Sources: SCMP | All Things Michael
The Jacksons, I’m told before speaking over the phone to the eldest brother, Jackie, from his home in Los Angeles, don’t talk about “family matters” in interviews.
Considering that they have made themselves the subject of a self-produced TV reality show, this reticence seems perverse. But now that they are back on the road as a touring band, and have a new album in the works, a desire to refocus public attention on their music is understandable.
The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty aired after Michael Jackson’s death. It was filmed without the participation of the youngest brother, Randy Jackson, who also chose not to take part in the Unity Tour which Jackie, Marlon, Tito and Jermaine undertook in 2012.
Rifts and reconciliations between the members of the Jackson family – which includes sisters Rebbie, La Toya and Janet – have provided gossip column fodder on and off since 1975, when all the brothers bar Jermaine left Motown, the label which released their hits as the Jackson 5, for a better-paying contract with Epic.
The real tragedy of Michael’s death in 2009 aside, the history of black America’s best-known showbusiness family is something of a soap opera – but one with an intermittently great soundtrack.
The four brothers now touring as The Jacksons will perform many of the highlights from a repertoire that is less dependent on the group’s most famous member than many might imagine – on November 1 at the annual Foreign Correspondents Club Charity Ball at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Although the Unity Tour officially finished in 2013, according to Jackie Jackson the brothers are undertaking occasional additional dates. “It’s pretty much an extension of the tour,” he says. “We hadn’t toured in quite a while and we’re looking forward to coming.”
The original Unity Tour included shows in Japan, Malaysia and Singapore, but not Hong Kong. This performance will come after a show in Jakarta on October 26.
The set list will be similar – a nostalgic canter through a long list of hits dating back to the days when Jackie, Michael, Marlon, Tito and Jermaine collectively became the first recording artists to reach No 1 in the Billboard Hot 100 with four consecutive singles.
The brothers began performing together in 1964 with five-year-old Michael playing percussion. Within a couple of years, he had become the group’s principal lead vocalist, but all the brothers sang, and their harmonies were the foundation for the group’s distinctive sound.
After the early run of Motown pop hits ran out, The Jacksons, as they became known after leaving the label, reinvented themselves as a funk outfit, and scored notable hits for the Epic label with Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground), co-written by Michael and Randy who had temporarily replaced Jermaine in the group, and Can You Feel It?, co-written by Michael and Jackie.
After the huge success of Michael’s 1982 album, Thriller, however, his solo career eclipsed the group. Their 1984 album, Victory, for which Jermaine rejoined and which accordingly featured all six brothers, was another hit, but after the supporting tour Michael and Marlon both left the family firm, and the glory days were over.
The brothers reunited in 2001 for two Madison Square Garden shows, but Michael’s death in 2009 put to rest any hopes of another full reunion. However, four of the surviving brothers still had something to prove, and reviews for their recent concerts suggest that even without the physical presence of their far more famous brother, The Jacksons remain a potent live act – and after 50 years in the business, certainly a well-rehearsed one.
“It comes quite easy because we’ve been doing it for so long,” says Jackie. “The hardest part is choosing the songs. Getting all of them into a two-hour show is really quite difficult, so we try to pick the songs we think people would really want to hear, but we change it up here and there. Jermaine might sing some of his solo hits and we’ll do some Michael songs as well. It’s such a workout on stage. It’s like going to the gym.”
The show is quite a production. About 22 employees travel with the brothers, including the band, back-up singers, tour managers and technicians, who handle the complexities of the sound, lighting, and the screens onto which snapshots from the Jacksons’ history are projected.
The brothers, Jackie says, think of Michael’s spirit as present, and the “tribute to Michael” section of the show, can get quite an emotional audience response. “Sometimes people are crying in the audience and then later it turns into laughter and dancing,” he says.
“The King of Pop” is a silent presence during the hits from his solo career, and also during the Jackson 5 medley on which his vocal was generally the lead. “I sing a lot of the parts in the medley, and then there’s Tito singing certain parts and Jermaine singing certain parts. We all share the vocals,” Jackie says.
The new album, as yet untitled, has been in the works for about two years, but is nearing completion. “We’re trying to get it finished for Christmas, but that probably won’t happen. It will be out next year, maybe in the first quarter,” Jackie says.
The brothers are up to speed with modern recording technology, but still use skills and techniques they learned in their early days in the Motown hit factory. “Back then it was about real recording, how to put a record together, how to record strings and a real brass section. Kids don’t know anything about that today because they’ve never had a chance to do that. You can’t work with 46 people on your song,” says Jackie. “You go back and look at all the Motown hits that Berry Gordy was able to put out during that era, great songs, great melodies, great lyrical content, and we learned so much from that. But it wasn’t just Motown then. There was Stax records, and the Philadelphia sound. Great music all over.”
Touring, however, is where the money is made for musicians these days, and Jackie and his brothers are aware of that. “You have to hit the road because records are not selling like they used to,” he says.
At 63, though, he says he still gets a kick out of performing. “We just want to keep making great music. Hopefully this album will be a success and we can keep touring from that – and doing what we do best, keep making great music, and making the people happy.”
The Jacksons, Foreign Correspondents Club Charity Ball, Nov 1, Convention and Exhibition Centre, 1 Expo Drive, Wan Chai, HK$2,488 (inclusive of dinner and drinks). Inquiries: 2521 1511 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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