Jackie Wilson Part Two
It’s time for Jackie Wilson Part Two, so let’s get started.
Shortly after Jackie Wilson signed a solo contract with Brunswick, Green suddenly died. Green’s business partner Nat Tarnopol took over as Wilson’s manager (and ultimately rose to president of Brunswick). Wilson’s first single was released, “Reet Petite” (from his first album He’s So Fine), which became a modest R&B success (many years later, an international smash hit). “Reet Petite” was written by Berry Gordy Jr. (another former boxer who was a native son of Detroit), in which co-wrote “Reet Petite” with partner Roquel “Billy” Davis (often referred to as the pseudonym Tyran Carlo) and Gordy’s sister Gwendolyn. The trio composed and produced six additional singles for Wilson, in which were: “To Be Loved”, “I’m Wanderin'”, “We Have Love”, “That’s Why (I Love You So)”, “I’ll Be Satisfied” and Wilson’s late-1958 signature song, “Lonely Teardrops”, in which peaked at No. 7 on the pop charts, ranked No. 1 on the R&B charts in the U.S., and established Wilson as an R&B superstar known for his extraordinary, operatic multi-octave vocal range. Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops” sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.
Due to Wilson’s fervor when performing, with his dynamic dance moves, impassioned singing and impeccable dress, he was soon christened “Mr. Excitement”, a title Wilson kept for the remainder of his career. Jackie Wilson’s stagecraft in his live shows inspired James Brown, Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley, as well as a host of other artists that followed. Presley was so impressed with Wilson that he made it a point to meet him, and the two instantly became good friends. In a photo of the two posing together, Presley’s caption in the autograph reads “You got you a friend for life.”. Wilson was sometimes called “The Black Elvis”. Reportedly, when asked about this Presley said, “I guess that makes me the white Jackie Wilson.” Wilson also said he was influenced by Presley, saying “A lot of people have accused Elvis of stealing the black man’s music, when in fact, almost every black solo entertainer copied his stage mannerisms from Elvis.”
Wilson’s powerful, electrifying live performances rarely failed to bring audiences to a state of frenzy. His live performances consisted of knee-drops, splits, spins, back-flips, one-footed across-the-floor slides, removing his tie and jacket and throwing them off the stage, and a great deal of basic boxing steps (advance and retreat shuffling, and one of his favorite routines, getting some of the less attractive women in the audience to come up to the stage and kiss him. Wilson often said “if I get the ugliest girl in the audience to come up and kiss me, they’ll all think they can have me and keep coming back and buying my records.”
Jackie Wilson was a regular on TV, making regular appearances on such shows as The Ed Sullivan Show, American Bandstand, Shindig!, Shivaree and Hullabaloo. His only movie appearance was in the rock and roll film Go, Johnny, Go!, where he performed his 1959 hit song “You Better Know It”.
In 1958, Davis and Gordy left Wilson and Brunswick after royalty disputes escalated between them and Nat Tarnopol. Davis soon became a successful staff songwriter and producer for Chess Records, while Gordy borrowed $800 from his family and used money he earned from royalties writing for Wilson to start his own recording studio, Hitsville USA, the foundation of Motown Records in his native Detroit. Meanwhile, convinced that Wilson could venture out of R&B and rock and roll, Tarnopol had the singer record operaticballads and easy listening material, pairing him with Decca Records’ veteran arranger Dick Jacobs.
Jackie Wilson scored hits as he entered the 1960s with the No. 15 “Doggin’ Around”, the No. 1 pop ballad “Night”, another million-seller, and “Baby Workout”, another Top 10 hit (No. 5), which he composed with The Midnighters member Alonzo Tucker. His songwriting alliance with Tucker also turned out other songs, including “No Pity (In The Naked City)” and “I’m So Lonely.” Top 10 hits continued with “Alone At Last” (No. 8 in 1960) and “My Empty Arms” (No. 9 in 1961).
Also in 1961, Wilson recorded a tribute album to Al Jolson, Nowstalgia … You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet, which included the only album liner notes he ever wrote: “… to the greatest entertainer of this or any other era … I guess I have just about every recording he’s ever made, and I rarely missed listening to him on the radio … During the three years I’ve been making records, I’ve had the ambition to do an album of songs, which, to me, represent the great Jolson heritage … This is simply my humble tribute to the one man I admire most in this business … to keep the heritage of Jolson alive.” The album was a commercial failure.
Following the success of “Baby Workout”, Wilson experienced a lull in his career between 1964 and 1966 as Tarnopol and Brunswick Records released a succession of unsuccessful albums and singles. Despite the lack of sales success, Wilson still made artistic gains as he recorded an album with Count Basie, as well as a series of duets with R & B artist LaVern Baker and gospel singer Linda Hopkins.
In 1966, Jackie Wilson scored the first of two big comeback singles with the established Chicago soul producer Carl Davis with “Whispers (Gettin’ Louder)” and “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher”,( No. 6 pop hit in 1967, became one of his final hits); followed by “I Get the Sweetest Feeling”, despite its modest initial chart success in the US (Billboard Pop #34), has since become one of his biggest international chart successes, ranking in Top 10 Twice in the UK in 1972 and in 1987,ranked Top 20 in the Dutch Top 40. “I Get the Sweetest Feeling” spawned numerous cover versions by other artists such as Edwin Starr, Will Young, Erma Franklin (Aretha Franklin’s sister) and Liz McClarnon.
A key to Jackie Wilson’s musical rebirth was Davis insisting that Wilson no longer record with Brunswick’s musicians in New York; instead, he recorded with legendary Detroit musicians normally employed by Motown Records and also Davis’ own Chicago-based session players. The Detroit musicians, known as the Funk Brothers, participated on Wilson’s recordings due to their respect for Davis and Wilson.
By 1975, Wilson and the Chi-Lites were the only significant artists left on Brunswick’s roster. Wilson had continued to record singles that found success on the R&B chart, but found no significant pop chart success. His final hit, “You Got Me Walkin'”, written by Eugene Record of the Chi-Lites, was released in 1972 with the Chi-Lites backing him on vocals and instruments.