December 16, 2004

Freddie Jackson - Back On The Block

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.

Latest news out of New York is that R&B legend Freddie Jackson has reunited with the management team who were responsible for launching his career. Charles and Beau Huggins established Freddie amongst the R&B elite of the '80's, a position from which he dominated the airwaves with the most #1 Urban chart singles of that era.

FreddieJackson.jpgThe forte of Freddie Jackson was sophisticated, romantic soul ballads aimed at adult audiences, but he was also capable of tackling urban contemporary dance numbers and even the occasional jazz tune. Yet, unlike many of his peers, Luther Vandross, Anita Baker and Peabo Bryson included, Jackson never managed to cross over to the pop charts where none of his R&B smashes even breached the Top Ten. During the 90’s, as new trends like hip-hop impacted the urban contemporary landscape, Jackson gradually faded from view.

Jackson was born October 2, 1956, in Harlem. He was trained as a gospel singer and, from an early age, sang at the White Rock Baptist Church. There he met Paul Laurence who later became his producer and songwriting partner. After completing school, Jackson joined Laurence's group, LJE, (Laurence Jones Ensemble), and, in addition, played the New York club scene. By the early '80s, Jackson had moved to the West Coast and, for a time, was lead singer with the R&B band Mystic Merlin. However, he returned to New York to work with Laurence at the Hush Productions company where he sang on demo recordings of Laurence’s compositions. Melba Moore happened to see his nightclub act and promptly recruited him as a backup singer.

Freddie had eleven #1 singles on the Billboard charts, a chain of events that started in 1985 when he landed a record deal with Capitol and issued the debut album, Rock Me Tonight. It sold four million copies, garnered the Laurence composed single of the same name and stayed at #1 for six weeks. Significantly it also set him up for a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.

Freddie was quickly back to #1 with the follow up single, ‘You Are My Lady’ a recording that proved to be his highest-charting single on the pop charts, peaking at number 13. Jackson wasted no time in following up on his new found success. ‘Just Like The First Time’ appeared in 1986 hot on the heels of ‘A Little Bit More’, a number one R&B duet with Melba Moore that was taken from her album A Lot Of Love. ‘Tasty Love’, ‘Have You Ever Loved Somebody’, and ‘Jam Tonight’ all hit number one, while ‘I Don't Want to Lose Your Love’ went to number two.

The title track of 1990's Do Me Again took him back to the top of the R & B charts, and ‘Main Course’ just missed, topping out at number two. Even so, Jackson's early placings in the lower reaches of the pop Top 40 had long since disappeared and some critics commented that his albums were becoming too similar. Perhaps it was this lack of distinctiveness in his material that hurt Jackson's chances for that all-important pop breakthrough. His 1992 release Time For Love, that included the hit cover of the Billy Paul classic ‘Me and Mrs. Jones’, still failed to duplicate the crossover success that Luther Vandross was belatedly enjoying.

Jackson went on to have 30 charted singles, winning an American Music Award in 1988 for ‘Nice and Slow’, a track lifted from his platinum selling album, Don't Let Love Slip Away.

Seeking a new beginning, Jackson left Capitol in late 1993, and signed with RCA. His label debut, Here It Is, appeared the following year, with diminished commercial returns. This, in part, was possibly due to the fact that his straightforwardly romantic ballad style was increasingly out of step with the sexually explicit new breed of R&B. Following a Christmas album, Jackson split with RCA and, in 1995, recorded Private Party for the much smaller Street Life label. Several years of silence ensued, until Orpheus issued Life After 30 in late 1999. The equally low-key release Live in Concert followed in 2000.

Now at the end of 2004, with a resurgence in the market for smooth romantic soul, the timely reuniting of Freddie Jackson with the Huggins will lead him to a new album in 2005. Not only that, he will team up with long term mentor Melba Moore when the two of them take the stage to perform a duet at the Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York on December 22. Tony Award winning Moore has always been proud of her protégé and the duet with Freddie, as part of her Fisher Hall concert, promises to be memorable on all sorts of levels. Renewed success could be just around the corner.

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 December 16, 2004 1:06 PM