you have your guitar with you he’ll call you on stage and you’ll jam a number with him”, I said “REALLY?”, he said “yeah, where’s your guitar?”, I said “I don’t have it man but I’ll just go home and get it because I only live 10-15 minutes from here” he said “Go and get your guitar”. I run home to go get my guitar, ran back and the show was practically over so that didn’t happen that time. Now B.B.’s coming back in town like a year or so later but he’s in this other place which is an hour and half from my home and it’s my mother’s birthday. I was gonna take her to see B.B. King because she’s a fan of him as well. I made sure to take my guitar with me that time. We go there and I’m waiting for this section of the show but this didn’t happen either because he took it out of his program. I went backstage with my guitar for him to sign it, it was the same guitar as he plays, a 345 Gibson stereo. During our conversation with B.B., he was telling me that he was doing this for a long long time and he didn’t know how much longer he’s gonna be on this earth. He said that he really enjoys his band and that he was hoping that the band would continue after he’s not here anymore. Make a long story short; I think after B.B. had passed away the band had done a few things, I think with Bonnie Raitt but they weren’t doing too much. That’s when I asked a partner of mine, Jerry Harvey, what the B.B. band was doing at that time and he said “Not much T. why are you asking me that?”, I said “I’d like to do a few shows with them” and he said “Really? They would love that” . We became all friends and Claudette was singing a little bit with the band too. That’s how I came about meeting her. We were on tour. I was a feature on that show and one time we were coming back to the West Coast and the stage production manager of our show, who’s a great friend of George Benson. I had met George years far from that because we were doing a show in Las Vegas together and we talked of the possibility of recording something together. His manager said we can have lunch with George Benson. We discussed to do a contribution to B.B. King we got it all talked and figured out and then we went down the studio and recorded “Rock Me Baby”. Claudette and I shared the leads in that. She’s a fabulous young lady. She’s just excellent. Great singer, great personality and what better person can you have to sing “Rock Me Baby” than his daughter?
Going back in time, The Jackson 5 was a great chapter of your career. How do you recall that period of your life and, how did the group define you as an artist?
My brothers always knew my abilities. My whole family knows I’m a very very quiet individual. I had pushed myself to overcome my shyness when I was a younger man. I was extremely shy. Like when I started my own blues band which started with a bunch of friends from my neighborhood because my brothers hadn’t gone out touring for quite some time after the “Victory Tour”. I’m a musician I needed to be out there playing, that’s when I started playing in small places like churches and weddings just to get used to being on stage without my brothers. Just me.. you know? That took me a year to feel just free! One thing lead to another and I started getting other shows across the country. I had shows in the U.K. and in Japan… it just kept growing and I said “you know what? This feels so good and you know you love blues this is easier for you, this is where you belong as far as your solo career”. You don’t have to do any RnB or soul or pop… do your blues! That’s what I’m doing. This is a music that is popular but it’s not as much as other musics and blues needs a lift. If a lot of artists wouldn’t avoid to do one or two blues songs in their albums it would mean something than going with just an all rock or pop album. Just stress out a little bit, bend the rules a little bit… it’s not gonna hurt. So that’s basically all I’m doing.
Do you have any musical ambitions that you haven’t fulfilled till now?
Well this is one of them right now. This blues record. It’s one of the things that I’ve never done in my career and I’ve always wanted to do.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
One advice I would give myself is that sometimes when you’re too quiet people take it wrong and they draw their own conclusions of you. They have no speculation of who you are. I think if I was more vocal and outgoing of a person I could have gotten even more into business as a solo artist. There are a lot that’s going on behind the scenes before the public could hear and know. It has a lot to do with the note that they’re hearing. It doesn’t bother me… there are a lot of songs that I originally came with or I came up with the idea of them and it grows from there, but I never get credit for that. I’m not looking for that. I just don’t think it’s fair for a person who doesn’t know the structure or the lay-out of a band or how songs are structured because you’re talking about something that you have no idea.
Your boys Tarryll, TJ and Taj are also famous in the music industry, as solo acts as well as the band 3T. Αre you involved with their careers and if yes to what extend?
In the beginning of their days I was involved a lot. As I’ve said I was planning on doing a solo record and I was looking at it as a work I had to put aside to work for 3T. They did what they did and I was very much hands on it.
Do you remeber how they decided to come together as a band?
3T had gone to a Jackson 5 concert when they were babies before they were even able to sing. After the concert, they came home very impressed with what they had seen and they grabbed brooms and mops. They put a Jackson 5 record on the turntable trying to do what they saw in the concert and I asked them “Y’all like that?”, and they said “Yeah we wanna be like uncle Jackie and uncle Michael and all of you guys”, and I said “We really play our music, we don’t put on records and we don’t play with brooms and mops, so if you really wanna be like us you really have to play and sing”. I thought about my father at that time, he would teach us to play our instruments since we were very young, we had no limitations on that. So that’s basically what I did. I put a keyboard in their room and guitars and then I got them a few lessons. They started singing and I did a demo on them. It was a really nice song when they were really young. Younger than what the Jackson 5 were actually. I took them up to Motown and they gave me a contract for them. Then they took their contract over to their uncle to have a look at it and he felt that they would do better at Sony or Columbia or CBS or however you want to say it. Then they wound up to Epic Records so that they and M.J.J. would be under the same umbrella. The rest of it is just the history of the process of their first album. I would be further long than I am today but I’m not saying that in that content cause I owe it to my family and my sons. It’s my responsibility to work my children and that’s why I never really felt that I blew it or whatever. I just feel I did the right thing when the time was right. I’m a bit older now but I feel great and nothing’s gonna stop me. My father used to say “it’s over when you say it’s over, not when people tell you it’s over but when you want it to be over” and he’s right about that. I think that right now I’m doing some the best music I’ve done in a long time.
What’s your motto in life?
“Treat people the way you would want them to treat you”. It’s so important that we are genuinely be kind to each other. I wouldn’t want nobody say or do things to me that are off track, so I wouldn’t want to do that to anyone else. If you want to be treated as a jerk I guess you’re a jerk. I think that if we were more considerate and caring of each other that could go so far and mean so much to the society just spread the love. Be very generous with your love and with helping each other. Little things like that make a big difference. There’s gonna be a time when we can’t help but love one another when that’s gonna happen only the Good Lord knows that answer but I’m just trying to make it happen by just reminding us whether it’s happing today or not. We can share some love. Try to live your life in the right form so be loving, be kind. It’s so much easier to love something or somebody than to hate it. Hating takes a lot of energy, frustration, it bothers your head but love doesn’t do these things.
Interview: Theodore Kolliopoulos