The popular music showcase Shindig! aired for only two seasons on American television, yet it rivaled The Ed Sullivan Show as best video venue for recording artists in the Sixties. Although the show was “prerecorded” (taped before a live audience several hours before it was broadcast), the performances were not lip synchronizations: even when backing instrumentals were on tape, singers sang LIVE. Jackie Wilson, of course, ate that challenge for breakfast.
Jackie Wilson appeared on four episodes of the program, and decades later, when the episodes were packaged into videocassettes and marketed as nostalgia items, Rhino chunked them into categories such as “British Invasion” or “Motown.” However, one cassette alone was devoted to the standout performances of Jackie Wilson.
Reviews for Shindig! Presents Jackie Wilson on the Amazon site suggest just how high the overall quality of Jackie’s performances are. Most quibbles are on the quality of the original camera work: Camera operators were frequently several steps behind Jackie’s moves, and there are too many cuts to dancers and audiences. My personal problem is having the credits running on the finale numbers. Surely they had tape available that did not have this nonsense incorporated.
Nowadays few of us are in the market for VHS, and if you are, you have to pay way too much for this one, which is now a collectors’ item. It would be sporting of Rhino to provide us with a DVD. But I am not holding my breath for that possibility, particularly because all the episodes are available on YouTube. So, with thanks to the YouTubers who uploaded them, here follows a compendium of Jackie Wilson Shindig! performances.
Gospel vibe. Jackie first appeared on Episode #6, which aired October 21, 1964. He performed “She’s Alright,” the gospel-sounding tribute to a devoted female, complete with knee drop to act out the woman attending to his “fevah.” The Chambers Brothers, then primarily gospel singers who were another year away from being a “known” act, provided serious backup vocals for Jackie:
Stage wardrobe changes creep in. Note that on this first Shindig! appearance Jackie still dresses in the classy wardrobe that has thus far been a trademark: perfectly fitted “natural sharkskin” (silk+mohair) suits, silk shirts, ties. For the first number he wears a black suit, white shirt, and bow tie; for the finale, he reverses the monochromatic scheme to white suit and black shirt, and uncharacteristically sports an open collar. The scruffy physical appearances of British Invasion bands are starting to pressure Black American performers into more casual stage apparel. In this woman’s opinion, it was a definite turn for the worse.
Most Shindig! episodes concluded with lively finales that brought many of the evening’s performers back on the stage. For this program, Jackie lets loose with “Baby Workout,” joined first by The Blossoms and The Chambers Brothers, then dancers and everyone else. Notice Jackie employing the boxer’s rope skipping motion as he implores everyone to “C’mon and turn the joint out.” I wish he would have landed a punch on that obnoxious camera-hog blonde bimbo who kept getting too close to him, but every wish can’t be granted, I suppose.
Jackie’s next Shindig! appearance was Episode #28, which aired on March 24, 1965. Jackie has been convinced to begin the show dressed in a pullover sweater over an open-neck shirt. Thank goodness his trousers are from one of those yummy suits.
The integrative duet medley. In an unusual move, the Shindig! team has asked Jackie to sing a duet with Shirley Ellis (“You’re Gonna Mess Up A Good Thing”) interspersed with a duet by a white couple, Dick and DeeDee (“Be My Baby”). The point may be lost on a current generation of viewers, so I will spell it out: Jackie and Shirley move across the set to symbolically “integrate” the microphone Dick and DeeDee are using. They are, of course, graciously welcomed, symbolic of how the world of musical entertainment is far ahead of the rest of American society in terms of racial equality. It does, however, appear that the foursome works hard to avoid actually touching each other in close quarters.
In terms of talent, Dick and DeeDee are obviously seriously outclassed by Jackie and Shirley. Near the end (around 4:00), Dick shrieks, and Jackie blinks to stifle a wince. How pathetic to even try for that sound in the presence of Jackie Wilson!
Putting aside the humor of juxtaposing these two pairs of singers, or this pair of singers and that other pair of hit makers, Jackie’s interpretation of his share of the duet with Shirley Ellis is marvelous. As the partner caught cheating in the song, his facial expressions run the range of feigned shock, false innocence, mock righteousness, flirtatious pleading, ominous pouting, and sheer lasciviousness. The man really should have had the opportunity to act in films.
NOTE: There is currently no video available for this performance.]
“Danny Boy.” Mid-show, Jackie performed a gob-smacking live rendition of “Danny Boy,” which Darlene Love introduced with a haunting few bars. You can read an analysis of the high notes of this performance here.
[NOTE: I am sorry that to say that the video I linked to originally has been removed from YouTube due to an account closing. You can see the same footage here, though, it you go to the 4:50 mark.]
Bringing the cast onstage. Late in the show, Jackie re-appears to perform “Sing (And Tell the Blues So Long).” You will have to look for the song at roughly the 2:00 mark. He has shed the sweater for a black open-neck shirt and the jacket that matches those elegant and carefully fitted white sharkskin trousers. The ending of the song is also fitted—with callouts for Darlene, Fanita, and Jean of The Blossoms and most of the remaining featured participants from the show, including a very young Glen Campbell and Delaney Bramlett. Look for the point with the iconic Jackie Wilson gesture, the removal of his jacket, which he flings over his shoulder.