The Jacksons: Everchanging Times
February 1977 interview, conducted in person in Los Angeles
By David Nathan
ONE OF the more dramatic announcements of 1975 came when The Jackson Five made it known that they had concluded a new recording pact with Epic Records for "an undisclosed sum" after many years of success with Motown Records, the company that put the group on the map and with whom they enjoyed a string of big hits ("I Want You Back", "ABC", "I'll Be There" on and on) and became established as a musical institution.
But as Quincy Jones once stated with eloquence, everything must change. And the one question puzzling everyone after all the talk of the law suits and family disagreements (brother Jermaine Jackson, husband of Hazel Gordy — Berry's daughter — stayed with Motown) was what would happen to the five young men once they joined the vast CBS conglomerate? Like, who would produce them? Away from Motown, would they survive?
Michael, Marlon, Tito, Jackie and Randy obviously had no doubt themselves about their own musical abilities. After wowing audiences internationally for years, they could hardly be termed novices in the field of entertainment. But the maxim goes, "you're only as good as your last hit record" and in a field as competitive as the one The Jacksons find themselves in, it was imperative that whatever came out from The Jacksons' pacting with CBS could have to be really somthin' else!
Wisely, both CBS and The Jacksons decided to opt for probably the most successful team of soulful producers in music today. None other than Gamble & Huff! And under their direction at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, The Jacksons came up with what looks like one of their biggest albums to date. During an ultra-brief break from the recording of their own CBS television series (yet another advantage of being with the company), we got a chance to rap with the brothers.
"There were a few other producers in mind — like Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire. But he was busy on the road. We were more than happy to have gotten the chance to work with Gamble & Huff — it was a fabulous experience. When we first went down to Philly, they allowed us to listen to the material they'd prepared for us and we selected what we liked! They gave us complete freedom. And we went for songs with nice melodies, with messages, songs that had some kind of meaning. On top of that, we were allowed for the first time to include two of our own songs — "Style Of Life" and "Blues Away." They were written by Tito and Michael and we intend to get more into writing in the future."
The basic aim for the group in the future seems to be to project that they are no longer little children. Part of the problem of being youthful stars seems to have been that The Jacksons have been typecast as "forever young" and they're intent on letting everyone know that they're grown up. "Our new show is going to be a whole lot different from what we were doing in the past. It's going to involve more stage action, it's going to be much more of a production thing with all kinds of visual tricks! We'll still be using our sisters — but only in our Vegas show. Eight people is a lot to be carrying around everywhere and the girls are more than happy to be joining us whenever we do our television series or the Vegas shows".
Throughout the years, the team has probably spent as much as 50% of their time on the road. "We really enjoy it. We get a chance to get across to people, to meet different people, personalities. When we go overseas — as we'll be doing again in January to South America — we get the opportunity to see different cultures too. And that's hip." Already, the Jacksons plan to do a 25-day tour of the States during February although they are aware that television is just as important a medium as anything else for getting exposure. "You have to remember that there must be people in small towns everywhere who just don't get a chance to get to concerts. So television provides them with the entertainment, allows them to see us. And we want to use our own series as a vehicle for presenting other talent.We're concerned about that as far as producing is concerned too. We're interested in eventually working with new acts who haven't had the breaks yet."
Eventually, the Jacksons say they'd like to be doing maybe four or five specials a year rather than a continuous series on television. "We want to expand our creative talents into more writing for example. We have our own publishing companies and we're constantly getting songs from other people — so we want to develop that side of our activities." As yet, the team don't know whether they will hook up again with Gamble & Huff for subsequent albums: "We'll see how this album turns out and take it from there. But our main aim right now is/to establish the Jacksons back out there — that original concept of five of us. Then maybe one day, we can grow to the point where we can produce ourselves — who knows? Right now, we want people to know that the Jacksons are here to stay and we're going to try and achieve our goals sooner than anybody expects!"
And just as a footnote, in case anyone wonders, yes, the Jacksons did have to deal with schooling during those years when they were continuously out on the road! In fact, Randy still spends three hours a day with a tutor. How is he able to learn as much as his counterparts who go to school every day? "Remember there's one teacher for just one person!" Point taken, Randy!
The Jacksons seem set for a future as bright as their past. They've grown into five articulate and intelligent gentlemen whose talents are only about to be fully unleashed on the world! Look out world!