Interview: Freddie Jackson: Droppin Knowledge. Yungsters listen up

FREDDIE JACKSON: Coming from the Heart and Soul

By: Melody Charles

He’s a Harlem-born, church-cultivated  word-processor-turned crooner who, just over 25 years ago, cemented his status among other R&B love men of that time by hitting it big with the number one smash “Rock Me Tonight.” Downright inescapable in the 80s and 90’s with songs like “Have You Ever Loved Somebody,” “You Are My Lady” and “Love Is Just a Touch Away,” what started as a remarkable streak of four back-to-back number one albums faded as time went on and the trends changed from sophisticated to sexually-driven music, but he was never far from the stage or a Billboard charts, touring abroad and recording independently, scoring a Top 20 Independent position with his last effort, 2006’s Transitions.

Staying so far under the radar seemed to catapult him into TV One’s Unsung territory until recently, since he’s re-emerged as part of the enthusiastically-received Men of Soul Tour, featuring himself, Howard Hewett, Jeffrey Osborne and Peabo Bryson. On the verge of performing in Dallas and less than two months away from releasing his eleventh CD, 4 U (I Will), Mr. Jackson spoke exclusively to Knowshi about the tour, the CD, what kept him out of the spotlight for do many years and what newer performers need to do to insure their own legacies.

Melody- Everybody is excited to see all of these incredible performers come together on one stage: how did the Men of Soul Tour come about?

FJ– It was something that the promoters and Jeffrey, Peabo and Howard were talking about, so it didn’t take very long to get me on board. I just felt that it was very necessary for the industry right now because a lot of people try to reproduce good soul music, but it’s a little watered down as far as I’m concerned. The melodies may be good for another six months or so, but most of them don’t have the lasting power as “Feel the Fire,” “You Should Be Mine(the Woo Woo Song),”  “Love Ballad,” “I’m For Real” and “Rock Me Tonight.”  When the tour was presented to me, I thought, ‘what a treat it would be for an audience to have all of that in one night. It would be like sitting in front of your own personal jukebox, getting number one records thrown at you for two hours.’

Melody- How is everyone getting along, and how are you all sequencing the line-up?

FJ- We all have one band, so we all get to spend more time to spend on stage and less on changing sets. Sometimes we’ve had to share a dressing room together, but we laugh, we talk about each other’s music and it’s a great form of camaraderie. We’re having a good time. We do our own songs and somewhere toward the end, we get together and have some fun. Next year, we will revamp it to where we can sing more songs. This package is something that we can do for a long, long time. Lots of

Melody-Why do you think the tour’s been so successful, other than the fact that you all are getting along?

FJ-We all have something that’s different, but we’re all talking about love, making the connection, love lost, love found, it’s about the heart and the soul. We’re still leaving stuff to the imagination, which isn’t happening today. People are talking about ‘neighbors know my name’(laughs), and they’re cute records, but sometimes, what’s left to the imagination will last a lot longer. People used to walk up to me saying ‘I finally experienced what you’ve been singing about, I know what ‘for old time’s sake’ means. Those are lyrics that will never die.

Melody-What have the last few years been like for you? It seems like you went underground after Transitions.

FJ– (cracks up) Wow, that’s gonna have to be the next interview! I’d gone through some hardships with prior management (Melba Moore’s management team) , and I just wanted to go on record to say that the trials and tribulations that she was hollering about back in the day are true. They had me under a contract for five years and I wanted to record, but I couldn’t. I mean, I wanted to for my audience, but not for those (managers) who were playing games with me, so I just letting the time run out on the contract and to make a long story short, I’m now suing them for back royalties.

Melody-Yikes! I hate that for you Freddie.

FJ– Well, with the power of God, no weapon formed against me shall ever prosper, and He’ll stop anyone and anything that comes in my path, because I’m a believer and I am strong. By the grace of God, what I’ve put in the can has been working for me: even without a hit record, we can still go out there and make money, unlike a lot of these new jacks.  I mean, if their record doesn’t work, then a promoter don’t want to touch them.  We still have an audience that will come out and see us, and we’re selling out

Melody- That is a blessing. Tell me about the new CD.

FJ– This is the first one where I’m the co-executive producer, imagine that. I have the title along with Barry Eastmond, who wrote “You Are My Lady,” “Nice & Slow,” and “I Could Use a Little Love Right Now.”  He opened up his door when I didn’t have a dime in my pocket, said ‘we’re gonna start recording this record Freddie,’ and once we got started, we could not stop.

It was important for me to go into the studio at like I did the first time. Nobody talked about image, who I was and where I might end up when I started back in 1984 with Capitol Records.

I was a boy coming off of a word processing job, working 9 to 5, just doing session work. Other record companies didn’t believe in me, but Capitol did. When I went in the studio to record “Rock Me Tonight” album with Barry Eastmond and Paul Lawrence, it was based on what Freddie like to sing, and that’s what I brought back for this album. It’s hard to maintain success after people put their expectations on you, but now I’m back making music that I felt people would love and adore, and I’ve very proud of this CD. I’ve grown vocally and I’ve learned how to relax, but it’s still coming from the heart and soul, I felt like there was a choir stand in there all over again.

Melody- What was it like to reunite with Barry Eastmond again?

FJ-The magic here is that there’s only one producer, and a lot of the CDs coming out have too many producers, so the consumer is never really able to get into a groove. This new CD is a testimony and another advancement in my career.

Melody– It’s been great speaking with you Freddie: before we wrap it up, is there any advice for the newer artists that you can share?

FJ- After getting a good lawyer and an accountant? (cracks up) Artists need to make their money and hold on to it. Lots of the fault falls into the lap of the record labels, there used to be artist development, now it’s about the quick money, and the artist is here today and gone tomorrow. It’s sad because they build them up only to tear them down, and once they’re down, there’s no place for them to go. Yes, it’s good to have a little bit of somebody’s influence, but you got to have something that nobody can

Melody- There you go! That’s some good word Freddie, looking forward to seeing you onstage.

FJ-(laughter) You will get rocked for old time’s sake, trust me! I got a birthday coming up (in Oct.) where I’m gonna be 53 years old, and I’m feeling good about life. I’m missing Luther and Gerald (Levert), I miss Ollie woodson and how we used to hang out because he knew I’d have the fried chicken in my dressing room (laughs).  Teddy (Pendergrass), when I met him, told me ‘no one has the right to take you away from who you are.

At the end of the day, when that product is done, you’ve got to live with it.’ I can still work with icons when it could’ve been somebody else. It makes me feel good to look out the audience and see people grabbing and holding hands, to know that it’s all still working. When I walk through the airport or get recognized in street and hear, ‘you’re the reason that I’m alive,’ even on a bad day, it makes me smile. That’s the stuff that I live for and makes it all worthwhile.

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