Tito Jackson and his band are coming to Long Beach, to headline the Long Beach New Blues Festival on Saturday, November 13. The event will be held at a new location, the beautiful Shoreline Aquatic Park, on the water in Long Beach. This year, there is an awesome lineup of top blues artists playing, including Sugaray Rayford; Redd House; Laurie Morvan; Lester Lands; perennial Festival favorite the New Blues Revolution; Corday; East LA blues band The Disciplez; She Wears Black; Dano Forte and international blues star TJ & The Suitcase. Also featured will be a very special performance by Bill Grisolia and the New Blues Festival All-Stars.
Tito Jackson really needs no introduction. He’s been playing blues guitar since he was a child. Growing up in a musical family, he sang and played guitar with his family’s group which we all know as the Jackson 5. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, the Jackson 5’s unique sound took the world by storm. Although Tito Jackson loved performing their “bubblegum soul” sound that captivated millions, Tito’s desire to play the blues never went away. As they grew older, brothers Michael, Jermaine, Marlon and Jackie continued performing pop and soul music, while Tito went on to become a blues guitarist and singer.
Tito Jackson talked to the Los Angeles Beat recently about his musical history, how he began loving the blues, his latest album Under Your Spell; and headlining the upcoming Long Beach News Festival.
Q: Hello, Tito. You came from a pop and R&B background with one of the most famous groups ever. At what point did you get into the blues?
A: It started long, long before the Jackson 5 even started. My Father and my Uncle Luther would get together on the weekends and play blues guitars; they both were guitarists; and I used to be a little boy sitting there staring at their fingering, seeing what they were doing and enjoying what they were doing. My father used to play the guitar and he’d tell me; and my brothers when he’d go to work, “don’t touch my guitar!” Telling a little kid that around seven or eight years old that is like saying “touch my guitar!”. I wondered what I could do. So I would take the guitar out of the closet and out of the case and played it for months; and my mom would let me do it”. She’d let me know when my father would be back, saying “Your father will be back in an hour of so, better put that back”. Then I broke a string….and he found that I had been playing his guitar. He punished me really well for it! He put it in my lap and told me, “Show me what you know!”. So I’m playing and crying and he was surprised to see me playing something very basic, very simple. So he wound up giving me the guitar but told me he wanted me to learn every song I liked on the radio. He said he’d get himself another one when he got his paycheck.
So that’s how basically I started playing guitar and playing blues stuff because this was even before the brothers were even singing as a group. We had been doing some little harmonizing with our mom when she she was washing dishes and such. As far as having a band, the Jackson Five or the three of us, we hadn’t organized it at that point. My Father and my Uncle would come over and I would jam with them. They would play a little bass, you know ”dum-de dum-de-dum de-dum-de-dum”, the simple parts, of course. And at that jam session they’d give me a chance to do a solo, no matter how bad it sounded or whatever; it was my turn. I would wait that whole session just for that one moment to come.
That’s basically how we started the Jackson Five, prior to going to Motown Sound, we’d be playing a lot of blues sets. We’d include about five or six blues numbers every time we did a show. Once we made it to Motown, we didn’t do any more blues because we started having all these records and our audience wasn’t a blues audience, so we wrote out our blues songs. We didn’t have that many, we would cover other artist’s songs. The only other time I got to play blues at that time and point, is that there was an accident on stage, one of the other brothers were playing when the microphones went out. He hollered out, “Tito play some blues!” (laughs). That hardly happened, but it happened a few times.
Q: Who were your early influences, both in your early music; and the influences that have led you to the blues?
A: It started when I started listening to people like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Chuck Berry—-the old school. Elmore James; way back because those were the records that my parents play a lot around the house. Albert King as well. That’s where I got it from, because it was those type of records; and I just fell in love with that music at that point. I always wanted to do it on stage, but that wasn’t what we were doing at the time. The only time I really played my blues was when I played by myself. Or, like I said, something went crazy on stage and it gave me the opportunity.
Q: Your new album, Under Your Spell, doesn’t just have blues sidemen with you; but it brings legends from a whole range of music to play with you. How was it to work with soul legend Stevie Wonder, jazz legend George Benson, rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa, several members of the O’Jays and many more top-flight musicians. Blues singer Bobby Rush and your brother Marlon Jackson also appear on this new album. Why did you pick such a diverse selection of musicians for the album.
A: Well you know that there’s such a thing as people are saying, “Keep the blues alive”. The blues is a music that’s responsible for all the music we play. It is played in pop music, whether it is R&B or whatever. What I was basically trying to do with that is try to lure more ears, because Eddie Levert lovers, he’s one of the R&B singers (O’Jays), might listen to this blues song he’s singing and maybe they’ll become a blues fan. You never know! Of course, Stevie happens to be a cousin way down the line with the Jacksons, so it’s great to have him on the CD as well.
George Benson—I was traveling at the time with the BB King Blues Band and we were going through Arizona. We stopped by and we had some tracks already figured out. We were doing a collaboration, but myself and Loretta Scott and the BB King Blues Band were doing a tribute to BB which was Rock Me Baby. We actually invited him to come join along and play a chorus and he did. We loved having George Benson on the record.
Q: Love One Another is a really good tune, both catchy and meaningful. What’s the story behind the song and the video ?
A: The story behind the song…we had finished the album. My producer and I had listened to the songs we had selected and we just felt there was nothing that was universal ‘Jackson bluesy’, that sound came up especially after we sang the song to Katherine in January. We needed to tell people to Love One Another. Just like that, we came up with the song Love One Another.
Since the message from the song is so strong, I said to myself that it would be better if I had some advice on the song; on the record. I said that on the video, it would be nice if I could get special guests to reach out and help me remind the world—plus, every Kardashian fan is not a Tito Jackson fan; and so on and so on—Magic Johnson, basketball player, might not be a Jackson fan and might never hear the song, unless they see Magic! Then they’ll pay attention to what he’s doing and what he’s saying. That part is the whole thing of what I’m trying to let people know, we all need to love each other. We need to remind each other of it, because when we’re in relationships like with our wives, we need to say “I love you”, but we don’t show that. And the world too—it’s too bad.
Q: Are you happy to be headlining the Long Beach New Blues Festival this year?
A: I’m very pleased about that. It’s something that I’m looking forward to, knowing that it’s close to my hometown, so I’m very pleased about that show.
Q: Have you spent much time in Long Beach? Do you know the new Shoreline Park waterside location it will be at?
A: I’ve gone through Long Beach on the 405 pretty much, headed down to San Diego a few times this year; but haven’t been down there in a while. I’ve been down there visiting the Queen Mary for a few openings there. That’s pretty much my history with Long Beach California.
Q: That’s great, because you can actually see the Queen Mary from Shoreline Aquatic Park.
Q: Tell me a story from the road….
A: When I was a young kid with the Jackson 5 we were traveling to London for the first time; and the—it’s a cute story—we were coming in to the airport and there were thousands of fans on hand outside of the airport. We had to walk through all this crowd and we got torn to pieces! By the time we got to the car I got left outside the car because the brothers ran, rushed to the car and locked the doors and locked me out! Now I’m in a rush to the car, the limousine, holding on for dear life; and was banging on the windshield. They realized I was stuck outside the car but they weren’t. They were getting hair, pulling Afros; Michael had on a winter scarf. They were pulling one way, girls were pulling the other way—they were crazy. I’ll never forget that!
The end to my story is not at that same period, but we did a show for the Queen of England; one of the Jubilees and we got to meet the Queen after. She told us that her favorite song was Dancing Machine. Later that evening we got back to the hotel and we were laughing, because we were saying, “Could you imagine the Queen trying to do The Robot?”. (big laughs)
Q: Who is in the band that will be playing at the Long Beach New Blues Festival?
A: Oh, I have a few people in my band. I have the Regiment Horn Section. I have Mike Jackson, who is not a relative; I work with him quite often, he’s a singer. I have Chad Wright on drums, Brandon Brown on bass; and Cal Baldwin on guitar.
Q: anything else you’d like to add, Tito?
A: I’d just like to say thank you to everyone for supporting my career as well as my family. I would like for them to check out my album, Under Your Spell. There’s some great music and some happy songs. They’re the kind of songs that you would want to put on at a family gathering, or Christmas Season or a barbecue. Whatever you’re doing, it’s just happy blues. Enjoy; and I hope you give it a listen.
Q: Thank you Tito; and we’ll see you at the Long Beach New Blues Festival!
The Long Beach New Blues Festival takes place Saturday, November 13 at beautiful Shoreline Aquatic Park in Long Beach. Tickets are available for purchase withsales and information here. One of the nice features carried over from previous festivals are several ranges of tickets. General Admission ($50) includes access to all merchandise vendors, the beer trailer and the vendors bar. Gold Tickets ($100) add assigned stage front seating, waitress service, bottle service, preferential parking, discounts from the New Blues Festival Merch Booth; and access to all vendors. With VIP Tickets ($150), guests receive special access to the Backstage area, a stage front viewing area, VIP Lounge Happy Hour, catered food and non-alcoholic beverages; discounts on New Blues Festival Merch Booth and access to all vendors.
This should be an exceptional day with many top blues artists. Tito Jackson will be playing a wealth of songs from his new album Under Your Spell, as well as many other blues classics as well as new songs. For both those who have followed Tito for many years, as well as those seeking to hear what a top blues artist can do, this is the perfect show to go to. Make sure and get your tickets for the Long Beach New Blues Festival featuring Tito Jackson. You’ll be glad you did.
All photos courtesy of Doug Deutsch Publicity Services and Tito Jackson