Sometimes you have to leave home to find success. It’s never easy to pack up your whole life and take it to another city, and even harder if you’re traveling to a new country. These days it seems like all the rage for musicians to move to Nashville. Some achieve their dreams, but more are never heard from again.
J.J. Jackson has one of the more interesting stories in the soul music annals, and one that might surprise you. Jerome Lewis Jackson was born in Gillet, Arkansas in 1941. He began his career in music as a songwriter and arranger, penning songs for artists as disparate as “Brother” Jack McDuff, Jimmy Witherspoon, and the Shangri-Las. In fact, Jackson’s song “It’s Easier to Cry” was the B-side of the massive Shangri-Las hit “Remember (Walking in the Sand).”
In 1966, Jackson’s manager arranged for him to come to England, and that’s where Jackson struck gold. Despite the fact that “But It’s Alright” has the sound of a Stax/Volt classic, with its chopping guitar riff and brassy horn parts, the record was actually recorded in England. Some of Great Britain’s most notable jazz musicians played the session, including guitarist Terry Smith, sax player Dick Morrissey, and drummer John Marshall. These musicians would continue to work with Jackson as the core of the band that played on the two albums that followed.
The “But It’s Alright” session was produced by Lew Futterman, and the song was arranged, conducted, and co-written by Jackson. The infectious single, originally released on Calla Records in 1966, made it to #22 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #4 on the Billboard Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles chart. The album, also named But It’s Alright, reached #24 on the Billboard Hot R&B LPs chart.
Jackson’s follow-up single for Calla was “I Dig Girls.” It didn’t do nearly as well as “But It’s Alright,” but it did chart in the Top 100 and Jackson’s future seemed bright, with two chart appearances right off the bat. However the next Calla release, “Four Walls (Three Windows and Two Doors),” did not make the pop chart. He didn’t know it at the time, but Jackson would never have another original issue chart record.
“But It’s Alright” would have a second life. At the end of the ’60s Warner Brothers bought the Calla catalog, and re-released the single in May, 1969. It didn’t do quite as well as the first release, but did manage to make it to #45 on the pop chart the second time out.
Jackson’s days on the charts came to an end, but he continued to perform in England into the early ’70s. His early singles became highly sought after by Northern Soul collectors, and “But It’s Alright” is regarded as a classic example of Carolina Beach Music. To this day, anywhere that people are dancing to soul music you’re likely to hear the DJ spin “But It’s Alright,” the Stax record that wasn’t.