George Jackson Dies At 68

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Southern soul songwriter and cult artist George Jackson has died, aged 68, at his home in Ridgeland, Mississippi. He had been suffering from cancer for more than a year.

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Although his songs were recorded by a great many soul and pop acts – the latter famously including The Osmonds, to whom he provided their first number one hit, One Bad Apple – he actually started out as a singer, cutting his first 45, Nobody Wants to Cha Cha With Me in 1963, when he was just 18. He released a few more singles during the sixties, but in 1970 his star rose dramatically when he was hired as a staff songwriter at the Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

When MGM Records sent The Osmonds to Fame to replicate the success of The Jackson Five, Jackson mentioned that he had written One Bad Apple with the Motown family group in mind. Sensibly, the studio offered the song to the newcomers. With lead vocals by the 13-year-old Donny Osmond, the result sounded so like a Jackson Five record that Motown boss Berry Gordy reputedly sent Fame a telegram warning: “Stop stealing my fucking music.”

Jackson also co-wrote Old Time Rock and Roll, which gave Bob Seger a big US hit in 1979. There was some dispute about the version that ended up on the record, however, with the studio insisting that it had tapes proving that the number was genuinely Jackson’s song; Seger claimed that he had changed it.

Jackson’s own recordings were initially often released only as singles, although much of his sixties work has been collected on two albums: Ace’s Don’t Count Me Out and Let The Best Man Win compilations [of his Fame recordings] were reissued in 2011 and 2012. A superb collection of his seventies sides, George Jackson in Memphis 1972-1977 was issued by Simply Grand in 2002 and is still available online.

George Henry Jackson was born on March 12, 1945 at Greenville, Mississippi. After introducing himself to Ike Turner when the Ike Turner Review played locally, he recorded Nobody Wants to Cha Cha With Me on Turner’s Prann label. Turned down by Stax Records in Memphis, Jackson subsequently started the vocal group, The Ovations with Louis Williams. Their single It’s So Wonderful To Be in Love reached No 22 in the R&B chart in 1965. When The Ovations broke up, Jackson signed a solo recording contract with Decca under the pseudonym Bart Jackson, releasing Wonderful Dream in 1968. But between 1963 and 1985 he recorded only 15 singles.

He was more prolific as a songwriter, writing or co-writing hit songs for artists like Clarence Carter [Too Weak To Fight and Wilson Pickett [A Man and A Half, Minnie Skirt Minnie and Save Me. During the Fame studio’s most productive period, Jackson worked as a staff writer, composing several of Candi Staton’s early successes, among them her first hit I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart [Than A Young Man’s Fool], plus I’m Just A Prisoner, Freedom Is Just Beyond The Door and How Can I Put Out The Flame.

In 1972 Jackson released two more singles of his own, including Aretha, Sing One For Me. After writing Bob Seger’s hit Old Time Rock and Roll in 1979, and co-writing [with Brad Shapiro, amongst others] James Brown’s It’s Too Funky In Here, he formed his own publishing company, Happy Hooker Music, and joined Malaco Records, again as a staff writer. One of his biggest successes for the label was ZZ Hill’s Down Home Blues, though he wrote other hits for Johnnie Taylor, Denise LaSalle and Latimore too. He also penned The Only Way Is Up, the original version of which was a hit for Otis Clay in 1980. The song was revived to huge pop success by Yazz some eight years later.

His own album, Heart to Heart Collect, was released in 1991 on Hep’ Me Records.

Malaco VP and Chief Engineer Wolf Stephenson has said:

“George had hooks coming out of his ears. They weren’t all hits, but I never heard him write a bad song. He never really got the recognition that’s normally due a writer of his stature.”

Jackson leaves behind a son and two grandchildren.

George Jackson, born March 12, 1945, died April 14, 2013