They went on to become one of the biggest bands in the world, spending over 170 weeks in the UK Top 40 singles chart. But like many legends, The Jacksons started out from humble beginnings.
“Jackie, Jermaine and I used to sing some country and western around the house, as my mum was washing dishes or cooking,” recalls Jacksons’ guitarist Tito today of the band’s origin in the early/ mid-1960s.
“She used to like country songs, and we used to sing along with them. That’s pretty well where we learnt how to [sing] harmony, and we used to watch this TV show called The Three Stooges, and they’d sing [ascending] ‘Hello, hello, hello!’, in harmony. We used to love that, and that gave us a major chord.
“We didn’t know what we were doing, but it sounded good, you know? We were just amused by all the entertainers like The Four Tops, The Temptations, all the Motown groups, as well as people like Sam Cook, James Brown, Otis Redding, and just the whole genre of R&B soul music – that’s how we started out, as far as a band, a lot of R&B.”
The son of foundry and construction worker who used to also play in a local blues act, Tito soon picked up his dad’s guitar and began to teach himself riffs, licks and tunes. With younger brothers Michael and Marlon soon members of the fledgling Jackson 5, music offered the boys an escape from the realities of life in Gary, Indiana.
“It was rough, it was rough out on the streets,” recalls Tito. “My father didn’t allow us to hang out on the streets. We could be around the house, and go out and play in the area, but if we go out for a walk around the block, or whatever, we’d have to let them know. ‘I’m going over my friends’ house.’ You don’t just get up and go. He was very adamant about that. It was a rough area … a lot of gang activity. At that time I think it was one of the Top 10 crime cities in America! And before long it became the number one crime city in America for its size of population.”
Entering local talent contests and opening for visiting stars, the brothers eventually came to the attention of Motown boss, Berry Gordy. The invite, however, clashed with another opportunity …
“We got called in for an audition, we also got an offer from The David Frost Show, one of those [TV shows] which is a national show, an international show! I was thinking, if we go on an international show, we’re going to have all the [record] companies seeing us, we’re not going to get one company. What if Motown don’t like us? Then we’ve blown that [TV] opportunity.
“But the brothers always wanted to be on Motown, so it was an easy decision.
“So we went to Detroit to see Berry and he liked what he saw, and he walked over to us and said, ‘we’re going to make your first four songs number one!’ We heard him, and we were excited about that, but we could not imagine that … no way, being a kid, always admiring Motown and The Temptations and all these other big name groups, like The Beatles included, and so on …”
Berry’s prediction came true as their first four singles for Motown – I Want You Back, ABC, The Love You Save and I’ll Be There – all topped the US charts.
Bolder hits followed, including the disco groove of Blame It On The Boogie, rock/pop State Of Shock (with Mick Jagger) and epic multi-layered Can You Feel It.
Discussing the musicianship, arrangements and production of some of their hits, Tito says: “I was just thinking of the old days, it was all musicians; today’s music is so different, so different, you know?
“I like the old school, there’s skill, it’s emotional, it’s spiritual, you know? All those elements is what makes the sound. Today? It’s all computers, numbers, and you can hear it – a real musician can really hear it. You don’t get the dynamics with computers as much as you would with a live performance.”
The Jacksons headline opening night of the Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival, Birmingham, on Friday 12 July 2019, as part of the festival’s 10th anniversary.
Other artists appearing over the weekend include Ibibio Sound Machine, Fullee Love, Young Pilgrims (Friday); Acid Jazz heroes Brand New Heavies, Craig Charles and Rosie Tee (Saturday 13 July 2019), Khruangbin and legendary American songwriter Burt Bacharach (Sunday 14 July 2019).
For tickets and more information, see: mostlyjazz.co.uk