In the early 1960s, Chuck Jackson was a matinee idol among his generation of soul singers because he had the good looks and demeanor to accompany his singing grace. He shared subtle masculinity with peers like Ben E. King, Jerry Butler, and Lou Johnson that would be lost in the decade, followed by the introduction of smooth “love men” and growling sex machines.
The songs that Jackson, who passed away at age 85, recorded were filled with intense emotions, rendered all the more potent by the restraint in his delivery. Among his hit songs were Chris Kenner’s Something You Have (1965), recorded as a duet with Maxine Brown, Any Day Now by Burt Bacharach and Bob Hilliard, I Keep Forgettin’ by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and both from the year 1962.
His grandmother raised him in Latta, South Carolina, when his mother, Lucille, relocated to Pittsburgh for business. Charles Jackson was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and he never knew his father. He was raised on gospel music and made his first radio broadcast at six.
By the time he was eleven years old, he was in charge of a choir. He left a scholarship to attend South Carolina State College due to segregation and moved to Cleveland, where he joined the Raspberry Gospel Singers.
He left the group after a year and joined the US Military before relocating to Pittsburgh in 1957 when he sung The Lord’s Prayer to a local music producer named Joe Aberbach.
Aberbach had no use for religious music, but he got Jackson a spot in the mixed-race singing group the Del-Vikings, whose baritone singer was departing and whose national hits included Come Go With Me (1957). A few months later, while on tour with the band, Jackson met vocalist Jackie Wilson, an established talent who inspired him to follow his lead and become a solo artist.
Jackson made his debut recordings for modest labels like Clock and Beltone while touring as Wilson’s backup act before being signed in 1961 by producer and songwriter Luther Dixon to Florence Greenberg’s Scepter/Wand company, along with the Shirelles, Dixon’s female proteges.
I Don’t Want to Cry (1961), Jackson’s debut single for the Wand label, had a buoyant rhythm and ecstatic violins, but a dignified melancholy was already audible. Based on the singer’s experiences with an unfaithful partner, the song’s lyrics were co-written by him and Dixon.
It peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard R&B chart, and Bacharach and Hal David’s more overtly depressing song, I Wake Up Crying, achieved No. 13 on the same chart later in the year.
A few months later, Bacharach teamed with Hilliard, his other regular collaborator at the time, to write Any Day Now, in which a piping organ introduced Jackson’s somber reading of a lyric containing strikingly poetic images:
“Any day now, when your restless eyes meet someone new / Oh, to my sad surprise / Then the blue shadows will fall all over town / Any day now, love will let me down.”
The voices of the Warwick sisters, Dionne and Dee Dee, and their aunt, Cissy Houston, could be heard in the backdrop of Bacharach’s dramatic arrangement, based on a foreboding beat pounded out on a broken ashtray and a muffled tom-tom.
Jackson’s biggest hit barely cracked the pop Top 20 while peaking at No. 2 on the R&B chart, and it drew numerous cover versions. Bacharach always played the song during his concerts, but it was never as effective as when Jackson first performed it and conjured up those blue shadows sweeping the city.
The success of his next song, I Keep Forgettin’, was practically identical. Using a variety of boobams, tom-toms, and a glockenspiel creating rapid rhythms held together by the singer’s tremendous urgency, Teacho Wiltshire’s arrangement made a shockingly prominent use of percussion.
Below you can see the related tweet from Chuck Jackson as posted by The Guardian:
Chuck Jackson obituary https://t.co/tps74Q2bTg
— The Guardian (@guardian) February 23, 2023
His fans were gratified by a string of uptown soul ballads, such as Getting Ready for the Heartbreak, Tell Him I’m Not Here, and I Need You, and his duets with Brown, although they had less of an impact on the charts. Through his connection with Smokey Robinson.
He secured a contract with Motown in 1968, although just three albums and several singles were successful. Later, he recorded for Dakar, ABC, Channel, and EMI America. In 1992, he recorded a duets album with Houston for the Shanachie label.
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A Grammy-nominated duet he recorded with Dionne Warwick in 1997 cemented his friendship with her. Hardcore soul fans, especially in the UK, flocked to compilations of obscure, unheard-of, unreleased recordings from his formative years.
Chuck had two children and two marriages. He first met Helen Cash, his second wife, in 1959. They were wed 20 years later. She worked as an arts coordinator for the New York State Council on the Arts before being away in 2013.