Phone interview conducted November 30, 2010
Freddie Jackson has made his indelible mark on the world of R&B for over 25 years. He has returned with his first new CD in 5 years entitled FOR YOU. He spoke with Michael Lewis about his longevity in the business, his new project, his new record label, E1 Entertainment and his 11 # 1 singles – so far!
Michael Lewis: Greetings, soul music community, this is Michael Lewis. It is not often that we get an opportunity to converse with a true R&B icon, but we have just that honor today. The gentleman is one of Billboard’s top ten artists of the last twenty-five years, with nine number-one R&B singles, including such classics as “You Are My Lady”, “Rock Me Tonight”, “Have You Ever Loved Somebody”, “Jam Tonight” and “Nice and Slow”. Of course I’m talking about the one-and-only Mr. Freddie Jackson. Hey, Freddie, how are you doing, man?
Freddie Jackson: Hey, Michael. But you haven’t completed the whole, I’ve had eleven number-one records [laughs].
ML: Eleven number ones? Okay, I guess some of the—
ML: —some of the statistics out there are a little bit wrong, but—
FJ: No, they’re a whole lot wrong. There’s a difference between nine and eleven [laughs].
ML: Then it’s eleven—we’ll go with eleven, hey.
FJ: No, it is eleven. Not we’re gonna “go”, it is eleven number ones—
ML: It’s eleven.
FJ: —and I’m very happy about that. I have a new album out right now—
ML: ‘For You’. Right.
FJ: ‘For You’. It’s with E1 Records and I’m very happy about it. I’m on the charts now, again, at number sixteen with a bullet in the Billboard magazine, so I’m extremely happy about that, and thankfully I can still at least get a top 20 single looking forward to a top ten with another number one, which will make it number twelve for me.
ML: Number twelve. Well, let’s look forward to that. Can we start back at the beginning of your career? I know you grew up in Harlem, right? In New York?
FJ: Yes, I grew up in Harlem—I live in Harlem right now. I was born and raised in Harlem, I went to church in Harlem, I went to high school—junior high school—in Harlem—I still reside here, and I love living in Harlem.
ML: I know you started off singing in church, but at what point did you realize that you had a gift, and when did you know that performing was going to be your destiny?
FJ: I realized that when I was in junior high school—in high school, actually; when I started doing a lot of talent shows, and I started singing some Luther Vandross songs and some Marvin Gaye songs, and I won one or two talent shows. And that’s when I realized that the stage was where I wanted to be.
ML: Right, okay. Now, you said Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross—who were your early influences? What music did you—
FJ: Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, Donny Hathaway. They were my influences.
ML: Okay. Now, you went to Los Angeles at one point, I was reading; there was a group out there—Mystic Merlin, that you sang lead for?
FJ: There was a group called Mystic Merlin from New York City, and they went to California, on Capitol Records. Their lead singer had left the group, and I auditioned and I got the lead role—lead, yeah, role, I guess, because it was a little acting and magic stuff that I had to do with the group as well, which was quite exciting. I left my job and I went to California and I recorded the ‘Full Moon’ album with Mystic Merlin. Mystic Merlin was very big in Europe. And that was my first stab at recording and … and also gave me the flavor for wanting to do solo.
ML: Okay. So how did that lead to your solo recording with Capitol?
FJ: Well, what happened was, after Mystic Merlin, Capitol Records heard me and signed me to a record deal.
ML: Okay. Great, great. Now, you were working with Paul Laurence, I think—
FJ: Paul Laurence was from the White Rock Baptist Church. Valerie Simpson taught Paul Laurence to play the piano, and I’m very grateful for that. And Paul Laurence wrote “Rock Me Tonight (For Old Times’ Sake)”. We co-wrote some stuff together, and we also co-wrote songs for Evelyn Champagne King and Melba Moore.
ML: Okay. So I’m just wondering, being in the industry for this length of time, and you’ve seen it go through the highs to now, where it’s like a struggle even trying to stay afloat in this digital age: how have you managed to navigate all the changes that have come across over the years?
FJ: Well, thank God, what I’ve put in the can is not really so much about a record. If this record does well, I’ll be happy, but I work, I work more than I choose to wanna work … ’cause as a matter of fact, I’m on tour, currently, with Jeffrey Osborne, Peabo Bryson and Howard Hewett; we’re doing the Men of Soul tour.
ML: Right, right.
FJ: So I’m grateful that what I put in the can still lives and is still selling out rooms. So that’s what a lot of people need to hope for: that’s called longevity, so I have that.
ML: Right. Have a catalogue.
FJ: I’ve been blessed.
ML: Now, how did you come about the new relationship with E1 Entertainment, because—
FJ: Barry Eastmond was recording, and Barry Eastmond was mixing Elisabeth Withers’ new single, “No Regrets”, and one of the execs from E1 was in the studio and asked Barry what was he working on, and so he said, “I’m also working on Freddie Jackson.” And so he said, “Can I hear a little bit of it?” And so he played a little bit of the stuff that I had done at Barry’s house—and we had completed ten songs—and he said to Barry, “Don’t let anybody else do this, we’ve got to have it.”
ML: Okay [laughs].
FJ: And so that’s how the relationship came about with E1.
ML: Right. I mean, you’re on a… there’s a pretty good roster of artists over there. It seems like they actually must have a real commitment to R&B music.
FJ: Yes, I’m very happy about that—they have Faith Evans, Donell Jones, Elisabeth Withers, myself; and so I’m looking for great things—and also, E1 is looking for great things from us.
ML: Okay. Great, great. Now, the new record is called ‘For You’. You have a new… your single is “I Don’t Want To Go”—a great song. The video’s really cool, too; very classy. What are your highlight songs on the new record?
FJ: “I Don’t Want To Go”, I love; “For You” is a very beautiful song—it’s the anniversary song to “You Are My Lady”. Twenty-five years later Barry wrote another song that he dedicated to his wife, and that would be “For You”. I also like… there’s a song called “Say Yeah” that I like—
ML: I like “Say Yeah”. It’s an uptempo thing, and it’s got a little bit different flavor. On the song “Rumors” you sing in a little bit lower register than usual; that’s kind of cool. There’s a duet with Sara Devine, “Definition of Love”—that’s a great song.
ML: What can you tell us about Miss Devine?
FJ: She’s a lovely young lady. Sara also sings background for Mary J. Blige and Alicia Keys.
ML: Okay. You’re out on tour—the Men of Soul tour that you mentioned. How’s that working out?
FJ: It’s working out really well, we’re having a great time. We’ve shut down for the holidays, but we will pick up again in January, which will give us time to improve. We’ve got a whole bunch of stuff that’s going on, and we’re having a great time just learning each other. Backstage is a hoot, more of a hoot than onstage. But we’re having a good time.
ML: Yeah, we got to see a little bit of that on the Soul Train Awards the other night, on the Ron Isley tribute. That was really a nice event, and they did a great job on that show.
FJ: Thank you very much.
ML: Yeah, yeah. I was wondering, when you do a show like that—you have fourteen albums, am I right? Fourteen and a Christmas CD? How do you balance your new music with the catalogue of songs, because everybody has their own favorites; how do you work out how you’re going to put a show together?
FJ: Are you talking about just me, or you talking about the Men of Soul tour?
ML: No, I’m just talking about in general, when you put your show together. How do you balance your catalogue of songs?
FJ: Well, it’s about the amount of time. If a promoter books you to do sixty minutes, so then what you do is you edit your show for a sixty minute show. Because of the body of work that I have, I can do a two-hour show onstage, or I can do a thirty-minute show onstage; it’s about trying to do whatever the situation calls for and being able to fit the right amount of songs in the right time.
ML: Okay, cool. When you’re not touring, what kind of things do you like to spend your time doing?
FJ: I love to cook; I love spending time with my family; I love reading. I like more family and friend time, that’s the stuff that I like to do the most.
ML: Cool, cool. Are there any artists that you haven’t worked with yet that you would like to work with in the future?
FJ: I’d love to work with Chrisette Michele, I’d love to work with Lalah Hathaway; I’d love to sing with Anita Baker, she’s one of the people. We’re friends but I’d love to do a duet with Anita Baker.
ML: Okay, great, great. I notice on your Facebook page that you mentioned losing a hundred and seven pounds. You must have had quite a lifestyle change to make that happen and keep it going. Can you talk about that a little bit?
FJ: Well, I went on a low-carbohydrate diet; I started there, and it took me three years to lose the weight. I’ve not been off my diet for eight years, so I guess it’s life-forming for me. And I enjoy doing that, I no longer use food as I used to a long time ago. For instance, at Thanksgiving, I had Thanksgiving dinner, and then I left it alone. I didn’t go back to leftovers; I went back to my regimen. I don’t eat past eight o’clock at night and I try to eat to live - not live to eat anymore.
ML: Okay. That’s a great thing, man. Okay. So do you have any last thoughts you’d like to pass on to the soul music community and the world at large?
FJ: Well, I’d just like to thank everyone for their undying support of my career in all the years that I’ve been here. And I’m looking forward to the best part coming, and to know that this album is exactly what it says: it’s for you. It’s for you, who truly love soul music, great soul music, the music and the melody. This CD is for you.
ML: Oh, thank you so much. Well, Freddie, I just want to say thank you for taking some time out with us today. I know we can find you on Facebook for sure; we’ll be seeing you on the road. Have a great holiday season, and I wish you all the best—
FJ: You as well.
ML: —wish you all the best on your new CD, ‘For You’.
FJ: All right. God bless you and all your listeners and your readers, and the whole nine yards.
ML: All right, sir. Have a great day.
FJ: Thank you. Bye-bye.
About the Writer
Michael Lewis is a long-time associate at SoulMusic.com. His industry experience includes Sony Music, Motown and La Face Records, and a tenure at HEAR Music. He is grateful to contribute to sustaining the legacy of R&B and soul music.