Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael, five brothers from Gary, Indiana, known originally as The Jackson 5 and later The Jacksons, rose to fame for their combination of extraordinary musical talent and spectacular choreography. They soon earned the status of pop royalty in the music world, providing the launch pad for what would become Michael Jackson’s legendary solo career.
They have blessed millions with their incredible musical vision, a vision that continues to enthuse and inspire the population of our planet. To celebrate an incredible 50 hit-making years The Jacksons are touring the UK this summer, and half a century on these guys are just as popular. Their talent transcends all other artists. For them performing is as easy as A,B,C…
I remember as a child dancing in front of the gas fire on our fake fur rug twisting like a whirling dervish to Blame It on the Boogie, and Shake Your Body Down. I simply loved The Jackson 5 and like millions of others they were the soundtrack to my life. Never, ever did I even suspect for one minute that I would have the opportunity to chat to a member of The Jacksons, but here I sit 40 years on eagerly awaiting Tito Jackson’s phone call.
It’s almost tea-time in England, but for Tito it’s early morning in sunny California and after researching him thoroughly (or so I thought), I had discovered he likes to start the day with a bowl of oatmeal. Trying to sound knowledgeable I ask him if he’s started the day off with a bowl. “Oatmeal?” he replies in the recognisable, gentle ‘Jackson’ tone, “that’s a bad word to me, it used to make me sick and my brother Jackie sick as a kids. When you meet Jackie, say ‘let’s go get some oatmeal,’ and watch his face.”
Tito is definitely in a mischievous mood, and when I ask him if he’ll be wearing any of his crazy costumes from his Jackson 5 days, his answer is one I certainly didn’t envisage. “I don’t know what I’m going to wear, I might wear a dress!” He seems pleased when I suggest that he’d look great in a frock and stilettoes, and if he was really lucky I’d have a dig around in my wardrobe to see if I could bring a couple of dresses for him to try. Mind you, I don’t reckon he’d appreciate a reduced chain store summer dress from 1997, this guy has taste, and when I compliment him on his signature bowler hat making him look very British he laughs, “I take my bowler hat everywhere with me and sometimes I do wear it on stage with The Jacksons. I adopted the bowler hat back in the nineties when 3T (his son’s group) were embarking on their career, and it’s stuck with me ever since. I think he looks great in it and when I suggest that he reminds me of a rather cool James Bond villain, he goes quiet, and replies by saying “a villain, you say?”
I realise I may have gone a step too far and swiftly attempt to recover the situation by saying, “a nice James Bond villain, you know, a really kind type of villain!”
Moving rapidly on I change direction and restore the conversation by asking how they manage to choose which songs to play on tour when they have a huge catalogue of signature tunes to pick from, do they pick them out of his bowler hat?
The whole show list was primarily put together by the fans. We asked the fans what songs they would like to hear.
It’s going to be a great party and high energy show, it’s going to be fun, it’s time to celebrate.
We also requested that they choose a couple of Michael’s songs so that way we can honour him in our own way.”
Michael is never far from his brothers’ thoughts and by incorporating him into their performances it helps to keep him close. The brothers have admitted in many an interview that they can still feel Michael’s energy almost to the point of ‘seeing him’ on the stage when performing.
The Jackson 5’s career was the product of the Motown machine and many of the musicians who derived from Motown have been described as Motown missionaries due to their careers being launched at a time when racial tensions in America were high. “We came through at the time of civil rights and they weren’t used to seeing blacks on TV and there we were, five young, black children, innocent and singing about love and peace which helped break through the colour barriers throughout the rest of the world at the time.”
Tito has played to millions of fans throughout the world and still admits to having “little butterflies that fly around his belly,” when he performs, “I have a drink of water to drown them!” He laughs. Not only can The Jacksons sing they’re also renowned for ‘busting’ some pretty smooth dance moves and despite him playing guitar he has no problems keeping up with his brothers. “I have to learn the piece over because the coordination of dancing and playing the guitar can be tricky. I just have to get my hands and fingers moving at the same time as my feet. It can be challenging at times, but, I’m used to doing it.”
I ask Tito if he had to choose to lose something dear to him what would it be. Would it be his voice, his hands, meaning he could no longer play guitar or his feet so he could no longer dance; what would it be?
“My feet probably,” he answers, “I could always roll around in a wheelchair!”
Despite being in the music business 50 years, 2016 saw the launch of Tito’s very first album, aptly named Tito Time, which led me onto wondering if Tito had any plans to include his latest single When The Magic Happens.
“We’ve been discussing that and hopefully that will come into fruition. When The Magic Happens, is my very first single and it’s with Jocelyn Brown.”
He’s clearly excited about his latest single and his first ever album, but why has it taken him so long?
“I started on a record years ago with Motown but in the middle of recording my father decided to take The Jacksons to another company. Then I got married, discovered I was going to be a father and was so busy with The Jacksons that my personal career dipped, and then another kid came two years later, and then another. Therefore, to release a solo record
and go on tour with Jackson 5 whilst raising three children would have been impossible. I had just begun coaching little league and was also enjoying playing music with my boys which led to them forming the group 3T. It was a great thing, and I’m glad I took that direction.”
From an early age his sons, Taj, Taryll and TJ appeared on stage and TV with their talented uncles and aunties securing their first recording deal as children in 1985.
The music industry can be a ‘dog eat dog’ industry to be in, so did Tito have any concerns about his sons following him into the musical arena? “No, it’s something they’ve always wanted. As far as I’m concerned if you’re balanced and you know right from wrong, you can survive this business. It’s the people who can’t stay balanced, the ones that go on the wrong side of the fence that struggle.”
The Jackson clan still continue to entertain and inspire the whole world. It isn’t blood that runs
through their veins, it’s music with a capital M. This family certainly know how to strut their stuff, and out of all The Jacksons Tito tells me there is just one family member who simply can’t sing or dance. He’s never performed and prefers the quieter life. “Nobo really cannot sing,” says Tito, “Nobo walks around on four feet, he’s our dog!”
So how would Tito have felt if his off-spring lacked any sense of rhythm and musicality, would he have been disappointed?
He pauses before he responds, “it wouldn’t bother me one bit. They are all good athletes and brilliant kids. They’re very smart and all have degrees.”
He’s obviously been a great father and believes strongly about the importance of spending time with his kids, stating that he was “afraid not to.”
Tito is obviously 3T’s biggest fan, and admits he sees a lot of similarities between them and the Jacksons, and how they have a ‘Michael tone’ to their voices. His youngest son TJ aka Tito Joe Jackson has parental guardianship of Michael’s three children, Prince, Paris, and Blanket.
Tito first travelled to the UK in November 1972 with The Jackson 5 and was met at Heathrow Airport by 10,000 screaming fans and were mobbed, and almost strangled Michael by tugging on his scarf.
“That was quite exciting. I remember it well. They all followed us to the hotel and blocked the traffic and kept us awake singing Jackson 5 songs all night long.
“What I love about the UK is that there is always a new fan, there’s always a youngster that loves your music. The music is played by mum and dad, and then handed down.”
The Jackson 5’s manager was their father Joe Jackson, so I wondered if their dad still had input into The Jacksons, “my father will always have some input, because he’s the king. If he wants input, he gets it. But he’s pretty much enjoying his life these days.”
With such an extensive tour schedule where does he get his energy from? “Me and my brothers have always been athletic types when we’re not on stage we’re playing basketball or baseball, none of us really smoked, drank or took drugs, even though I like the odd cigar here and there, I think we’re in pretty good shape and our father has a strong tolerance for life, so it’s in the genes!”
At the tender age of 13 Tito hit the big time with the Jackson 5, but how old was he when he managed to grasp the enormity of their success and fame?
“You know, Karen, believe it or not, me and my brothers often talk about this. We didn’t realise the impact we had until later in life. We were so busy and excited and having so much
fun, but it was only when people started calling us legends and we were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 we knew we had made a mark.”
As the interview draws to a close, sweet Tito has been a pleasure to chat to and as we say our goodbyes, he closes our conversation with, “I look forward to meeting you Karen!” Who’d have thought it? Tito wants to meet me. Ginger, freckly, Karen from Keighley.
“Me too,” I reply. “That’d be great, I’ll be there, with a couple of frocks for you to try on, they’ll look great with your bowler hat!”
The Jacksons play Haydock Park Racecourse on 7th July, tickets available via www.thejockeyclublive.co.uk.