Had Millie Jackson not had the nerve to jump on stage for a bet during a Harlem talent contest when she was twenty years old in 1964, her career might have followed a far different trajectory. Certainly, until that time, it seemed that she harboured few aspirations to make something of herself in the music business.
Born in a quiet Georgia town called Thomson, half an hour’s drive from Augusta, Jackson’s first taste of public exposure came after she’d moved to Newark, New Jersey, at the age of fifteen and began modelling for teenage magazines. But the impulse that made her take part in a talent contest a few years later proved instantly fruitful, resulting in club engagements that validated her newfound ambition to be a vocalist. Successful gigs at the Crystal Ballroom, Club Zanzibar and 521 Club in the Big Apple led to a year-and-a-half stint on the road doing background vocals for Sam Cooke’s younger brother, L C Cooke, after which she eventually landed a recording deal in 1969, where she cut a debut 45, A Little Bit Of Something that was initially licensed to MGM.
Although the record bombed, a couple of years later Jackson joined the roster of the newly created Spring label. Her inaugural single for the label, A Child Of God, made the Top 30 on the US R&B listings, followed by an eponymous debut LP in 1972. Another track from the album, Ask Me What You Want, broke into the R&B Top 5. Her strong follow-up LP, “It Hurts So Good,” yielded a Top 3 R&B title song - which gained valuable exposure by being on the soundtrack to the black action movie, Cleopatra Jones - and catapulted Jackson into the big time.
In 1974, Jackson in tandem with producer, Brad Shapiro, masterminded her magnum opus, “Caught Up.” A bold, imaginative song-cycle chronicling the vicissitudes of a ménage-a-trois and featuring frank confessionals, risqué raps and plenty of raunchy attitude, “Caught Up” proved a landmark album for soul music, transforming Jackson into a bona fide star. Its sequel, 1975’s “Still Caught Up,” pushed the envelope further. Feeling she needed to break away from concept albums rather than become typecast, Millie took a more relaxed approach to music making with with “Free And In Love” (1976) and “Lovingly Yours” (1977), two solid and often overlooked albums that kept her name out there and flew the flag for real soul in the face of disco’s seemingly unstoppable popularity.
Towards the end of 1977, though, Jackson returned to conceptual album making with“FEELIN’ BITCHY, which became her biggest-selling long player, spending 38 weeks on the Stateside R&B charts. Recorded in Muscle Shoals, the Mecca of 70s Southern Soul, the album also spawned two big hits in the shape of the Latimore-penned All The Way Lover (#12 US R&B) and If You’re Not Back In Love By Monday (#5 US R&B), a poignant, heart-rending ballad. Following on from several recent critically-acclaimed reissues of Jackson’s earlier Spring albums on Southbound, Ace has just revamped FEELIN’ BITCHY. Sonically, it’s a vast improvement on previous CD editions and the original eight-track album is supplemented with three bonus cuts; alternate versions of Lovin’ Your Good Thing Away, Angel In Your Eyes and the smash single, If You’re Not Back In Love By Monday.
By turns sardonic and sassy, Jackson’s raw vocal delivery possesses a powerful, almost visceral sensuality, especially on the album’s ten-minute leadoff track, the epic All The Way Lover, which boasts opulent strings and horn charts, the latter provided by David Van De Pitte, who scored Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” album. Marrying soul-drenched vocals with a narrative thread and top-notch material supplied by stellar tunesmiths such as Lamont Dozier (You Created A Monster) and George Jackson (Lovin’ Your Good Thing Away and A Little Taste Outside Love, the latter previously cut by Candi Staton), FEELIN’ BITCHY proves to be an excellent vehicle for showcasing Millie Jackson’s sublime vocal talents. Its gripping themes of love, lust and betrayal resonated with the US public, resulting in the singer’s most commercially successful recording.
30 years on, “FEELIN’ BITCHY” has lost none of its potency. It remains a significant milestone in Millie Jackson’s storied career and provides a suitable finale to this all-too-short series of expanded Millie reissues.
By Charles Waring