As part of our Soulful Salutations feature, honouring soul music’s immense treasure trove of contributors to this global genre, we celebrate singer/songwriter Jackie Ross on her birthday, January 30th, with this interview conducted in 1976 by founder David Nathan, who recalls Jackie’s classic recordings for Chess Records such as “Selfish One” and “Take Me For A Little While”…

Jackie Ross, In Full Bloom

By David Nathan

September 1976

“Sure, there have been many times when I wanted to give it all up. I guess, you could say, at least one day out of every week! But all entertainers go through that and now my head is in a different place. I’ve got myself together and I want to be one of the best!

So speaks Ms. Jackie Ross, the soulful lady who found herself with a big smash hit on her jands with her first record for Chess Records back in 1964. Following that, Jackie’s career went through a series of ups and downs and she stayed with Chess until 1969 during which time she says “I recorded a great deal of material” which included her debut album, “In Full Bloom” which, when released, sent British soul fans (then a small minority) into ecstasy. And the classic, “Take Me For A Little While”.

But back to the beginning, “Yes, I’m a native of Chicago and with my mother being a Church minister, it was inevitable that I sang in church! I was greatly influenced by Sam Cooke — when I was around 15, Sam had started into singing r&b after having been with gospel for so long. And in fact, it was Sam who produced my very first session.

“It was for his Sar Records’ label and the tune was called ‘Hold Me’. It didn’t do a thing,” Jackie recalls, “and it was some two years until I went back into the studios.” This time it was for Chess. “A DJ at a local radio station — which is now WVON — had heard that first single we did with Sam and he liked it. So he took me down to Chess and we recorded ‘Selfish One’ because the company had the song and felt my voice was suited to it. I signed a contract and, at the tender age of 17, that was it.”

But Jackie really didn’t take the record’s success too seriously. “I really thought it was all a big joke when the record took off. I wasn’t excited at all — because back then, I really had no ambition. All I wanted to do was sing!”  Jackie got the opportunity with “In Full Bloom” and recalls that the sessions were produced by her manager, Billy Davis. “I guess the next big thing to happen was “Take Me For A Little While”. Well I say to happen — but it didn’t happen at all! You see, the song had already been given to another singer — yes, Evie Sands — and it had also been given to Chess. So we cut it but nobody told me that there was another version already finished. So we had to withdraw it at the publisher’s request. And we all felt it was going to be a big record for me, too.”

From then on, Jackie’s stay at Chess was less than fruitful. “Back then, as a young recording artiste, you couldn’t really register any protest about the material or anything. It was really different from the way things are now. I guess we just had a lot of bummers with Chess though I will say that I can see how that ‘family’ concept developed because we were all working together. I remember when we came over to Europe — that really was a whole lot of fun for us.” That was in 1965, when Chess was launched by Pye Records and artists like Johnny Nash and Jackie appeared on the then-popular “Ready Steady Go!” television programme.

The next stop in Jackie’s recording career saw her working with none other than Jerry Butler on his Mercury-distributed label Fountain Records. “I was with Jerry for about two years — we cut some eight sides in all, but nothing happened, so in 1972 I asked for a release. And that was when I started working with Jimmy Vanleer.”

Jackie says that she’d first met Jimmy “about eight or nine years ago. With Jimmy’s help, I’ve been more into finding myself. You know, it really helps when someone really believes in you. And Jimmy’s shown me that he really has confidence in me and his strength has given me more. And we both believe that people can’t have that much faith without something coming out of it!”

Jackie’s first few years with Mr. Vanleer (who remains her producer and manager) saw her recording a lot of material. “Yes, we had records out with different labels — but nothing really happened to any large extent.”  Jackie started working on material some six to eight months ago and the first product of her deal with Capitol is the single, “I Can’t Stand To See You Go”. “Right now, I’m more in tune with myself, so the material I’m doing is more reflective of me. It’s like starting all over again for me, really. Back in the days of ‘Selfish One’, people were always making comparisons with Mary Wells. Not that I minded but I wanted to let people know that I am me!”

Throughout some of those lean years, Jackie says that “Selfish One” really sustained her. “It keeps me working in clubs in and around Chicago. And people still stop me in the street and recall the song. And it’s been responsible for keeping me alive — so I can hardly knock the song. And if I didn’t do it in my act, people would probably get mad!”

Jackie feels that now she has someone in her corner, she can deal with the crazy world of show business. “Naturally, I’m anxious to be out there and we’re hoping that with the release of the album, we’ll be able to go out on tour. Yes, I’m very excited about the future — it’s almost like being on twinkle toes…”

And for all those many folk who remember “Selfish One” and “In Full Bloom”, that’s about the best news we could expect to hear!

(c) 1976, 2022, David Nathan