Jackie at the Apollo (Two)

jw stage profileThanks again to Doug Henderson Jr for giving me permission to share a second passage from his book, Endeavor to Persevere, with the readers of this blog. As I noted in Jackie at the Apollo, one of the first entries in this blog, Doug has been a lifelong admirer of Jackie Wilson. In this anecdote, as with the earlier one, Doug’s sister Effie has taken him to the Apollo to see Jackie. At the time, Doug was a few months shy of his tenth birthday.

In November of 1967, I went to see Jackie at the Apollo with Effie. I was in the cadets (a young person’s version of the military) and proudly wore my Marine uniform that day. In the middle of his show, Jackie sat on a stool at the edge of the stage, talking to the audience between songs and signing autographs, while introducing “Danny Boy.” As he dedicated the song to the troops fighting in Vietnam, I asked my sister for a piece of paper so that I could get his autograph. After rummaging through her pocketbook, all she could find was the back of one of her blank checks. She promptly tore it off from her checkbook. I anxiously took it and made a beeline to the stage. As I approached, I caught Jackie’s eye. Staring straight at me, he proclaimed to the Apollo audience, “Here comes the soldier boy.” I handed him the piece of paper and, as he was about to sign it, he hesitated. Turning it over and seeing that it was a check, he laughed, and with his sweat dripping down on the back of the check, autographed it. It is now framed, and proudly hanging on my living room wall—sweat drops and all.

Doug’s thoughtful and thought-provoking book, which explores the question of how excellence is achieved, is available as an e-book from Amazon. The full title is Endeavor to Persevere: A Memoir on Jimmy Connors, Arthur Ashe, Tennis and Life.

Berry Gordy on “Reet Petite”

To be loved book coverAn item from Radio.com turned up in a “Google Alert” today. It says pretty much what Berry Gordy’s autobiography, To Be Loved, has to say on the song, so perhaps it is taken from that book. Radio.com does not mention the first Motown superstar, Mary Wells, when describing the successes of that enterprise. That’s a pity. She is another great artist slipping from the public consciousness. Gordy’s book, by the way, is now available in electronic format. Find the Kindle version here.

And you can find the Berry Gordy quote on “Reet Petite” here, on Radio.com.

 

 

 

 

A Shirelle speaks of Jackie

For my money, THE girl group of all time was The Shirelles. For those of you too young to know about them, here is a taste of them from YouTube:

The Shirelles had hit after hit after hit. Among the biggest were “Tonight’s the Night,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “Soldier Boy,” and “Mama Said.” Throughout the Sixties, the Shirelles worked many a venue with Jackie Wilson.  In Showtime at the Apollo: The Story of Harlem’s World Famous Theater, author Ted Fox quotes Beverly Lee, a founding member of the group, about Jackie Wilson’s appearances on the Apollo stage:

He would bring the house down when he sang “To Be Loved” and they put that little red pinlight on him. He drove the women crazy. We were friends with him and we were drooling. But he was always a very warm and friendly person. He was magnetic. He had such drawing power. He loved to greet you with a nice kiss and a smile; always up and up, a lot of energy. He was like a very slinky, powerful leopard onstage. There was nothing he couldn’t do there. He was very sexy. When he would do his little shadowboxing, as I call it—his little movements, and how he handled the mike—he was just amazing.

The Louisiana Weekly, July 1960

Front page July 23 1960

Here is the account from The Louisiana Weekly on July 23, 1960, published the week after the infamous New Orleans “riot” at the Jackie Wilson show . . .a show at which Jackie was never able to perform. I have transcribed the text from the front and back pages of the paper several paragraphs below.

Reading this edition of the newspaper, which was intended for the Black community in New Orleans half a century ago, I was once again stunned to recall the conditions in which Jackie Wilson and all Black Americans lived and worked. The stories and advertisements capture the environment. They include:

  • A front-page story about a white  employer who shot five of his Black workers who had come to discuss their distress at his striking one of them. The employer’s children watched as he shotgunned the workers, killing three at the scene and wounding the other two critically.
  • A half dozen large advertisements urging readers to vote for various men for judge or other elected offices. The men are all white.
  • A story of a meeting of Black citizens gathering to discuss community concerns that ended with forty-five of the attendees being arrested for attempted murder. (The charges were dropped when a demand was made to address the police brutality at the scene.)
  • There is a plea to boycott Budweiser beer after a local distributor barred Blacks from participation in a drawing for prizes. The prizes were hotel and restaurant services at locations that did not serve African Americans.
  • Note that the small space near the end of the article (pictured below) is filled with a reminder to register and vote.

That front-page article next to the one on the concert actually details a situation repeated across the country. Women on welfare could not receive public assistance money to feed their children if a man lived in the same household, because it was expected that he should support the children. However, if there was no man in the household and the woman gave birth to another child, she was considered morally reprehensible and therefore unworthy of the taxpayers’ help.

The article on the concert itself is amazing, particularly the arrests for “reviling the  police” and “being boisterous.” Here is my transcription of the text:

In the aftermath of the near riot at Sunday night’s jazz concert at the Municipal Auditorium, charges of disturbing the peace against “rock and roll” idol Jackie Wilson were dismissed here Monday and $10 fines were lodged against three other persons in Judge Edwin B. Babylon’s municipal court.

The New York singer had been charged in second municipal court with two counts of disturbing the peace and assault on a police officer.

The charges followed a near riot at the auditorium that was provoked by a misunderstanding which resulted in a “free for all” fight that broke out. Several bottles and one brick were tossed at the police. Seven persons were arrested in all.

The commotion started when Larry Williams to sing from a sitting position on the edge of the stage and put on his act on the auditorium floor. Ptn. [Patrolman?] John Raphael, one of 12 officers detailed to the concert, reported that another officer, Ptn. Perry White, went to Williams and told him not to come down to the floor as is was against the policy of the auditorium. A white officer allegedly pushed Williams while talking to Ptn. White.

It was at this point that Wilson jumped down off the stage and pushed the policeman. Five members of the band, playing on the stage began leaping from the stage and hurling objects at the police. Raphael was pasted across the hear with a big sound amplifier.

“Everything then broke loose” Raphael said. Several bottles of whiskey then began to fly. Patrons, which numbered at 3,000  began scrambling toward the exits. Auditorium officials then got the fire hoses ready to break up what looked was the beginning of a riot. Ten (10) patrol wagons came blasting their sirens to the scene.

The show was nearing the end and everyone was waiting for Jackie Wilson to appear at the end of the show, but this was the end of “jumping” show.

LW end of article on riotIn addition to Wilson who was booked with disturbing the peace, inciting a riot and assault on an arresting officer, others arrested were:

Calvin A. Watkins, 19, 536 Webster, for attempted murder and allegedly throwing a brick at an officer; Lionel Pichon, 21, 4508 Allen, obscene langauge [sic] and being boisterous; Thelma Roberts, 17, 2524 Desire St.; and Lloyd Burton, 19, 1124 So. Galvez, both booked relative to reviling police [,] and William Frazier and Johnny Jones, 28, no local address, both booked relative to refusing to move on. They were released on bond and three were later meted out small fines.

Wilson was parolled [sic] at 2:40 Monday by Judge Thomas Brahney “for attorney F. Klein.” Judge Edwin A. Babylon said he had no choice other than to dismiss the charge when Wilson failed to appear and since there was no place to look for him.

A flood of phone calls to the Louisiana Weekly on Monday, all voiced the opinion that it was a white police officer that provoked the misunderstanding that wound up in a near riot. These “eyewitnesses” said Larry Williams was pushed by the white officer and this led to bedlam.

In court Monday, Pichon who hollered about his civil rights was given a lecture on observing the civil rights of others.

The line “William Frazier and Johnny Jones, 28, no local address, both booked relative to refusing to move on” refers to Jackie’s valet, Bill Frazier, and JJ, Jackie’s boyhood friend who was at the time part of Jackie’s traveling entourage.

Little Rock Revisited (Three)

For several months I pondered what Eric Lenaburg had to tell me. Bits and pieces had to be wrong. He told me that Jesse Belvin had received death threats for the week before the concert. Belvin wasn’t in Little Rock for the week before the concert, so how did he receive these threats? In those days, entertainers on the road communicated by telephone or Western Union telegrams. To reach them, you had to know exactly where to find them.

Lenaburg also told me some story about Bill Clinton being close enough to the crash site to hear the noise. He claimed to have contacted Clinton’s office. I happened to have a friend whose college roommate grew up in Hope, Arkansas, with Clinton. She said that Bill’s family moved out of Hope that year.

And there was the billing Lenaburg insisted on, with Jackie, “Mr. Excitement,” going on before Jesse, “Mr. Easy.” Over time it seemed less and less likely to me. After all, if you only wanted a tamed-down Jackie Wilson on the bill, why not just get another entertainer, someone who would keep people quietly in their seats?

The little things became one big question mark about Lenaburg’s “investigations.”

First steps are important. After a while, Jesse Belvin Jr and I decided to see what we could find as a team, and my early research brought me to a quick conclusion that nothing Lenaburg said could be trusted.

I asked myself what the first step should be for anyone looking into these events, and then I took that first step: through Inter-Library Loan, I ordered microfilm of the local newspapers for the pertinent dates. Although Lenaburg insisted that he had made many trips to Little Rock over the years, he apparently did not bother to check the newspapers—or perhaps he just thought no one else would.  Looking for news stories about the accident, I also uncovered an advertisement for the concert itself. It was in the Friday, February 5, edition of the Arkansas Gazette, a morning paper at the time.

Ark Gazette 60.02.05 (Fri)Who would you say is at the top of this bill? And does this bill not promise more than three acts? Note that there is only one time listed for the show, so there is a possibility that the seating was integrated, but it is also quite possible that the seating was segregated within the venue.

Two entertainers from this bill, Bobby Freeman and Bobby Lewis, may still be living, but I have not been able to contact either of them. Still, I hold out hope of hearing from someone who can say for certain whether the seating was integrated or segregated. Perhaps  someone reading this now will have information on the important issue. One thing is clear from the advertisement: the concert was not a dance concert. Robinson Auditorium would not have accommodated that activity.

Another thing is significant: the Little Rock, Hope, and Texarkana newspapers I scoured had no information about the concert itself and no mention of any altercation. All the information was about the collision and the results of the accident.

Could the newspapers have suppressed information about the entertainers having been run out of town?

Not likely. Three years earlier, Little Rock had been the focus of national attention for racial confrontations over the integration of Central High School. As a national focal point on racial conflict, I doubt such a story could be hidden. Also, I found (online) a court document from a lawsuit filed against Twin City Amusement Co. (the ticket agent listed on this ad). The suit resulted from a racially-charged incident that occurred in a parking lot after one of their concerts, a concert that took place only a year after the one Jackie headlined. Race was everyday news in Little Rock. In short, I think it’s unlikely that the papers would refrain from reporting on performers having been run out of town by an angry mob.

Anyway, the “run out of town” scenario relied on the concert not taking place. And it did.

Jesse Belvin’s cousin. Jesse Belvin Jr kept urging me to call his cousin—actually his father’s first cousin—a man who lived in Texarkana then and who lives there now, a man who was the last member of the family to see Jesse Sr alive.

I am not going to identify the cousin by name. I asked him if I could write what he told me, and that was fine with him, but when I asked if he would read it online, just to see if I got everything right, he said he did not have a computer and did not know how to use one. I figure that if he has gotten to age seventy-two without the Internet, it’s not fair to drag him onto it now, so I will just call him Billy.

Jesse Belvin’s mother came from the Texarkana area, and prior to the Little Rock and Dallas concerts on Jesse’s schedule, Jesse and Jo Ann set aside a week to visit with family. Among those family members was Billy, a young man who loved cars and was immediately taken with the vehicle Jesse pulled into his driveway: a 1959 “aqua-colored” Cadillac Sedan de Ville. To his surprise and delight, Jesse tossed him the keys and told him to take it for a spin. (You may want to check out a twin of the vehicle on YouTube.)

Billy was one of the most charming people I have ever spoken with, and we talked about the music of the Fifties and Sixties, Jackie Wilson, and Sam Cooke, in addition to the events in Little Rock back in 1960. Billy told me that Jesse and Jo Ann stayed with the family about a week before going off somewhere in Texas for rehearsals. Everyone had a great time, and Jesse told Billy that he and  Jo Ann would stop back in Texarkana again for a day or so in between a couple concert dates and driving back to Los Angeles.

Instead, Billy would see Jo Ann unconscious in a hospital bed and identify Jesse’s body in a morgue.

Kirk Davis. I spoke to Billy prior to receiving the microfilm of the newspapers, so I was unaware at that point that there had been a fourth person in the Belvin vehicle. In addition to the driver, Charles Ford, and Jesse and Jo Ann, all of whom rode in the front seat of the car, there was a guitarist named Kirk Davis in the back seat, possibly asleep at the moment of the crash. Davis survived the wreck and was hospitalized in Texarkana for many weeks after the accident. Kirk was far from his wife and home in Detroit, and Billy visited him regularly through his weeks of hospitalization. When Kirk was finally released from the hospital, he stayed at Billy’s house until his wife could drive down from Detroit to take him home.

Kirk’s injuries were severe (indeed one newspaper account said there was little hope for his recovery), and he was somewhat disfigured by his injuries. Once he regained consciousness, he endured a great deal of pain. Out of consideration for the ordeal Kirk had been through, Billy did his best to steer their conversations away from the accident and its aftermath, but Kirk did tell Billy that he had secured the gig as Jesse’s guitarist through his union, and he said that he had been very eager to work with Jesse, because Jesse was a rising star. Kirk also spoke of the concert itself, and he did not mention anything amiss or unusual about the performance.

The concert definitely took place.

Little Rock Revisited (Two)

After Jesse and Jo Ann Belvin died, their two small sons were reared by Jesse’s mother. The older son, Jesse Jr, was less than five years old at the time. As I have said in an earlier post, he has lived his life in hopes of separating rumor and fact about his parents’ deaths. Jesse Jr is also a singer. We became acquainted at first after I commented on his vocal uploads on YouTube and he told me that his grandmother spoke of Jackie Wilson as a great friend of his parents.

Jackie’s phone call. According to what Jesse Jr was told growing up, the first indication his Los Angeles-based family got that something had gone wrong was a telephone call from Jackie Wilson. Jackie had reached Dallas, the next stop on the tour, but Jesse and Jo Ann had not arrived. He stated that he had had car problems, that he thought someone had messed with his tires, and that as a result had gotten to Dallas late. Even though Jackie had left Little Rock before Jesse and Jo Ann, they should have arrived in Dallas before him, he felt, and he wanted to know if they had called home.

This call does not fit the scenario of “all those on the bill being run out of Little Rock at gunpoint.” It is too much of a stretch to believe that Jackie would make this call and yet not divulge anything about so dramatic an experience.

The “run out of town” urban legend. In all likelihood, The Los Angeles Sentinel is the source of the story that the performers on the bill were run out of Little Rock. Jesse and Jo Ann both grew up in Los Angeles, and Jesse had been a fixture on the LA music scene for years before he became a national success. Consequently, the Sentinel covered the deaths and the funeral and ran several other related stories.

On February 18, less than two weeks after the concert and crash, the Sentinel ran an article headlined “Slashed Tires On Belvin’s Auto Probed.” The story began with these two paragraphs:

A pressing investigation got underway this week to probe reports that tires on singer Jesse Belvin’s car had been willfully slashed hours prior to the fatal accident that claimed the life of the singer, his wife, and three others [their driver and the two occupants of the other vehicle] Feb. 5.

Investigators said it has be definitely established that tires on the cars of entertainers Jackie Wilson and Arthur Prysock, who were also en route to Dallas from Little Rock, were slashed, [sic] before the trio left the city.

The article continues with what appears to be an accurate description of the vehicles owned by the three artists−one that conflicts with information in Etta James’s book, by the way—and states clearly that the concert was a segregated “dance” concert of the sort that was common at the time: one show for a Black audience and one for a white audience.  The article states that Jackie Wilson played for the Black audience, but “the bandleader” refused to play for the white audience because it “failed to appear on time.”

Huh? How does an audience fail to appear on time? Performers can fail to appear on time, but how does a whole audience get the time wrong? We should also note that a segregated dance concert does not fit at all with Lenaburg’s contention that this is the first integrated concert (not dance concert, just concert) in Little Rock’s history.

Another thing about the Sentinel story that I found troubling was the absence of any quotations from either Jackie Wilson or Arthur Prysock. Either or both could have been reached by telephone. Why is there no first-person account from anyone present at the concert that night? If what the Sentinel printed was true, why does the article not specify the source of the information?

Slashed tires. Finally, of course, there is the problem of how “slashed tires” left the performers with functional vehicles. If the tires had to be replaced before the entertainers could leave, how would that fact align with being run out of town? And if the tires were replaced on the Belvins’ automobile, what would “slashed tires” have to do with the collision that took five lives?

In fact, the concert was not a “dance concert” but a standard concert. It took place in an auditorium, and it began at 7:00 pm on Friday, April 5, 1960. The crash that took Jesse Belvin’s life and the lives of four others took place on Highway 67, well beyond the town of Hope, at around 6:00 am the next morning.

Eric Lenaburg’s account. At this point I will turn to the story according to Eric Lenaburg, who contacted me after reading my original posts about the Little Rock concert and the car crash. He provided two email addresses and a telephone number and encouraged me let him know if I heard from anyone else with information beyond what he knew about the events. He also provided me with a summary of what his “years of investigation” had uncovered.

The concert, he assured me, was the first concert ever performed in Little Rock in front of an integrated audience. Jesse Belvin, he told me, was the headliner, and Jackie Wilson and Arthur Prysock were the only other acts on the bill. How, I wanted to know, did Jackie end up second on the bill. Eric insisted that Jesse was the bigger star, and I told him that idea was ridiculous. However, Jackie’s performances were incendiary, and I said (on this blog) that if Eric was correct about the billing, it might have been arranged as a form of “crowd control.” Jesse Belvin, freshly signed to RCA Victor, was to be marketed thereafter as a balladeer. If concert promoters wanted to avoid any overly exuberant behavior on the part of the audience, perhaps it was deemed best to have “Mr. Excitement” followed by “Mr. Easy.”

I was uneasy about much of what Lenaburg had to say, but I took him at his word and believed he had done the investigative work he described. Yes, I bellieved him for many months, actually. Then Jesse Belvin Jr and I set out to test Mr. Lenaburg’s findings. In the end, I don’t accept anything from Lenaburg, and you shall read why in the next installment.

Little Rock Revisited (One)

One of the first posts in this blog dealt with the deaths of Jesse Belvin, Jo Ann Belvin (Jesse’s wife and manager), and the driver of their car, Charles Ford, who were involved in a two-car collision near Hope, Arkansas, on February 6, 1960. Jesse and Charles died in the collision, and Jo Ann succumbed to her injuries the following week. The Belvins were friends of Jackie Wilson, who appeared on the same concert bill with Jesse the night before in Little Rock and figured in the various accounts of the concert and its aftermath.

Theories on the Internet. Many people believed that the Belvin vehicle had been sabotaged, and at the time I started this blog, I knew that a variety of stories about the concert itself, the Belvins, and Jackie Wilson were available on the Internet.

A popular version of what happened that night in Little Rock had Jackie Wilson refusing to perform to a white audience, leading to everyone on the bill being run out of town ahead of an angry mob. In this version, while the performers argued with police and promoters inside the venue, racists outside the venue tampered with cars belonging to Arthur Prysock, Jesse Belvin, and Jackie Wilson, causing the Belvin crash as well as damage to the Prysock and Wilson vehicles.

A second version of the Little Rock concert and subsequent auto crash was advanced by a man named Eric Lenaburg, who described himself as an investigative journalist who had been working on the story on and off for decades. This man insisted that there was foul play, that Jesse Belvin’s life had been threatened during the week running up to the concert, and that the concert was the first integrated-audience concert in Little Rock history.

The Etta James account. As I began to follow up on these stories, I had in mind a passage from the Etta James as-told-to biography, Rage to Survive.* Jackie and Etta were friends, and he is mentioned frequently in the book, often coming to Etta’s rescue when she was in difficult straits. Etta claims to have gotten her information on the automobile crash from Jackie, meaning she would have been recalling something from at least two decades earlier. She says that the driver of Jesse Belvin’s car caused the accident by being asleep at the wheel. One paragraph of her account described the accident itself:

Musicians in the car behind Jesse’s told me of this horrible glow they saw up ahead, this red glare that lit the sky where the two cars collided. Charles was killed instantly. And so was Jesse. Jesse had his arm around Jo Ann–they were both asleep–but was so quick that on impact he grabbed her head and shoved it beneath the car radio. The collision was so powerful that when they opened the door they saw that Jesse Belvin, whose head had gone through the windshield, was nearly decapitated. His nose was separated from his mouth. His clothes were in shreds, like a scarecrow. They rushed the bodies to a hospital. Knowing Charles and Jesse were dead, their main concern was for Jo Ann. But the hospital, run by white doctors, wanted to know who was paying. No one had enough money. Jo Ann was left unattended with a crushed pelvis, a crushed chest, a broken arm. She was left in a coma until they could reach Jackie Wilson in Dallas. Jackie drove back to Arkansas to pay the doctors. It turned out that the town, Hope, Arkansas, birthplace of Bill Clinton, was also the birthplace of Jesse Belvin. Jesse died three miles from the house where he was born.

The part of the story about Jackie having to go back to pay the hospital had a familiar ring. There are many stories about hospitals in the South in that era refusing to treat African Americans, and no doubt some of them are true. Unfortunately, many of these stories are not true. For example, the family of Dr. Charles Drew, the brilliant surgeon who developed the system for plasma donation and transfusion, spent years refuting the rumor that Drew was refused medical treatment after an automobile accident in North Carolina in 1950. Recognizing this meme, I was skeptical on that point.

Another paragraph from this book, one describing the funeral, also did not seem quite likely. According to Tony Douglas, Jackie did not attend his own father’s funeral nor his son’s funeral. If he had an aversion to funerals, would he have been likely to sing at Jesse and Jo Ann’s?

I traveled from Chicago to the funeral in Los Angeles. It took them three days to sew Jesse together. The open caskets were devastating. To see two beautiful young people dead, a man and a wife, head to head in matching caskets—man, that was more than we could take. None of us could contain ourselves. Jackie Wilson sang, but he was so broke up he could barely make a sound. We all know Jesse was the next superstar. He’d just gotten the big break with RCA, just gotten started, just . . .

Each account had points I that did not seem likely. In the “riot” account, I could not see why Jackie Wilson would refuse to play for the white audience. African American entertainers played for white audiences routinely. Not playing would mean no one would get paid. Lenaburg’s version was interesting, but it rested entirely on his investigative skills, and I could find no other work by this reporter.

When I started writing the blog a year and a half ago, I hoped readers might be able to help me sort out the facts about these events. I did find help and some answers, but one person tried to lead me to false conclusions. At this point I am still looking for information, but I have learned a great deal with the help of a university librarian, Jesse Belvin Jr, and some of his family members. The next few posts will cover what I have learned.

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* James, Etta, and David Ritz. Rage to Survive: The Etta James Story. DaCapo Press, 1998

RIP Phil Everly (1939-2014)

Phil, Jackie, Don, and Clyde

Phil, Jackie, Don, and Clyde

Another wonderful voice from the days when great singing was part of everyday American life, Phil Everly, has left us. Between songs at their London reunion concert, Don Everly smiled and said something to the effect that he, Don, sang the melody, and “Baby Brother” sang “the hard part.” Thank you, Phil, for leaving to us those magnificent, never-to-be-matched harmonies.

Jackie Wilson’s children

The blog will be a year old this week, and I want to thank you readers for making it successful. So far, jackiewilsonlovers.com has had over 15,000 “views” by people in over ninety countries, numbers that far exceed the expectations I had when I began this project. The success of the blog indicates that there is still significant interest in Jackie Wilson.

If you are familiar with the WordPress interface, you know that the blogger can see a “stats” page that tracks views by country and indicates which posts receive the greatest number of views. The stats page also shows a list of search terms that brought people to the blog. While the terms don’t indicate which viewer used them, of course, or even indicate the searcher’s country, the terms themselves are interesting. Again and again, people come to the blog looking for photos of Jackie Wilson’s children or information about them.

DeniseMy policy is to comment on Jackie’s children only if they put themselves in the public eye. For example, Jackie’s oldest daughter by his first wife chose to be interviewed by Tony Douglas, so I have commented on her. That’s Denise the Daughter from Hell to the left of this text. Denise had not one kind word about her father, who never seemed to do enough to please her. If you parse the pages of the Douglas book carefully, you will find that Denise attended a private (Catholic) school for which her father paid the tuition and that she relates a story about showing up in her father’s dressing room in the late 1960s wearing a dress more expensive than most American women could afford today . . . a dress her father paid for, of course. But she complains bitterly that he missed attending her “sweet sixteen” party. In another comment, she complains that when he came home, the family felt compelled to be playing his records upon his arrival, which they found burdensome, so maybe Jackie thought he was doing her a favor by staying away from her birthday bash. Or perhaps he was just too busy singing himself hoarse to pay for the celebration.

A number of Jackie Wilson’s children have passed away (Denise among them). In fact, two of his older children died before he did. If a living child of Jackie’s has never spoken publicly about him, I assume that individual either wants to keep his or her privacy or does not wish to be associated with his or her father. Consequently, I have indicated in the Biography page the names of the children Jackie acknowledged, and I have spoken of those children, such as Jack Leroy Jr, only when they are a necessary factor in Jackie’s life story. Yes, I do know what happened to some of the others, and I do have photos of many of them as children, but they will not appear on the blog unless they want to or speak publicly about their father.

Finally, I want to note that I will not help publicize people who shamelessly exploit Jackie Wilson through claims of being his biological offspring when Jackie Wilson never knew of their existence.

Riot: New Orleans, 1960

Dream Boogie coverThe following excerpt from Peter Grualnick’s biography of Sam Cooke (Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, 2008) describes a concert that Jackie Wilson headlined in New Orleans on July 17, 1960. Jackie’s close friend Jesse Belvin had been killed just six months earlier after a concert that Jackie headlined in Little Rock (February 5). Guralnick is trying both to string together a narrative of the racial tension of the times and to connect Sam Cooke to the Civil Rights Movement. He has already written about Jackie’s good friend, Jesse Belvin, and the deaths of Belvin, his wife, and their driver. Because virtually everyone in the entertainment business was certain the crash was not an “accident,” Black entertainers performing in the South were on edge, concerned about the segregation of their audiences, their treatment at the hands of local civic leaders and law enforcement, and the developing national movement.

Sam Cooke was in no way involved in the the Little Rock concert, and the only thing associating him with this New Orleans concert of Jackie’s was that he would play the same venue a few weeks later (August 3). At that point, Guralnick reports, Cooke would find “a security force of fifty policemen on hand.” I am taking up Guralnick’s account of the New Orleans show mid-paragraph:

The Jackie Wilson Show, which continued to inflame audiences all across the South (it had already led to a direct ban on all rock ‘n’ roll revues in Birmingham), had hit New Orleans on July 17, with Larry Williams and Arthur Prysock (the co-headliner in Little Rock in February) on the bill. “The commotion started,” the Louisiana Weekly reported, “when Larry Williams attempted to sing from a sitting position on the edge of the stage.” A black policeman informed that it was against auditorium policy to sing from the floor, “and then a white officer allegedly pushed [him].” Williams, the man who wrote and recorded “Bad Boy” for Specialty Records in 1958 (he was a follower of the Johnny “Guitar” Watson/Johnnie Morisette school of thinking, in which music frequently fought a losing battle with pimping), was never one to avoid a confrontation, but it was Jackie Wilson, a former boxer, who at this point jumped from the stage and pushed the policeman, followed by five members of the band. There was no question in mind of anyone in the crowd as to who provoked the confrontation, and bottles and bricks began to fly, as “patrons [scrambled] for the exits . . . auditorium officials got the fire hoses ready [and] ten patrol wagons came blasting their sirens toward the scene.” Jackie, who never even got to perform, was bailed out at three in the morning and promptly left town, thereby avoiding charges (if the defendant couldn’t be found, the judge pragmatically ruled, there was no choice other than to dismiss), but the bitterness lingered on all sides, as some of the performers grumbled that none of this would be happening if the white man would leave them alone, others that Jackie and Larry were so damned hotheaded they just helped bring it on themselves.

I thought it would be interesting to contrast the account of the same event as presented by Tony Douglas in Jackie Wilson: Lonely Teardrops. Guralnick’s account was drawn largely from a newspaper account and focused on placing the riot in the context of other events. Guralnick, an American with knowledge of the cities, cultural upheaval, and events in play, is keenly aware of the pressures on the performers of this era. Douglas lacked Guralnick’s knowledge and insight, of course, but judging by the book as a whole, Douglas would not have been interested in these topics anyway.

Nonetheless, the Douglas account is more entertaining than Guralnick’s, in large part owing to the sources, singer Chuck Jackson and Midnighters’ guitarist Billy Davis. Yes, this is the wonderful Chuck Jackson of many hits, a true friend of Jackie Wilson’s and a great singer still performing today. As to the Billy Davis quoted in this account: this Billy Davis is the one the groupies called “The Face” (see photo below, where his dimple is pretty much the focal point of the picture). “The Face” should not be confused with other Billy Davises of the era.

Hank Ballard (lower right) and the Midnighters

Hank Ballard (lower right) and the Midnighters

Here’s what Douglas writes about the riot:

One steamy July night in 1960, at the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans, a riot broke out at one of Jackie’s performances. Up to 5000 people were said to be present. Singer Chuck Jackson, a long-time close friend of Jackie’s was with The Dell Vikings at the time. He remembers: ‘I was there when Larry Williams was performing. The police told us before we got there, “Don’t come off this stage, black boy.”

‘They had police lined up all around the stage. Larry Williams had his foot up on the piano like Little Richard; he was doing “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” and he ran to the edge of the stage, but didn’t jump off. He got down on the of the stage and women came forward – white women! Jackie was standing backstage and the cops took Larry and pulled him into the audience and started beating him with their sticks. Jackie came from backstage like he was Johnny Weissmuller. He ran like he was Tarzan and he leapt, like he was leaping into a lake, into the crowd of policemen. When he hit the floor, he was like a little rabbit. He went down on his knees and when he came up, like he does on stage, he hit this cop, a big red cop. He messed him up bad. They beat him and nearly killed him.

‘We finally pulled him out and had to take him to the hospital. They took him to jail and we got him out. It took us a matter of minutes to get out of town. They had his picture in the paper, where he hit the cop.’ The riot received coverage in the newspapers, which stated that police laid charges which ‘ranged from attempted murder to assaulting police and inciting a riot. Wilson was booked with disturbing the peace, inciting a riot and assaulting an officer’.

Also present was Midnighters’ guitarist and friend, Billy Davis. “Larry would jump off the stage into the audience. The police said, “Don’t you do that no more.” The second the show started, Larry jumped out again. Jackie jumped up and the big cop pushed him back, then Jackie punched him out cold and Jackie could punch like George Foreman for a little guy. The cop was six foot one, 225 pounds; Jackie was 150 pounds and five foot nine. We were all locked up, but only for a few hours.

For the record: Jackie was actually only five foot seven. His beautifully proportioned physique made him appear taller. And except for roughly a year in the early 1970s, during which time he gave up on his career and life as a whole, Jackie stayed pretty much at the top of the welterweight limit, the weight at which he boxed as a teenager. (And, no, Jackie was not a Golden Gloves champion. Despite what you read or heard, he boxed in only a few actual matches and apparently lost most of them.)

Uprising!

One of Our Hero’s most famous moves occurred as he rose from his knees. The move was not a gymnastic maneuver. Pure lower-body strength and impeccable balance propelled him upward.

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“To Be Loved”

“To Be Loved” was Jackie Wilson’s first hit, and it was also the song Jackie performed more than any other in his career. Backed with “Come Back to Me,” was released in February 1957 and eventually reached #22 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #7 on Billboard’s R&B chart. When Jackie introduced the song in one of his last performances in September 1975, he got the year wrong, saying “the year around nineteen hundred and fifty-eight—now don’t knock it, some of us know that was a pretty damned good year.”

Jackie then went on on to say that the song was written by “the great, incomparable Mr. Berry Gordy Jr, a young man who just so happens to own a small recording company . . . Motown.”

Berry Gordy the songwriter. When  Jackie Wilson left Billy Ward and His Dominoes to begin a solo career, he went back to Detroit to organize his next moves. At the time, Gordy was embarking on a career as a songwriter. In his autobiography, Gordy dubs 1957-1959 “The Songwriting Years” and begins the chapter with a section entitled “Jackie Wilson.” A hint at how much Gordy cared about this particular song lies in the title of the book, “To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown.” Of course, Motown was years away at the time “To Be Loved” was written.

Gordy TBL coverGordy made it part of Motown lore that he founded the company with an eight-hundred-dollar loan from his family. That was no doubt in part true. What is more accurate is that he started Motown with a loan and the royalties from writing five hit songs for Jackie Wilson, and those royalties were far more than eight hundred dollars. A lot of us would like to know what Gordy has made in royalties from Jackie’s recordings. He most likely made far more from them than Jackie Wilson ever did. Whatever that case may be, the section on Jackie Wilson in Gordy’s autobiography contains a detailed story (and “story” it may be) of the future head of Motown attempting to “sell” his song to Jackie.

Jackie was already a success, having been the lead tenor for Billy Ward and His Dominoes and also having charted a minor solo hit with “Reet Petite,” a song credited to Berry and his newly acquired songwriting partner, Billy Davis (see below), who was also at that time the lover of one of Berry’s sisters, Gwen. “Reet Petite” was most likely written by Davis, but Berry talks about “To Be Loved” as though no one else had any input in the song. This may be factual. On the other hand, the description that Gordy provides of introducing Jackie to the song sounds fictional, but who knows? Only Berry Gordy, and he has not talked about Jackie Wilson in many years.

Gordy says he had trouble getting in touch with Jackie (unlikely), but ultimately Jackie rang Berry’s doorbell, and Berry describes what followed that day :

I was still in the clouds about “Reet Petite” when I opened my front door a couple days later and there he was with his pretty-boy face and pretty-boy hair, a doo with an upswept pompadour in front, and a tight-fitting tailored suit. He walked in giving me a hug, but I could see he wanted to get right down to business.

“‘Reet Petite'” is a smash everywhere,” I shouted.

“I know, ” he said, “people love it. What cha got?”

Since he was already a star the song’s success wasn’t as big a deal to him as it was to me. Jackie really liked me but he just wanted to hear the new song and get out. He always made up his mind fast. Too fast for me. He had hastily rejected some of our other songs almost before we got started, so I had to nail him quickly.

I jumped into it, playing my usual simple chords on the piano, but singing with great soul and conviction. Even in my squeaky voice, it was easy to hear the deep passion I had for this song, singing for all I was worth, hoping he wouldn’t stop me before the first hook. He didn’t. I made it through the whole first verse. Great. But just as I was getting ready to start the second he said, “Okay. Okay, hold it! That’s enough.”

I hated it when he did that. One of my greatest performances—thwarted. Never opening my eyes, I stopped, frustrated.

“Gimme that paper,” he said, grabbing the lyric sheet off the piano. “I got it, I got it!” Circling his pointed finger at me, “Play, play” he said.

My emotions jumped from the square root of one to a hundred to the tenth power. Jackie had fallen in love with the song. And I fell in love with his dynamic golden voice all over again the minute he sang the first few words: “Someone to care, someone to share, lonely hours and moments of despair, to be loved, to be loved, oh what a feeling to be loved.”

I had never heard him do a ballad before. His voice was strong and deep and sincere. It was as if he had written it for himself. He brought up the entire range of emotions I had felt the night I wrote it. My tears came again and everything.

Jackie Wilson was the epitome of natural greatness. Unfortunately for some he set the standard I would be looking for in artists forever. I heard him sing many, many times and never a bad note. A bad song maybe, but never a bad note. Watching this man perform “To Be Loved” was always a thrill.

Never heard Jackie sing a ballad before? Ridiculous. “St. Therese of the Roses” had been a Top Twenty hit less than a year earlier. Well, it is a fun story, anyway.

Billy “Roquel” Davis (Tyran Carlo). Around 1956 or 1957, Berry Gordy formed a songwriting partnership with Billy Davis, who was sometimes called “Roquel” Davis, and who used the pen name “Tyran Carlo” for a number of compositions. Why all the names? “Billy Davis” was so common a name that there was even another Billy Davis among his set of companions in his hometown of Detroit.

The songwriting Billy Davis remained one of Jackie Wilson’s truest and most caring friends throughout the rest of Jackie’s life. As many readers know, there was a time when Jackie appeared to give up on life: he had experienced physical torture at the hands of Mob thugs, Harlean had betrayed him (with Nat Tarnopol, Jackie believed), and Jackie’s oldest son, Jack Jr (called “Sonny,” as Jackie himself had once been called) had been shot dead at age sixteen. Jackie believed this killing, attributed publicly to an accident occurring on a neighbor’s porch, was the work of Mafia hirelings.

These events occurred as federal agents were deep into their investigations of Mafia influence in the recording industry. Jackie was in the grasp of the Internal Revenue Service on one hand and the clutches of the Mob on the other. The IRS had the power to imprison Jackie for tax evasion. It could also overlook his tax problems if Jackie would testify against recording industry figures as they were brought to trial for various crimes. The recording industry figures under investigation were those with direct ties to the Mafia, which was the government’s real target.

Billy "Roquel" Davis (aka Tyran Carlo)

Billy “Roquel” Davis (aka Tyran Carlo)

According to what Davis told Jackie’s biographer, Tony Douglas, Davis helped Jackie move after Jackie had it out with Harlean and Nat. Billy says Jackie took only a few possessions when he left his swank apartment for the last time, abandoning everything else and settling into a room in a residential hotel to drink and drug himself to death. In time, Billy coaxed Jackie outside for walks and chats with fans. Eventually, Billy was able to convince Jackie to perform again, and even went out on the road as Jackie’s guitarist for a while. (After getting back to work again, Jackie would fall in love with Lynn Crochet and again know the joys of family life. With With Lynn’s help, he got off drugs and alcohol.)

Billy Davis is a true friend. Billy Davis did not go on the road with Jackie as someone who needed a job. He went as a friend who cared about Jackie and respected his talent. In the 1970s, Billy was writing and producing some of his most famous work as senior vice president and music director for a top New York advertising agency, McCann Erickson. If you are old enough, you will remember jingles Davis wrote and/or produced for his top clients, Miller Beer (“If you’ve got the time, we’ve got the beer”) and Coca-Cola (“I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” and others).

You can read an interesting compilation of information on Billy Davis and his many achievements here, but do not be fooled by the remark about “not knowing we [Berry and Billy] were supposed to be paid” for writing hits for Jackie Wilson. Davis was established as a songwriter even before Gordy got in the business, and both understood the business, and both received their royalties. Davis himself acknowledged this to Tony Douglas.

So who actually wrote “To Be Loved”? Well, one can read many claims and explanations. Michael Bublé has recorded a cover version of “To Be Loved” for his current album of the same title, and you can see the song listed as a Jackie Wilson composition on the track listings posted at Wikipedia, the international headquarters of conventional wisdom, shoddy amateur research, outright lies, and other popular forms of misinformation that the average college freshman (as in “C student”) thinks is a “solid source.”  Jackie did not write the song and never claimed he did. He credited Berry Gordy.

As a matter of fact, there is no evidence that Nat Tarnopol ever even tried to misrepresent the songwriting credits on “To Be Loved” or any Gordy/Davis compositions. Berry and Billy were young, but they were already experienced professionals at the time, and Nat either knew he could not scam them or was afraid to try. This is most likely why Nat was so eager to end the working relationship with them, which he did in an argument with Berry alone: neither Billy nor Jackie got a voice in the matter.

Altogether, the Gordy/Davis team supplied eleven songs Jackie Wilson recorded. Five of these were among Jackie’s first hits (“Reet Petite,” “To Be Loved,” “That’s Why,” “Lonely Teardrops,” and “I’ll Be Satisfied”), and the others appeared on early Jackie Wilson EPs and LPs. At various points in time, both Berry and Billy acknowledged that they had received the royalties due to them from these songs.

All the copies of the 45 of “To Be Loved” that I have seen list “Berry Gordy Jr – Tyran Carlo” as the songwriters. Because they had formed a partnership at the time, any song written by either one of them would have been credited to both. However, Billy Davis’s story on how “To Be Loved” was  written differed from Berry Gordy’s. Davis said that Berry had begun the song and brought it over to the apartment where Billy and Berry’s sister, Gwen, were living, so all three worked on it. And in his autobiography, Berry complained that the songwriting royalties from record sales were being split three ways for the songs they wrote for Jackie. And here’s a screen capture of a “performance rights” card for the song which lists all three as the songwriters:

TBL performance card

Yes, the date on this card is interesting, isn’t it? My understanding of this could be wrong, so I welcome correction or clarification on the following: performance rights for the song would be paid to Tarnopol’s company, Pearl Music, and to the songwriters in accordance with the terms of their contract with Tarnopol at Pearl Music. However, performance rights are not the same as royalty payments on records sold.

Performance rights covered a range of things for which the artist was not remunerated, such as sheet music sales (or Eddie Murphy singing the song in a film decades later). Here the “recorded by” line simply identifies Jackie’s recording in case the music publisher licensed that particular version for something like use in a jukebox or inclusion in some crummy “teen flick.” In this era at least, the artist received royalties on record sales (theoretically) but did not receive any of the money collected for performance rights.

I am guessing that Berry Gordy has made plenty of money from this song over the last half century or so, and I assume he will make more on the Michael Bublé recording. I wonder how much “To Be Loved” will finally net him . . . and whether, in the end, it will be his most lucrative songwriting endeavor of all time?

Performance rights and the Jackie Wilson story. It’s important to note that “performance rights” are what prevent anyone making a feature film or even a documentary about Jackie Wilson. No one would attempt to produce a film of any kind about a singer unless they were able to secure the rights to use that artist’s music. Obviously, such rights are generally easy to acquire because the owner of the rights increases his or her profits without having to make a new investment or take on any risk.

So why is it that no one can secure performance rights for a film on Jackie Wilson? There is only one possible explanation: those who hold the performance rights for Jackie Wilson’s recorded music have a serious reason to suppress the facts of Jackie Wilson’s life and career.

Many people who knew Jackie Wilson assert that there was one project, a made-for-televison movie, that was granted rights to use Jackie’s music. This rumor, reported by Tony Douglas and spread among Jackie’s friends and fans, was that the highly fictional script Harlean Harris appear heroic and trashed not only Jackie Wilson but also Sam Cooke. Give that concept just a little thought, and it becomes obvious why certain power players would appreciate having both Wilson and Cooke discredited.

But what happened to that project? The project was scrapped, and the rumor has always been that the person who stopped it was Berry Gordy. Gordy has been repeatedly characterized as a man who loves money above all else, but few people really do love money ABOVE ALL ELSE, and if you take as a whole what Gordy says in his autobiography about Jackie Wilson, you have to conclude that Berry not only recognized the enormity of his friend’s talent, but also deeply empathized with Jackie, the man.

Jackie and Detroit crowd

(standing) Billy Johnson, Al Abrams, Johnny (“JJ”) Jones, Berry Gordy Jr, Jackie Wilson, Robert Bateman, (kneeling) Willie John

The early hits would be crucial to any film about Jackie, and it is easy enough to imagine that any irregularities in the business transactions regarding those early hits (and there could have been many) would give Gordy the leverage to stop the “Harlean project.” It would also make sense that if Gordy did this, he would do this quietly, given the parties involved.

Here are the simple and perfect lyrics to this stunning and timeless ballad. Click on the title to reach Jackie’s original recording.

To Be Loved
B. Gordy/T. Carlo/G. Gordy

Someone to care
Someone to share
Lonely days, hours of despair
To be loved, to be loved
Oh, what a feeling
To be loved

Someone to kiss
Someone to miss
When you’re away
To hear from each day
To be loved, to be loved
Oh, what a feeling
To be loved

Some wish to be a king or a queen
Some wish for fortune and fame
But to be truly, truly loved
Is more than all of these things

Memorabilia musings

At one point you could get the original Pearl Music royalties contract for “You Better Know It” with Jackie Wilson’s signature for a mere $2000 (USD). And for an estimated $100-$200 (USD), you might have snared a photo of Jackie and his “mama,” suitably framed and autographed (please don’t laugh) “Jackie Wilson.”

[Note: These items are no longer listed for sale, so if you want to take a look at them, you had better click the URLs sooner than later, because they may come off the Web at any time.]

Not “Mama!” An advertisement for the photograph contains the following “item description”:

American soul and R&B singer (1934–1984) best known for such hits as ‘To Be Loved’ and ‘Lonely Teardrops.’ After suffering a heart attack while onstage in 1975, Wilson remained in a coma until his death nearly a decade later at the age of 49. Vintage glossy 6.5 x 4.5 photo of Wilson and his mother at Robert’s Show Club in Chicago, matted to a size of 8.75 x 7, signed and inscribed on the mat in blue ballpoint “To Mama! Forever & Always, Your son! Jackie Wilson.” Photo is matted and framed to an overall size of 12 x 10.25. Two staple holes around inscription, another staple hole to bottom of mat, and a spot of damp staining next to signature, otherwise fine condition. Accompanied by the photo’s original folder.

Moms Mabley portraitEven if a son were likely to inscribe a photo to his own mother using his surname, the folks insisting they have authenticated the photo might have noticed that Jackie wrote “To Moms,” not “To Mama.” His handwriting is quite clear. The woman in the photo with Jackie is not Jackie Wilson’s mother, but rather the very well-known x-rated comedienne Moms Mabley (shown without stage costume in the studio portrait to the left). Mabley’s face could be identified by almost any African American over age fifty who still has a pulse, and, of course, the “authenticating” team could have just asked the average Jackie Wilson fan if the woman in their picture could have possibly been Jackie’s mother.

JW w eliza freda cropOne of the few photos of Jackie’s mama (and a major digression by the blogger). Jackie’s mother, Eliza Mae Wilson Lee, is on the left in this photo of Jackie exiting Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. The picture was taken six weeks after Our Hero had been accidentally shot twice in the abdomen while trying to confiscate a handgun wielded by Juanita Jones, a girlfriend who had shown up at Jackie’s front door, intending to threaten, maim, or kill her old chum and rival, Ebony cover girl Harlean Harris, (shown here and here), who was at the time Jackie’s live-in woman for New York City. (See Jackie Wilson Biography). The incident took place as Jackie and Harlean returned to his apartment in the early hours of February 15, 1961.

If Jackie looks a bit tired, remember that he had just lost a kidney, had nearly lost his life, and was still carrying a bullet in his back at the moment the picture was snapped. If he looks a bit apprehensive, it is probably because the woman on the right is Freda Hood Wilson, Jackie’s childhood sweetheart, first and current wife, and mother of four of his children (not pictured because they are in Detroit, where Freda, Mrs. Lee, and the kids normally live). Freda has spent much of the last six weeks in Jackie’s New York City apartment, tearing up compromising photos of Jackie and Harlean together and tossing Harlean’s clothing into the street—at least according to what Freda told Jackie’s biographer, Tony Douglas.

How soon was Jackie performing again? Here he is on The Ed Sullivan show on May 28, 1961, just a little more than fifteen weeks after the Valentine’s Day “Date from Hell”:

The hospital photo was staged to bolster the image of Jackie, the family man, as the American press continued to report Jackie’s progress after the shooting, which had been publicized as an accident that occurred when Jackie heroically attempted to disarm “a deranged fan” who was attempting suicide, presumably due to unrequited love for Jackie.

Hey, it seemed a plausible story to me, reading it as a teenager out in Ohio.

The “You Better Know It” contract. As Jackie Wilson memorabilia goes, this contract, offered at auction by Argosy Old & Rare Books Prints & Maps, is certainly worth more than ten times the suggested price for the Moms Mabley photograph. Although the contract has not been signed by the other listed songwriter (Norm Henry), it does appear to be Jackie’s signature on the document, along with that of Nat Tarnopol. Neither signature is witnessed.

Nat the Rat owned Pearl Music (named, according to various sources, for a Tarnopol aunt). The contract is dated January 26, 1959. “You Better Know It” would be released as a single the following August and make it to #1 on the Rhythm and Blues chart and #37 on the Hot 100.

The “You Better Know It” video clips. The film clip at the top of this post is from “Go Johnny Go,” the last of the Alan Freed teen flicks to be released before he became the target of the payola scandal that should have hit Morris Levy instead. The film was supposedly going to include a clip of Jackie singing “Lonely Teardrops” as well, and no one seems to know if it was ever even shot. It certainly did not appear in the movie. Jackie looks great in the film, beautifully coiffed and elegantly dressed.

Why is Jackie performing in front of a coffee cup graphic? At the time, it was important to keep this sort of film free of references to alcohol, so Jackie had to be performing in a coffee house, not a night club. I call this video the “the coffee cup (CC) version.” There is another video of this song, however, that has puzzled me for a long time. It is highly unlikely that this other video was shot for the movie.

In the no-coffee-cup (NCC) version, we see a younger-looking  Jackie, almost baby-faced, with jet-black eyebrows and a less sophisticated hairstyle, looking much more like the Jackie Wilson in publicity shots for Billy Ward and His Dominoes. Jackie is nicely dressed here, but the style of the jacket is not close to the refined tailoring we see on the suit from the coffee-cup version. And his bow tie, of course, is actually a clip-on, something fans are not going to see anywhere else on the suave Mr. Wilson. In fact, it seems unlikely that Jackie would commit such a fashion faux pas once he had had a hit record and invested in a first-rate stage wardrobe.

The dance steps are virtually the same and the vocal is the same, albeit a bit shorter on the CC version, however, the NCC version (the video of the younger Jackie) is more engaging. There are no cuts to a faked audience, and this clip features close-ups of Jackie’s dancing feet and dimpled cheek. His eyebrows are coal black and rounded. It builds up to a wonderful few seconds focused on Jackie’s boyish-looking features, catching a series of winks and smiles as he tells his lady friend, “You can love me, come on. You can hug me, come on. You can squeeze me, come on. Just come on . . . Love me, honey. Love me long. Love me right. Love me strong . . .”

NRRArchives has posted a clear copy of the video on YouTube:

Back to the songwriting contract. Given the date on the royalties contract that was offered at auction, the NCC video becomes more intriguing than ever.

Below are some screen grabs of Jackie performing (lip synching) “Lonely Teardrops” on Dick Clark’s Beechnut Show on March 21, 1959, three months after the contract and five months before the release of “You Better Know It.” (A memorable weekend for me: I had just turned twelve the day before, and I was already in love with Jackie Wilson from listening to the Top Forty every night on my bedside radio.):

JW Beechnut 032159 1JW Beechnut 032159JW Beechnut 032189 2Notice that Jackie looks older and is much better dressed than in the NCC “You Better Know It” video. The hair looks professionally groomed, and his stage makeup is more sophisticated: the ultra-dark eyebrows have been scaled back and arched slightly, possibly even plucked.

The front page of the songwriters’ agreement with the publisher shows the Detroit address crossed out, with no substitution. The Detroit address is intact on the inside page, where the contract itself appears. I believe Pearl Music was housed in the Brill Building after the move to New York (someone correct me, please, if I am wrong.), but I don’t know at what date this occurred.

By January 1959, Nat and Jackie were already established in New York City. “Lonely Teardrops” was already a major hit. Taking the artifacts all together, the evidence is strong that the NCC video of “You Better Know It” existed before this contract with the song’s writers, one of whom, Norm Henry, never signed the contract. Given Tarnopol’s business practices, that writer may never have existed anyway. I’d bet the “Norm Henry” half of the paltry royalties due the songwriters went back to Nat’s pocket along with the publisher’s royalty. (Given that the publisher did so much better than the actual songwriters, I have never understood why Nat and others of that era were so reluctant to allow those songwriters have their names on the recordings and collect their legal shares, which were less than those of the artist, who also bore all the expenses. But I digress . . .)

The mystery about the video remains. NRRArchives describes the NCC video as a product of Brunswick Records’ promotional work and dates it in 1959. This writer just does not buy that. I cannot picture Nat the Rat spending the few bucks it would cost to make the video at the point when it was clear that a performance of the song would be shot for “Go Johnny Go.” If Nat were funding a video in 1959, surely it would be of “Lonely Teardrops”?

My personal guess is that this NCC version of “You Better Know It” was put together by Al Green in Detroit in 1957, when Jackie had returned to his hometown to put together a solo career. Green, who already managed rhythm and blues queen LaVern Baker, employed Jackie to sing in his Detroit clubs and became Jackie’s manager at the time. I think the video clip may have been made to use in the process of selling a record company on the stage presence of Green’s client.

The other possibility is that Nat Tarnopol did make the video, but made it in 1958, before he and Jackie relocated to NYC. But why he would have made it is hard to imagine.

At any rate, I have to believe that the NCC video, and therefore the recording, of “You Better Know It” predates the songwriting contract. The song was to be the first non-Berry Gordy single, and Nat may have thought or at least hoped it would be a major hit. If he didn’t actually own the publishing rights for the song, a video of Jackie lip-synching it might have been problematic. Perhaps that is why Brunswick insisted that both film clips are from 1959.

If anyone reading this has reached other conclusions, I would love to hear from you, because this has been puzzling me for a long time.

“Love Train” lyrics

“Love Train” is a killer recording featuring Jackie Wilson’s powerful voice turned playful and a churning Dick Jacobs arrangement. It’s all built on the foundation of a terrific Blackwell/Scott collaboration. Throughout the song, Jackie mimics Elvis Presley.

You can hear the song being played as some fabulous dancers named Mark and Genevieve put it to the ultimate rock’n’roll test. As they used to say on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand: “It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.”

Lyrics. The only problem is that Jackie is imitating Mr. Presley’s mushmouth diction, and consequently, the words are indistinct in two lines that are repeated throughout the recording. Even after enlisting the services of my buddy Dennis West, the best I can offer here is a “mostly accurate” stab at the words.

The line “My heart is like a deserted terminal” may well be “My heart is like a deserted tavern” or a “deserted tank” or a “deserted tomb” or just about any other one-syllable or two-syllable noun beginning with the most commonly used consonant in the English language. I’m going with the word terminal (pronounced “term’na”) because it makes sense that a train would not stop in an abandoned train station, but it may be an abandoned town, because a train wouldn’t stop at a ghost town either.

And I am not totally certain about the following line, which I believe is “No locks in the windows and none on the door,” although it sounds more like “No love’s in the windows and none on the door,” and it just may be “No lights in the windows and none on the door.” Ah, make that “the dough.” (Sorry. I’m getting silly).

Love Train
Otis Blackwell, Winfield Scott

Aaaaaaaah, baby!
I want you to listen to me
In fact, everybody out there
Pay attention now
I got a story I want to tell . . . uh-huh

You know, that Love Train don’t stop here no more, uh-huh
My heart is like a deserted term’nal
No locks in the windows and none on the door
When that Engineer Cupid drives on by
You know, I can see it in Cupid’s eye
That that Love Train won’t stop here no more, uh-huh

I thought it was fun to tell little girls lies, uh-huh
I didn’t care which ones I made cry
Hah! That Love Train won’t stop here no more
My heart is like a deserted term’nal
No locks in the windows and none on the door
When that engineer Cupid comes on by
I can see it in Cupid’s eye
That that Love Train won’t stop here no more

Well, I’m gonna check in ta Heartbreak Hotel, uh-huh
Somewhere on a lonely avenue, yeah, yeah
No sense in hopin’ ’cause I know too well
That’s all that’s left for me to do, I tell you . . .
That Love Train won’t stop here no more
My heart is like a deserted term’nal
No locks in the windows and none on the door
Well, that Engineer Cupid show us all
He ain’t gonna let no little fine girls off
That Love Train won’t stop here no more

(instrumental break)

Well, I’m gonna check in ta Heartbreak Hotel, uh-huh
Somewhere on a lonely avenue, uh-huh
No sense in hopin’ ’cause I know too well
Yeah, that’s all that’s left for me to do, I tell you . . .
That Love Train won’t stop here no more
My heart is like a deserted term’nal
No locks in the windows and none on the door
Oh, Engineer Cupid, show us all
You ain’t gonna let no little fine girls off
I told ‘em that Love Train won’t stop here no more

Why not? I don’t know!
Why not? I need my baby.
Let her off!
Oh, Mr. Conductor . . .
Stop the train right now!

Otis Blackwell

Otis Blackwell

The songwriters. Otis Blackwell was a major force in shaping rock ‘n’ roll. He wrote “Fever” for Little Willie John, and he wrote both “Breathless” and “Great Balls of Fire” for Jerry Lee Lewis. For Elvis Presley, he wrote “Paralyzed,” “All Shook Up,” and “Don’t Be Cruel,” and he collaborated with Winfield Scott to write “Return to Sender.” Another major Otis Blackwell hit, “Handy Man,” was first recorded by Jimmy Jones. Winfield Scott himself made additional significant contributions to the popular music canon, writing “Many Tears Ago” for Connie Francis and writing or co-writing two of LaVern Baker’s best known songs, “Tweedlee Dee” and “Bop Ting A Ling.”

“Bop Ting a Ling” is a personal favorite of this writer. I have always imagined the feisty Baker, a longtime friend of Jackie Wilson, was singing to Our Hero:

Bop Ting a Ling
Winfield Scott

Bop ting a ling, you handsome thing
I’d like to get next to you
Doo wah diddy, you walk so pretty
You thrill me through and through
Rang dang doozy, you got me woozy
You look so heavenly
Great day in the morning, I’m giving you warning
You better watch out for me

Great day in the morning
Great day in the morning, man
Great day in the morning
Oh baby, take me by the hand
Great day in the morning
Great day in the morning
Great day in the morning
Bop ting-a ling, I feel so grand

Ting a ling, you handsome thing
I’d like to get next to you
Doo wah diddy, you walk so pretty
You thrill me through and through
Rang dang dilly, you got me silly
My heart won’t let me be
Great day in the morning
I’m giving you warning
You better watch out for me

Well, I’m afraid I have digressed a bit here.

My unanswered questions. Blackwell and Scott wrote “Return to Sender” for Elvis to use in the movie Girls! Girls! Girls! (released in November 1962). Jackie’s “Love Train” appeared on the LP Baby Workout, which was released the following spring (April 1963). I am trying to ascertain whether or not “Love Train” was actually written for Elvis Presley. It may even have been one of the songs offered for the film. I think Jackie and Elvis visited while Elvis was making that particular movie, and I wonder if Jackie heard about the song from Elvis.

“I Hurt So Bad” is another recording on which Jackie Wilson sings in his “Elvis mode.” This song appears on Jackie’s “The Lost Tapes” CD, and I suspect it was also written by Blackwell.

If anyone reading this has further information or a photo of songwriter Winfield Scott, I would appreciate hearing from you.

Jackie’s death (4): “Think about me”

JW leather stage wearThere is a bootleg recording, reputedly from Jackie Wilson’s last complete concert, captured just days before he collapsed. The audio file may be his last recorded spoken words and the last recorded notes he sang.

If so, it testifies to how great Jackie was at the end, because the medley surrounding “Lonely Teardrops” is outstanding, the ethereal performance of “Doggin’ Around” is one of his most memorable, and the few lines he sings from “My Way” contain some of the sweetest notes you will ever hear.

However, his words just before singing that bit of “My Way” are chilling for listeners who know what happened:

You know, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to be back, like I said, and God knows I hope to be back in the near future, very soon. Thank you very much. In the meanwhile, may I say . . . whatever goes up . . . has a tendency . . . most time . . . to come down. Now we all know that. We also know that what goes around eventually comes around. But I’d like to say that nobody . . . but nobody . . . does anything wrong . . . unless . . . they want to do it. By the same token, no one does anything right . . . unless . . . they want to do it. Think about me, and I’ll be damned if I won’t think about you. Listen . . .

You know, I planned each charted course,
And, oh Lord, I traveled each and every highway and byway,
Ah, but more, much more, much more, much more, oh, oh, oh Lord, much more than this

[spoken: Ha, ha, ha, ha]
I did it my . . . [spoken: I love you] . . . wa-ay.

Powerful people wanted Jackie Wilson forgotten, but we have the power to preserve his memory. Let’s think about Jackie and love him as he loved us, his fans.