When one thinks of romantic ballads packed with soul there is one name that comes to mind: The legendary Freddie Jackson.
Discovered by Melba Moore, Freddie Jackson was the headliner of Moore’s and Charles Huggins’ HUSH Productions roster. He was one of the biggest stars of the 1980s into the 90s, dominating the airwaves with 11 number one hits, 30 charted singles, multiple Grammy nominations, and an American Music Award.
Freddie Jackson taught us invaluable lessons in his music that still stand true today, like how to take things “Nice ‘N’ Slow.” He assured us all that “Love is Just a Touch Away” and how to just let go and have fun with “Jam Tonight.”
Today, Freddie Jackson is still very much a powerhouse in the balladeer department and shows no signs of slowing down. He’s currently on the Men of Soul Tour with fellow crooners Jeffrey Osborne, Howard Hewitt, and Peabo Bryson. “People are hungry for R&B music, and we’re feeding them the good music that they want all in one night,” says Jackson.
Soul Train: Mr. Jackson, this is truly an honor to finally speak with you. You have had such a huge presence in Soul Train history! What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Freddie Jackson: Thank you! The highlight of my career would be when I was nominated for a Grammy award and I was able to take my mother and one of her best friends and put them on an airplane; she was a lady from Alabama that had never been to Hollywood before. I put them up in a nice hotel and everything. Just to see the look upon her face made me feel really good. One of the highlights was looking out and seeing my mother walk down the red carpet. It meant a lot to me.
Soul Train: What have you been up to over the years aside from the occasional performance on award shows, and the Men of Soul tour that you are currently on? Are you working on a new album?
Freddie Jackson: Well I am working with my producer Mr. Barry Eastmond. He wrote 7 of the 11 number one records that I had. I’m also working with the wonderful Mr. Billy Ocean who is also working on his own remake album. So yes I am working on putting some new music together. I just signed with new a manager in California, who is also Johnny Gill and En Vogue’s manager; I’m getting my California groove back on (laughs). So I’m working on the type of records that I like and I hope that someone will play. Radio is so crazy right now. I guess I’m fortunate right now, but radio stations won’t stop playing the old stuff that I’ve done. I mean they say “yeah we like the new stuff, but we’re going to keep playing the old songs.” So, I hope to have something to release by next year.
Soul Train: Since you brought up how radio operates these days, what do you think is missing from R&B today?
Freddie Jackson: Dedication and commitment. There’s no dedication to R&B at most record labels. No commitment in radio for R&B music. I think there’s not enough commitment or not enough people that really believe R&B still has soul. I really think a lot of people don’t really want to listen to it as much as they used to. There’s no variety, and radio stations don’t really have the opportunity and liberty to play what they feel, instead of the same handful of songs they have to play. You could walk in with a new album and people won’t know anything about it other than the single. Whereas before you could walk that album into a radio station and the DJs would say, “Well I like this song or this song,” and play what they wanted to. So now days, radio’s hands are tied. I think that’s what’s wrong with the music industry, so that’s why the Men of Soul Tour is working so well. You have adults that are hungry for Freddie Jackson, Jeffrey Osborne, Howard Hewitt, and Peabo Bryson. All of those number one records in one night. These shows are selling out everywhere, so that tells me that people are hungry. So we are trying to feed them with the good music they are hungry for. You can’t deny that this is unbelievably real; it’s signed, sealed, and delivered as Stevie Wonder would say (laughs).
Soul Train: (laughs) That sounds like an awesome tour lineup! Your voice still sounds the same as it did years ago. Do you still have to practice everyday? What is your vocal regiment that you follow?
Freddie Jackson: Well they say it sounds better with age (laughs), but I guess that’s what happens when you take care of your instrument. I have taken care of my voice very well. I sing everyday, I try to sing at least 2 to 3 songs everyday just to keep it up, but I don’t push it too much. Even when I’m on stage, I have to limit how far I push it, but I try to sing everyday. I just sing from the heart.
Soul Train: Now Mr. Jackson, you have gospel roots. Are you ever going to do a gospel album? Have you felt that tug of war between secular and gospel music that some artists have felt?
Freddie Jackson: Now of course I love and live church, God is my heart, He is the reason why I am able to sing. I grew up in the church, but I don’t know about anyone else but Freddie Jackson, and I walk with God before I walk with anybody in this industry. The industry will turn their back on you, but God won’t and God has never done that to me. So eventually I will do a gospel album, but I think it’s part of an anointing that comes along with it. So some artists do a gospel album because they feel it’s the thing to do; you have to really be ready to tackle a gospel album because it comes from another place. There are certain things that have to be in proper order for me before I am ready to tackle that project.
Soul Train: You went from working a 9 to 5 to the top of the charts and are still recognized as a power house today. What would you say is the key to longevity in this business?
Freddie Jackson: I think the key is to stay true to you. Most people nowadays in the industry have a look and their vocals are just added to a track and next thing you know they have a record. I know about 5 years ago, there were a lot of hit records on the radio, and today you don’t even remember those artists’ names. I think it’s important to realize that you have to be the key to your own longevity, and it’s important to pick songs that will stick around. Look at “Rock Me Tonight” and “You are My Lady.” Those are songs that I will be able to sing for the rest of my life. Even Jeffrey Osborne’s “On the Wings of Love,” these songs are staples in the industry. So that’s what artists have to do, just pick songs that will last a lifetime. I was in the elevator a couple weeks ago and all of sudden “You are My Lady” is playing on Muzak, and I said well I guess I really have arrived! (laughs) You have to really make music that will outlive you. Look at Luther Vandross, he’s gone, but his music is still as popular as it was when he was alive. That’s what’s important and the key.
Soul Train: What is your favorite Freddie Jackson song?
Freddie Jackson: “Have You Ever Loved Somebody” is my favorite. I think because so many people can be in love with somebody and the person they love isn’t as in love with them the same way. That’s the big question that I had to ask myself, because I was head over heels in love with somebody, but they weren’t as head over heels over me. I think it’s a song that really makes you think, before you get emotionally attached to something you have to ask yourself, have you ever loved somebody, can you learn to love somebody, the way that somebody loves you?
Soul Train: Amen! Now how about “Tasty Love”? Is that a favorite also?
Freddie Jackson: (laughs) Now that’s just a nasty song! That song you put on when you want to be fresh! I get a lot of people telling me what happens when they play that song and I tell them that is more information than I need to know! (laughs)
Soul Train: (laughs) People are bold aren’t they?! So what type of music do you listen to?
Freddie Jackson: Of course I listen to my gospel music. I listen a lot to Mary J. Blige’s new album and I’m just amazed more people aren’t picking up on it. I think this is one of her best albums that she has made in a long time. Sometimes people aren’t ready to grow with you. To me, I just can’t get enough of her new album. I love Kelly Price’s album. It’s kind of strange but I love Jessica Sanchez on American Idol and I think that girl is sensational. I’m looking forward to hearing her album. Of course the Miss lovely Jennifer Hudson, I met her at Whitney Houston’s funeral. I sat down and she grabbed my hand and said, “Don’t you move anywhere I need to talk to you some more.” But she’s just a sweetheart. It’s interesting that she doesn’t even realize her full potential yet, but she’s the bomb. I’m a Ne-Yo fan and I love his writing, so maybe one day he’ll write something for little ole Freddie Jackson (laughs). I have a lot of folks that I admire.
Soul Train: That would be an awesome collaboration that would probably be a chart topper. What is one of your favorite Soul Train memories that you’d like to share?
Freddie Jackson: I guess it would be when Don Cornelius came out on stage and he asked me in his deep voice, “So Freddie, will we ever get anything a little faster so the dancers can dance to it?” (laughs) I said, “Well, since you asked I guess I’ll try.” (laughs) So when I came back I performed “Jam Tonight” and he said, “Well, that’s a start.” (laughs) I always had such a great time on the show. Don always made sure that I was on the show for each album. I thank him so much for that because he was truly in Freddie Jackson’s corner. I remember one time he came upstairs to my dressing room, and the people in the studio said “you must really be special because Don never goes upstairs to the second floor!” (laughs) So that’s another thing when I talk about dedication and commitment that is definitely Don Cornelius, because he paved the way for many artists. So there will always be a lot of love, peace, and soul in my heart for Soul Train.
Soul Train: Do you have any advice for aspiring artists trying to break into the music industry?
Freddie Jackson: Learn, read, and pray. Have more than one lawyer. Have one to look at the contracts, have one to look at what the other one looked at, and do not make quick and fast decisions because this thing comes and it goes. You have to be ready for the highs and the lows. Always make sure that whatever you do, make sure it comes from the heart because nobody can steal that from you. You also have to remain grounded, be humble. I think that’s another key to longevity, being grounded.
Shameika Rene’ is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and writing for various websites such as Charlotte Vibe, Creative Loafing, or her own site, www.themofochronicles.com. She’s also a special guest contributor on The Social Hour on Urban Soul Radio. Follow her on Twitter @mofochronicles.