August 9, 2004

Paul Jackson Jr. - Rocking Steady

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

This time The Secret Garden is combining not one but two Smooth Jazz Survivors with notes on a smooth jazz artist who doesn’t always catch the headlines but who came to town and stole a show away from three major names of the genre. The classic tracks are ‘Rock Steady’ and ‘It’s A Shame’ and the artist is Paul Jackson Jr.

The event to which we refer was the WIFM 98.1 promoted Sax Pack event at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Diego that starred Kim Waters, Jeff Kashawa and Steve Cole. In addition, and most fortunately, it also had smooth jazz guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. opening the show.

PaulJackson.jpgIn case new readers are unsure what it takes for a recording to be classed by Secret Garden as a Smooth Soul Survivor, lets just say it must be a smooth jazz interpreted track that has its origins deep in soul music. The intention is to encourage you to get out there and search the racks of your favorite record store for these items of buried treasure.

But first back to the Hyatt Regency to get one thing straight. Waters, Kashiwa and Cole were not bad. In fact they were far from it and we will take more time in upcoming issues of The Secret Garden to explain more of what these three were all about. Its just that on June 27 2004, in the warmth of the San Diego sunshine, Jackson proved that he can play and entertain without resorting to some of the antics that certain current players tend to employ. He simply came, put on a show, and enabled the audience to have a party. They did just that.

Paul Milton Jackson Jr. was born December 30 1959 in Los Angeles CA and has become a musician sought after by many of the greats of soul and smooth jazz. His credits as side man and session player are numerous yet when in 1998 he released his solo recording Never Alone / Duets, an album that found him collaborating with Kirk Whalum, Joe Sample, Jeff Lorber and Gerald Albright, his smooth jazz career was not propelled forward in the way that had been expected. It took three years of touring with artists like Whitney Houston and the Backstreet Boys, and the time that afforded, to rethink his career and to come up with his next release, The Power Of The String, in 2001. When he looked around for a catchy radio ready cut for the album he did not have to go further than the Whispers classic of 1987 ‘Rock Steady’ and he promptly set about making this Smooth Soul Survivor one of the more memorable single releases of 2001.

It’s therefore surprising, given their status as a veteran R&B quintet with an impressive 23-year legacy of R&B hits, that in over three years of research, this is the first time The Whispers have been included as a provider of an original Smooth Soul Survivor.

Whispers.jpgThe Whispers were formed in Los Angeles by twins Walter and Wallace Scott, Nicholas Caldwell, Marcus Hutton and Gordy Harmon, although by 1973 Harmon had already left the band. The Whispers first appeared as far back as 1964 on the Dore label with ‘I Was Born When You Kissed Me’. In 1969, they climbed the soul charts for the first time with ‘The Time Has Come’, this time on Soul Clock, and they made it into the R&B top ten the following year with ‘Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong’. Ever since then, and variously on the Janus, Soul Train, and Solar label’s they have been making hit records. They struck big in 1980 with ‘And the Beat Goes On’ and it was in 1987 that they had yet another number one urban contemporary hit with ‘Rock Steady’. In 1993 founding members Walter and Wallace Scott took some time out to pursue solo work but remained with the band.

Jackson’s smooth yet funky guitar work brought out the very best that the rhythms of ‘Rock Steady’ had to offer so it was no surprise when working on his next (and latest) release Still Small Voices he again looked back into the archives for something radio stations could latch on to.

Spinners.jpgHe found it in the Spinners classic ‘It’s A Shame’ that was originally included on their 1970 release Second Time Around. The Spinners were the greatest soul group of the early '70s, creating a body of work that defined the seductive sound of Philly soul. Ironically, the band's roots lay in Detroit, where they were originally, called the Domingoes. They formed in 1957 when the quintet were high school students in the Detroit suburb of Ferndale. At the time, the group featured Bobbie Smith, Pervis Jackson, George W Dixon, Billy Henderson and Henry Fambrough. Four years later, they came to the attention of producer Harvey Fuqua, who began recording the group, by this time renamed as The Spinners, for his Tri-Phi Records. The band's first single, ‘That's What Girls Are Made For’, became a top ten R&B hit in 1961 and featured Smith on vocals but following its release, Dixon was replaced by Edgar ‘Chico’ Edwards. Over the next few years, the group released a series of failed singles, and when, in the mid sixties, Motown bought out Tri-Phi the Spinners became part of the larger company's roster. By this time G C Cameron had replaced Edwards but Motown never gave the group much consideration. ‘It's a Shame’ became a hit in 1970, but the label continued to ignore the group, and dropped them two years later’. It is the voice of G C Cameron that can be heard on ‘It’s a Shame’, which was at the time their first top ten R & B song since 1965. Cameron left the band when they signed to Atlantic preferring to stay in Detroit with the Motown stable. Phillipe Wynne stepped in and shortly after made everyone forget that Cameron had ever been around.

It was with Atlantic between 1972 and 1977, that they enjoyed their most productive period with a string of hits that included ‘I’ll Be Around’, ‘Mighty Love’, ‘Then Came You’, ‘The Rubberband Man’ and ’Could It Be I’m Falling In Love’

‘It’s A Shame’ is quite simply a classic. Opening with a nimble, intoxicating solo guitar hook and due, in no small part, to the Spinners gorgeous harmonies, this performance is effortlessly elegant, soaring from chorus to verse and back with ease. It’s perhaps because their performance on the record is so sublime that only a handful of artists have attempted to cover the song. Co-written by Stevie Wonder and Lee Garrett, the track doesn't really sound like a Wonder song, despite the fact that the melody is every bit as graceful as his best work. Wonder created the ideal pairing of song and production for the Spinners who, prior to the records release, had been struggling on Motown. The song changed the direction of the Spinners career, providing the foundation for the Gamble Huff productions to come. It was also important to Wonder. It revealed that ‘Little Stevie’, still only 20 when ‘It’s a Shame’ was released, had vision and talent that reached far beyond the Motown formula he had been using.

With ‘Rock Steady’ and ‘It’s A Shame’ Jackson has made two classic soul tracks his very own and made them accessible to a whole new audience. But Paul Jackson Jr. is about much more than that. Look out for future issues of the Secret Garden that will explore more of his work and the special smooth jazz heritage that he is creating.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at August 9, 2004 5:26 PM