Category Archives: Jackie in videos

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.

New YouTube postings 2

Some recent postings of Jackie Wilson videos are well worth checking out. There are new cuts from “The Jerry Lewis Show” that have clearer pictures and better sound than the some of the old ones posted before.

Please listen to Jerry Lee’s introduction to Jackie on the “Higher and Higher” video. It is so true a statement of what should have been, had not so much evil been perpetrated against Jackie Wilson. Unfortunately, the video and audio tracks are not synchronized as the performance continues.

Here “Lonely Teardrops” is followed by “If I Had a Hammer.” In the last video Jackie sings an old gospel favorite of Jerry Lee’s, “I’ll Fly Away.”

New YouTube postings 1

Here are two fantastic videos from the old Dick Clark Beechnut Show. Both performances are lip synchronizations of songs written by Berry Gordy Jr and Billy Davis. The first is a much clearer copy than we have had before of Jackie performing “Lonely Teardrops,” complete with a leap from an upper step into some splits. Berry Gordy once expressed amazement that Jackie could do this sort of thing without, uh, “hurting something.” Well, Jackie continued to father children after this video was made.



The second video is one many of us had not seen since we were teenagers, Jackie doing “That’s Why (I Love You So).” He appears just after the 1:20 timing mark.


Jackie on Shindig! (Part Two)

On June 30, 1965 (Episode 42), Jackie shared the Shindig! spotlight with his friend Jerry Lee Lewis after first performing three songs on his own.

After being introduced as the show’s star, Jackie performs “I’m So Lonely.” (Yes, it is Billy Preston, who sometimes played with the Shindig! house band, on the keyboards.) Jackie is attired in a beautiful suit, probably specifically so that he can remove that jacket as part of the performance. Catch Jackie’s winks at the 1:55, 3:14, and 3:32 marks of the tape. Berry Gordy Jr said that Jackie always winked on the beat.

Watching this the first time the summer before I entered college (yes, I was once young!), I clawed the arms of my chair when Jackie went into that back-bend split with his jacket clenched in the hand of his support arm (2:14). I thought for certain he would crash to the floor—or, as we said in those days, “wipe out.”

About four and a half minutes into this video, Jackie sings “No Pity (In the Naked City),” which host Jimmy McNeill announces as Jackie’s latest recording. Jackie has gone as casual in dress as he can and still remain in a suit. Check out the spectator loafers as he does a tricky balancing act on that ridiculous pedestal.

Later in the show (12:07) we are back to the ultra casual in a truly uninspired Henley for “That Is Why (I Love You So).” Jackie doesn’t seem completely comfortable wearing it, tugging at the front of it. Just as the segment begins, there is a wonderful moment of Jackie looking at the cameraman as if to say, “Are you sure you are with me?”

[Note: The segments on the tape are out of order from the way they appeared when they first aired. The Jerry Lee Lewis number described below is the show’s finale. Although it appears on the above video above at 8:10, the number is cut short on there, so it is better viewed on the following video.]

For the program’s finale, Jackie’s good friend Jerry Lee Lewis got everyone into “A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On.” Jerry Lee Lewis, like Elvis Presley, was a major admirer of Jackie Wilson.

Jerry Lee kicks off at 2:36, and Jackie comes out to sing a verse at 3:57, then joins Jerry Lee and James Burton (“The Master of the Telecaster”) on the piano top at 4:32. The visual impact of those three rocking and wailing up there is immense. I wish I had a wall-size poster of that moment. This finale was rock and roll at its finest hour. If one could only scrape those rolling credits off the screen!

Jackie on Shindig! (Part One)

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.

Sam Cooke gets a dance lesson

One marvelous bit of fun available on YouTube is this clip of Jackie Wilson and and his good friend Sam Cooke, who is supposed to be performing a lip synchronization of his recording “Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha.”


There are dozens and dozens of comments on YouTube about the video segment. Most of them are remarks about how wonderful it is that someone preserved this light-hearted moment between two of the greatest singers in history, how handsome they both are, how enormously talented they were, and how tragic that both their careers ended so much too soon.

What’s going on in the video. Some comments, however, indicate serious misunderstanding of what is happening. Some younger viewers think this video has another, “original” track, that it’s a video of a live performance, or that the video was made to deliberately mislead people.

In truth, when the camera light came on, Sam Cooke assumed he was just doing another day’s work, performing a routine task for a Sixties recording artist on tour: stop by the local television station, maybe record a brief interview, and make a lip synchronization video of your recent hit in the setting of the local teen dance party show. Only this time, Sam’s good friend caught him by surprise and provided a lesson in the cha cha cha.

The history of this video is covered in a book. The venue was Memphis, and the local television program was Talent Party. George Klein, who became host of the show in 1964, has written a book entitled Elvis, My Best Man: Radio Days, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nights, and My Lifelong Friendship with Elvis Presley, and one of the chapters is about Klein hosting Talent Party, a gig he landed with a little help from Elvis.

The program had at one point been a typical sort of local version of American Bandstand, but according to Klein, the station decided to stop having teenagers dance on the show due to fear that whites and Blacks would start dancing together on live television.

I am skeptical about some of the facts given in this excerpt, but I will reserve my comments and questions until you have the chance to read it.

One of my favorite Talent Party moments occurred in my first year as host, when, with the help of Wink Martindale, I got Sam Cooke booked to do the show. He was coming through Memphis as part of a co-headlining tour with Jackie Wilson, in which they’d take turns city-by-city as to who opened and who closed that night’s show. I’d met Sam before at a show at Ellis [Auditorium], and we got along well enough that I decided to ask him for a favor: I wondered if he’d invite Jackie Wilson to come along with us. Sam did, and Jackie said yes, though Sam gave me a firm warning: “Jackie loves the ladies, and if you don’t lead him by the hand out of here after the show, you can forget about seeing him again tonight.”

I worked hard to get them both to the studio quickly after the show, and couldn’t wait to shoot a couple songs each with such great talents. But as Sam was doing a practice take of his song “Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha,” I noticed that Jackie was mouthing along with every word and I got an idea.

“Jackie, you really know Sam’s stuff,” I said.

“Man, we’re like brothers. I know everything he’s ever done.”

“Well, tell me what you think of this. When we start really shooting this one, why don’t you sneak around back, and when Sam’s done with the first verse, you pop through the curtains and take over the song.”

Jackie loved the idea, and while he certainly surprised the heck out of Sam, Sam loved it too, and they were both having a ball as they tried to match each other line for line and dance move for dance move. Footage of the magical moment is still out there on the Internet, and you can’t help but smile when you see the smiles on their faces.

The date of the video. So here is my problem: I have trouble believing that this clip is from 1964. The date “1960” appears at the conclusion of the clip, and that makes sense, as Jackie and Sam were definitely touring the South together that year.

The date “1964” does not make sense. “Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha” was a hit in 1959, when it reached position #31 on the Billboard Hot Hundred. Between the success of “Cha Cha Cha” and 1964, Sam Cooke placed fifteen hits on that same chart, and ten of those were in the coveted Top Twenty. Why would he be making a lip synch clip for an old song that was a lesser hit? The record business then was about selling what was current. Artists promoted the vinyl available in the record stores.

Klein’s claim. Well, what if the correct date is 1960, and 1964 is just a typographical error in the book, or perhaps a mental slip of the author’s memory? Sorry, but neither of those explanations work. Klein took over the show in 1964, and his book makes the claim that he integrated the program that year, putting on the program’s first Black artist, Fats Domino. I’m not certain of many things in life, but I think both Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke were African Americans. If Klein’s claim to integrating Talent Party was to hold up, he had to explain away a video that was available on the Internet at the time his book was being published.

So the issue becomes this: did Klein make up his part in producing this historic video clip, or is his account accurate? His position would be bolstered if Sam and Jackie toured the South together again in 1964. I do not happen to know that they did that, but maybe someone reading this will know.

There would still be, however, the awkward matter of the date at the end of the video segment.

Is the history of American music “real” history? Why am I making a fuss about this? After all, isn’t it just a bit of “infotainment”?

For me, no. I take the history of music seriously, particularly the history of American popular music of the Fifties and Sixties, when badly exploited Black artists did so much to raise the consciousness of young white teenagers about racism.

Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke were not only two massively talented, hard-working men who created great music: they were also flesh-and-blood human beings living in a land where success was segregated and a second-class experience for them, two singers every bit as great and arguably better than Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley. We owe it to what they achieved and to their memories to get their stories straight.

Does anyone reading this know if Sam and Jackie toured together again in 1964? Does anyone reading this have any further information on the making of this wonderful video clip?

Jackie of my dreams 2

In an earlier post, we looked at Jackie Wilson’s very memorable first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, which took place in 1960. Two other of the six Sullivan performances are available on YouTube currently, both from 1962. In January, Jackie performed “That’s Why (I Love You So).” It’s less than a year after he was shot twice at the door to his New York City apartment, losing a kidney but retaining a bullet for the rest of his life (see Biography page), but Jackie is fit and fantastic.

The vocal is simply incredible, and you can hear Jackie’s finger snaps and hand claps. At one point this past spring I read a YouTube comment by a young person who said that the microphone was in Jackie’s tie tack. Sorry, but that would be a diamond in Jackie’s tie tack. There weren’t any teeny tiny mikes on singers of that era. Sullivan’s technicians used an overhead boom microphone, much as was used in movies at the time.

In May, Jackie performed “Lonely Teardrops” again, and his delivery of his signature tune on this occasion was, if anything, more spectacular than his first Sullivan performance of the hit. This time we get an extra dose of the boxing moves Jackie learned as a teenager.

Early into the song, there is one slight betrayal of hoarseness (around 0:43). Jackie pulls through the moment amazingly and produces a flawless vocal for the remainder of the number. If you are tempted to take this performance at all lightly, just try executing Jackie’s moves without even singing.

[I’m pausing here for those of you who still haven’t recovered from that knee drop.]

Not so easy, is it? And did you look that good? I know, I know. You don’t have a silk shirt with those classy little pleats.