Tag Archives: Jake Austen The Chicago Reader

Music Musings: The Jackson 5 Celebrate 50 Years As Recording Artists

In 2018, they are known to music lovers around the planet.  Their surname is instantly recognized as the most prominent, most prolific and most successful family in the modern music industry.  For multiple generations now, there’s just no parallel to The Jacksons.

Of the original 9 Jackson siblings– Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, La Toya, Marlon, Michael, Randy and Janet– all have released at least one solo music project, and have produced hundreds of hits.

That family’s legendary recording history began 50 years ago this month.  Here’s more from Jake Austen of The Chicago Reader

By 1967 Steeltown had released several singles without scoring a hit. Keith had seen enough Jackson Five show placards around town to convince him that the group was hardworking—he figured they might be the rare young act that combined talent with discipline. He got the family’s number from a group that studied with the Jacksons’ music teacher, Shirley Cartman (another reasonable claimant in the Jackson Five discovery sweepstakes), called patriarch Joseph Jackson, and was invited to the family’s home for a private performance. Before they’d even played a note Keith saw something that convinced him Michael was extraordinary—something he says he’d never seen before and never saw again. “They were setting up in the living room,” Keith recalls, “and Michael walked over to Tito’s guitar cord, which was stretched between the guitar and amplifier, chest high to Michael, and I seen him flat-footedly jump over that guitar cord . . . not a running jump, flat-footed! I was pretty sold right there.”


So after school one afternoon in November 1967, Michael, 9, Marlon, 10, Jermaine, 12, Tito, 14, and Jackie, 16, piled into the family Volkswagen with Joseph and rode across the state line to Chicago’s West Englewood neighborhood, parking in front of Sunny Sawyer’s recording studio on West 69th. Today that address is a vacant lot overrun by six-foot weeds, neighbored by the last surviving commercial buildings on the block—a tavern called Mitchell’s that’s attached to Rainbow Food and Liquor and a boarded-up pharmacy. But in the late 60s it was at the heart of a busy business district.


“The Jacksons were little angels,” Sawyer says, “and real professionals, doing their own stuff.” Joseph had trained Tito on guitar and Jermaine on bass, and young family friend Johnny Jackson (no relation, though Motown would bill him as a cousin) was an excellent drummer. All three play on the recordings, but Keith supplemented Tito and Jermaine with adult musicians, including Richard Brown on rhythm guitar, Freddie Young on lead guitar, and Ray Grimes on bass.

And just like that, the young Jacksons recorded their first ever songs in a marathon session, displaying skills that would soon prove critical to their incredible abilities to produce and record so much music, so fast.  The best result of those sessions, Big Boy, was released as their debut single on January 30th, 1968

Though not an immediate chart success, the single caught on well with local radio in the Chicago area, and was a great seller at the groups shows.  But ultimately, it was a live performance, opening up for Motown act Bobby Taylor, that would finally get the attention of legendary label magnate Berry Gordy, and put them on the world stage.

And so it goes… the start of the Jackson family story in the recording industry.  But in 2018, the family is ready for a whole new era.  Over the holidays, crowds were left stunned by Jaafar Jackson, performing with his father Jermaine and brother Jermajesty.  In the coming years, we can expect big things from him, and lots of other members of this incredible family.

Happy 50th Anniversary to The Jackson 5, and their debut single, Big Boy.