George Jackson Remembered
I only ever met George Henry Jackson once, but it was an occasion I’ll never forget. In January 2010 my Ace colleague Dean Rudland and I left our Muscle Shoals hotel in the small hours of the morning, to drive several hundred miles in weather conditions that ‘appalling’ would be far too kind a word to describe, braving snowdrifts and sub-zero temperatures at an ungodly hour to keep a 10AM appointment to interview George and Harrison Calloway at Malaco’s famous Jackson, MS studios. We were nervous and excited at the prospect of meeting a couple of our musical heroes, and the fact that we were a little late in arriving made us even more so – particularly as both men were already sitting in the Malaco lobby waiting for us when we got there.
Within a couple of minutes we were chatting to both men like we’d known them all our lives. We’d heard that George didn’t really ‘do’ interviews but he was relaxed and affable, willing and ready to answer any and every question that we put to him. He reminisced with clear memory on his days at Fame’s studios in both Muscle Shoals and Memphis, and was just as happy to talk about his time with Hi and Sounds Of Memphis, even though that wasn’t really what we were there to interview him about. He corrected a few misapprehensions that we had previously held, including confirming once and for all that the lead vocalist on the SOM recording ‘All In My Mind’ wasn’t him, and gave us enlightening new information about the way he approached song-writing that we greatly appreciated.
George was one of the most easygoing and friendly human beings that it’s ever been my pleasure to meet. He was quite modest about his song-writing, and seemed genuinely pleased when we praised any particular song of his, whether it had been a million-seller or a complete obscurity. The early songs he wrote for Wilson Pickett and Clarence Carter seemed to fill him with the most pride – and rightly so, perhaps – and he had no regrets that his own career as a singer didn’t really pan out as it might have done, due to the demand for his services as a writer.
When I told him that his record of ‘Aretha, Sing One For Me’ had been a big favourite on Jamaican sound systems in the early 70s, he was so pleased to receive the news that he ambled over to the piano in Malaco’s Studio A to sing us a couple of verses of a stunning sequel that he’d written that had never been recorded or even published.
He was very happy that Ace/Kent was going to great lengths to preserve the legacy of FAME’s two studios, and the great music that had been recorded there. At the time of our meeting Dean, Alec Palao and I had not yet located a great many of the tracks that have graced our ongoing series of George’s Fame recordings, and we had no idea then that what we thought might make up a couple of CDs, at most, will eventually extend to many more.
Sadly George will now not see the release of the subsequent volumes, but we hope with all our hearts that he was as happy with the presentation of the first three as we are. Ironically I’d spent a lot of time with George’s music recently as I only finished putting together what will be our fourth CD of his material. Most of the songs it includes were not recorded by anyone else, and all of them are as good as anything that was – such is the mark of the man’s abilities and gifts as a songwriter.
George’s songs have been part of the soundtrack to my life since I was a teenager, and they are no less so 45 years later. They and the man who created them will be admired for decades to come, of that I have no doubt…
By Tony Rounce