In soulful remembrance of Chuck Jackson (July 22, 1937  – February 16, 2023), whose memorable contribution to the world of R&B and soul music was justifiably recognised with a 1992 Pioneer Award from The Rhythm & Blues Foundation, we  revist an interview conducted by John Abbey in 1973. 

Rest Peacefully, Mr. Jackson.

Classic Soul Interview: Chuck Jackson: Getting Back On The Right Track
By John Abbey
September 1973

It has always intrigued me how there is a small band of select American artists who, despite having never received any UK chart recognition, although always revered by British soul fans. Chuck Jackson certainly can be included in that exclusive little group. Even in the States, Chuck has seen both ends of the road — during his peak years with Wand, there was no more successful male artist in the R&B field yet during a section of his Motown era one could seriously wonder as to whether Chuck had gone into an early retirement!

Let’s look at Chuck’s beginnings, though, firstly. He was born Charles Jackson on July 22, 1937, in the city of Winston Salem, North Carolina. His talents were recognised in his early youth when he co-starred in a regular radio series between his fifth and twelfth years. This part of his life was spent in Latta, South Carolina, where he attended the Latimer High School. His family then moved to Pittsburgh, where he won a musical scholarship to South Carolina College.  On leaving college, Chuck spent a year with the renowned gospel revue, the Ray Rasberry Gospel Singers before switching over to soul with the Del-Vikings. That was in 1955 and Chuck recalls the situation that gave him the opening. “It happened straight after the group’s two big hits, “Come Go With Me” and “Whispering Bells” and the Del-Vikings were just about the hottest group out there. Their baritone singer was called into the service and drafted to Germany so I was invited to replace him. I wasn’t on any of their big hits but I did record a couple of non-hits.

“I wasn’t actually signed to the group to make records really but I made a couple I recall. And, of course, we were including the hits in the stage show. Incidentally, that was when I became Chuck and not Charles Jackson.”  The group’s line up at that time included Crip Johnson, lead singer on all of their hits; Don Jackson and two guys affectionately known as Quick and Lurchy! During the two years that Chuck was with the Del-Vikings, he was also trying to build his own solo career. He made records for Beltone, Clock and Fee-Bee during the time he was still with the group though nothing gained him too much recognition.  Directly after leaving the Del-Vikings, Chuck put together his own little show and his big break came when he played the renowned Apollo Theatre with Jackie Wilson during 1960. In fact, it was at Jackie’s instigation that Chuck was even able to play the Apollo with him and it so happened that Luther Dixon, then top record producer with Scepter-Wand Records, was in the audience. Luther was impressed greatly with Chuck’s talent and signed him immediately to Wand Records.

Happily for all concerned, Chuck scored first time out — with the beautiful ballad “I Don’t Want To Cry”, which Chuck and Luther wrote together and a song that has since been recorded by numerous other soul acts. “I Don’t Want To Cry” triggered off seven happy and very successful years for both Chuck and Wand Records, during which time he enjoyed something like thirty chart singles and a host of hit albums — at a time when R&B albums were poor sellers in general. Chuck’s biggest hit of all time came during that period — “Any Day Now”, a Burt Bacharach song that topped the American R&B charts in 1962. The hits included: “In Real Life”; “The Breaking Point”, one of the earliest Bacharach-David together compositions; “I Will Never Turn Your Back On Me”, written and produced by Ed Townsend, who did the same job for Marvin Gaye on “Let’s Get It On”; “Beg Me”; “If I Didn’t Love You”, one of the earliest compositions by Britain’s Pam Sawyer,  who has since been so successful as a songwriter at Motown; “Good Things Come To Those Who Wait”, co-written by J. J. Barnes and arranged by Isaac Hayes’ arranger, Dale Warren; “I Need You”; and “Shame On Me”, the Country song that gave Chuck his final hit for Wand.

It’s worth noting that one of Chuck’s hit albums, “A Tribute To Rhythm & Blues” acknowledges its pianist and organist as Valerie Simpson. The only two consistent things about Chuck’s seven years at Wand were the fact that each year was unbelievably successful and that each year found him with a new set of producers and arrangers.  There was no disputing Chuck’s success at Wand and when in 1968 it was announced that he had signed with Motown, everybody confidently expected him to become the No. 1 male vocalist all over again. But the impetus didn’t come and Chuck spent four years in virtual hiding. To this day, nobody has ever understood why this situation came about. “I didn’t even know the answer to that one myself,” Chuck admitted philosophically, “but they ‘killed’ me in the nicest way…If you know what I mean!  They took care of me from a financial viewpoint — to the point where I never realised I was hurting. Maybe it was a business thing — you know, it’s been suggested to me since that Motown bought my contract to get me out of the way of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder because I was the only serious rival to Marvin at the time. But I really don’t know that that makes sense to me so I would never believe it completely.

“How did I get there? Well, I had grown up in the business with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and Smokey had always said that if I ever became free, call him first. So I did that and in fact it was Smokey who produced my first sessions for Motown. But I was never happy with the material I recorded at Motown; it was simply not my type of material, you know. Things are different at Motown from almost any other company. There, you have to sing their songs their way and that’s why they would find it hard to do anything with any established name who had built up any style of his or her own.”

But Motown must have had had big plans for Chuck initially because I recall full-page ads in all of the American trade magazines at the time that his first Motown single was released. It was a two-sided stab — “You Can’t Let The Boy Overpower The Man In You” and “Girls, Girls, Girls” — both being written by Smokey. But neither side was good enough — I believe that it was eventually that which killed off any hope of Chuck making a triumphant debut on Motown. In fact, the whole of that first album — entitled “Chuck Jackson Arrives” unfortunately when it sadly meant just the opposite, that Chuck Jackson was about to depart! — was way below what we expected and Chuck was allowed to slip slowly but surely from view.

It was a whole year before Chuck hit even the R&B charts again and then he had a run of two small hits in the revival of Freddie Scott’s “Are You Lonely For Me” and then “Honey Come Back”, which was perhaps the best all-round performance that Chuck had at Motown. “That one really looked good at the time,” he now laughingly remembers, “but Glen Campbell came down on top of me with the song and he climbed all the way!” Motown tried switching Chuck from the main Motown label to VIP in their efforts to get him selling again but it was all to no avail and last year, when the contract expired, Chuck was happy to be on his way again. Before signing with ABC earlier this year, Chuck spent six months with Brunswick, having just one release on their Dakar label — the Eugene Record penned “I Forgot To Tell You”, but it, too, achieved no real success.  “It was a friendly arrangement that I made with Brunswick by which if nothing happened with the one release, I would have an automatic release from the contract.”

All of which brings us almost up-to-date [in 1973]. Chuck was signed to ABC Records by his manager, Larry Maxwell, earlier this year. His first release by the company has given him his biggest success since his Wand days. It is in the same vein that ABC has been pursuing of late — placing established soul names with pop producers. It proved successful with the Four Tops and Lambert and Potter so Steve Barri was assigned to produce “I Only Get This Feeling” on Chuck and it carried him into the R&B Top 30 in the States. Now comes a new release in “I Can’t Breakaway”.

“Everyone is so excited at ABC about it,” Chuck enthuses, “and they are all predicting a Top 5 record for me. That would be marvellous because, although I’ve had all those hits over the years, I’ve never had a Top 10 pop record — no, even “Any Day Now” only got to No. 12 on the pop chart!” Frankly, I was amazed — especially when you consider that Chuck has sold something like fifteen million records over the years. That includes the string of successful duets that Chuck made with Maxine Brown during their Wand years together.  With the current ‘Oldies But Goodies’ boom in the States, I asked Chuck if it has helped him get back into the big halls again.”Well, no, surprisingly not,” he admitted, “because for some reason they won’t accept me as an oldie! I’m kinda pleased about it now of course because it means that I’m considered to be alive and kickin’, if you like. And that means I’m still eligible for a hit record today, too, I guess. I’ve always kept my show as modern in concept as possible so that must have something to do with it, too. No, they always turn round and say ‘we’d love to use you, Chuck, but you’re simply not old enough!'”

It would certainly be a just reward for Chuck if he could rekindle those old successes with ABC and, on the strength of that first release, it certainly looks as though they are on the right track. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

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