Chuck Jackson, soul balladeer, dies at 85
Tue., March 7, 2023
Chuck Jackson, a hitmaking soul singer of the 1960s who combined a suave stage presence, laid-back romantic appeal and a rafter-filling voice and who recorded some of Burt Bacharach’s earliest pop compositions, died Feb. 16 in Atlanta. He was 85.
Ady Croasdell of the British record label Kent, which reissued several of Mr. Jackson’s recordings, confirmed his death in a Facebook statement but did provide further details.
Mr. Jackson’s first hit, “I Don’t Want To Cry” (1961), co-written with Luther Dixon and reportedly inspired by an unfaithful girlfriend, climbed to No. 5 on the Billboard rhythm-and-blues charts and was followed by an album of the same title devoted to tear-themed lyrics.
It was the beginning of a successful string of early-1960s hits that included “I Wake Up Crying,” written by Bacharach and Hal David, “Tell Him I’m Not Home,” “Beg Me” and his duet with Maxine Brown on “Something You Got.”
Mr. Jackson’s greatest commercial success was “Any Day Now” (1962), which Bacharach wrote with lyricist Bob Hilliard. The song dealt poetically with the anticipation of loneliness over an impending breakup.
Aficionados regard those recordings by Mr. Jackson - made for Wand Records - as the pinnacle of the ‘60s New York studio rhythm-and-blues sound. Wand’s pool of freelance talent included the songwriter-and-producer team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Barbadian-born arranger Teacho Wiltshire, and Bacharach.
Mr. Jackson’s records also benefited from the backup vocals of Cissy Houston, sisters Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, and Judy Clay, all of whom had earlier sang in the gospel group the Drinkard Singers.
Leiber and Stoller used odd instrumentations on Mr. Jackson’s records to dramatic effect, such as a combination of marimba, tambourine and triangle on “Who’s Gonna Pick Up the Pieces” or log drums on “I Keep Forgettin’” in their search for a synthesis of pop and soul.
In 1982, former Doobie Brothers singer Michael McDonald, an admirer of Mr. Jackson, recorded “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near),” a song with a similar melody and new lyrics - so similar that Leiber and Stoller were given co-writer credits with McDonald and his co-writer, Ed Sanford.
Mr. Jackson saw his career start to decline after he fell out with Wand label owner Florence Greenberg. He claimed that she rejected the songs “It’s Not Unusual” by Les Reed and Gordon Mills as well as “What’s New Pussycat” by Bacharach and David.
To his dismay, the songwriters pitched their work elsewhere, and both tunes became career-making signatures for the then-obscure Welsh pop singer Tom Jones.
“Tom came over to the States and spent a great deal of time with me,” Mr. Jackson told the Los Angeles Reader in 1990. “I took him to the Apollo for a week. When we first met, he had no rhythm at all, and he knew it, but he sure could sing. The next time I saw him on TV, he was like a completely different person, he projected rhythm and soul, he’d become a real artist, he was singing like he meant it.”
At the behest of Motown’s Smokey Robinson, Mr. Jackson signed with the Detroit label in 1968. In his estimation, the company did little to promote him.
“Looking back now, though, I understand where it all went wrong,” Mr. Jackson told the British publication Record Mirror in 1976. “Motown is a sound and they have to mold talent to suit that sound… . They were renowned for creating their own artists and, if you give it some thought, you’d be hard pushed to find any established artist who has joined the company and gone on to bigger things.”
He recorded an album of duets with Houston in 1992 - the same year he received the Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Award - and made a duet recording with Dionne Warwick, “If I Let Myself Go,” in 1997. Mr. Jackson long maintained a following in England, where his Wand records had long been favorites of the mod and northern soul music subcultures.
Charles Benjamin Jackson was born in Winston Salem, N.C, on July 22, 1937. He said he never knew his father and, when his mother moved to Pittsburgh to work, he stayed with a grandmother in Latta, S.C.
He appeared on the radio singing gospel music by age 6 and was singing lead in a choir by 11. He briefly attended the historically Black South Carolina State College (now university) on a music scholarship but then left for Pittsburgh in the mid-1950s because of civil rights unrest near campus.
In 1957, he recorded with the Pittsburgh doo-wop act the Del-Vikings - or at least, one version of the group, which had split into two competing units with the same name. (The group with Mr. Jackson eventually rebranded as the Versatiles.) While on tour, he befriended singer Jackie Wilson, who pushed him to go solo and become Wilson’s support act.
Mr. Jackson’s wife, Helen Cash, died in 2013, and a daughter died in 2021. Survivors include two children and three grandchildren.
To the Los Angeles Reader, Mr. Jackson recalled his sense of showmanship. While performing “Any Day Now” at Washington’s Howard Theatre in his heyday, he said he kept a pigeon in his dressing room and gave orders to the stagehand to keep the bird within the singer’s easy reach.
“I moved over to the side of the stage, and he put the pigeon in my hand,” Mr. Jackson said. “The audience didn’t know what was gonna happen. When I got to the part where I sang, ‘Oh, my wild, beautiful bird, you will have flown …’ I let him go. That place went wild!”
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