The Jacksons today (The Jacksons)
The Jacksons may have been born in Gary, Indiana, but you could say that the Jackson 5 were assembled in Detroit — at the Motown “factory.”
The Jacksons — Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon — perform tonight at the MotorCity Casino’s Sound Board. Back when they were still five — with brother Michael — they’d already shown incredible talent and had two singles out on Steeltown Records.
But the three No. 1 songs that Berry Gordy promised the Jackson 5 in 1969 were conjured out of thin air in a room at Detroit’s Hotel Pontchartrain by a group of songwriters he dubbed “The Corporation.” Led by Deke Richards, the group was locked in by Gordy with all the food and liquor they needed, until they came out with a hit.
First came “I Want You Back,” then “ABC” and “The Love You Save” and then a fourth consecutive hit, “I’ll Be There,” with Michael and Jermaine swapping vocals. Each shot to No. 1, performed by five boys rehearsed relentlessly by the Detroit team.
They were off and running, the hottest group in the country by the early ’70s. Hotter than — dare we say it?
“When Berry Gordy said ‘I’m going to get three No. 1 records on you,’ it happened!” says Jermaine Jackson, by phone from Los Angeles. “We knocked the Beatles off the top of the charts.”
The Jacksons were thrilled to learn from their Motown mentors. “We know where we come from. We wanted to be like the Temptations, like Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder. It was the greatest thing in our lives,” Jackson says.
Speaking to The Detroit News in 2003, producer Richards talked about those heady days. “We were all running on adrenalin,” he said. His most difficult task was getting the brothers to stop joking around.
As the Jackson 5’s bassist, Jackson was particularly close to Motown bassist James Jamerson. “I had to learn everything that he was doing.” And dance and sing, while playing those riffs.
Jackson remembers their Detroit audition and playing at a party in the pool house of Gordy’s Boston Boulevard home. “My older brother Jackie was nervous. We’d be joking around, and he would tell us to be serious.” He remembers being on Chene Street and smelling the fresh bread from the Silvercup bread factory; being mentored by Motown’s Bobby Taylor.
At the Sound Board, the Jacksons go all the way back to their early sound. They tell the Jacksons story, “beginning, middle and end,” with a tribute to Michael. “We’re letting them know that ‘Hey, we’re the Jackson 5,’ then there was ‘Shake your Body’ and ‘Can You Feel It,’ then there was a Philadelphia Sound with ‘Let Me Show You’ and “Enjoy Yourself.’ ” There will be some Jermaine Jackson songs.
“I did have a solo career,” Jackson says with a laugh. At times Jermaine seemed to be a more obvious front man compared to Michael, who went through an awkward, hormonal patch. When Jermaine married the boss’s daughter, Hazel Gordy, in 1973, he was anointed as the next prince of Motown — Marvin Gaye having abdicated to be a hippie — while his brothers went off to Epic Records.
Live, the Jacksons perform some of Michael’s solo material; Jermaine sings “Gone Too Soon” and “Wanta Be Starting Something.” He admits that it’s difficult emotionally to perform onstage without Michael, even after so many years. (Michael died in 2009.)
“We are still mourning Michael’s passing, so it’s a healing process,” says Jackson. “Even still, on certain songs I can sense him. He stood next to me for years! It was hard in rehearsals, I cried, because I felt him. He was there, to my right. After so many years your body is programmed to do certain things. We feel him, we know that his spirit is there on stage.”
After so many hits, and years, what’s the motivation? “A melody. A song,” Jackson says. “And then the brothers get together and we start to sing.” He feels the Jacksons need to show what they learned at Motown. “So many think it’s great to disrespect women and swear, have your posse with you. Nobody’s really telling them, stay humble. Be quiet. Show yourself onstage.
“We weren’t overnight sensations. Our idols were the Motown greats, and if you didn’t grow up in that period, you didn’t pay your dues, you don’t have that richness. As much as you saw above the ground with the Jacksons, there’s that much below the ground. It’s deep. We know what to do.”
The Jacksons - Jackie, Tito, Marlon and Jermaine
8 p.m. Thursday
The Sound Board at Motor City Casino Hotel, 2901 Grand River, Detroit
Tickets $55-75 at Ticketmaster.com; for packages and more information, go to soundboarddetroit.com