Author Archives: jackiewilsonlover

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.)

“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.