It’s not even 9am in California, but it’s already Tito Time, with the third eldest Jackson sibling more than happy to share a few stories from his impressive career.
Guitarist and vocalist Tito – real name Toriano Adaryll Jackson – was a founder member of both The Jackson 5 and their successors The Jacksons, having been on board right from the start, originally performing with eldest brother Jackie and next-in-line Jermaine as the Jackson Brothers. It’s been something of a rollercoaster ever since, with many highs and a few lows, not least the death of third youngest sibling Michael in 2009. And after all those years with the family firm, the 63-year-old has released his first solo LP, while continuing to tour alongside his brothers on their 50th anniversary tour.
The Jacksons have performed as a four-piece since a 2012 reunion, with Tito, Jackie (aged 66) and Jermaine (62) joined by fellow Jackson 5 survivor Marlon (60), who first came to the party with Michael in 1964. And what a band, that combination of musical talent and choreography earning them pop royalty status, having sold more than 100 million records since their splendid Steeltown Records debut Big Boy in 1968, notching up 25 UK top-40 hits along the way – 12 of those making the top-10. What’s more, their breakthrough Motown successes I Want You Back and ABC, which first charted this side of the Atlantic in early 1970, remain as fresh as ever today.
Michael was soon at the forefront, barely 12 by the time the band became the first act to score US Billboard No.1s with their first four singles. And while he embarked on a solo career from 1971, he remained on board with the family band for 20 years. In fact, it was Jermaine who was first to leave, sticking with Motown as a solo artist while his brothers switched to Epic, youngest bro Randy joining for a re-brand, as per the 1976 LP The Jacksons.
They quickly re-established themselves, not least thanks to their sole UK No.1, the Gamble and Huff-penned Show You the Way to Go, from that eponymous LP, and 1978’s Destiny‘s first singles, Blame it on the Boogie (written – confusingly – by England’s own Mick Jackson, who had an earlier, arguably more Stevie Wonder-like hit with it) and the Michael and Randy co-write Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground).
In time Jermaine returned, the 1983 Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever live TV special followed by 1984’s Victory album (the only LP featuring all six brothers), but Michael then jumped ship – properly on his way to a glittering career in his own right – and Marlon soon after. I should also point out – in this somewhat confusing family history – that throughout that period there was contrasting solo success for the Jackson sisters too, eldest sibling Rebbie and middle sis La Toya’s careers outshone by that of youngest sibling Janet from the mid-‘80s onwards.
Meanwhile, Tito and co. carried on until 1989, a reunion of all six brothers following 12 years later, two shows at Madison Square Garden, New York City, marking Michael’s 30th solo career anniversary. There were talks and moves towards another reunion too, but then came 2009’s devastating turn of events. Yet the remaining Jackson 4 got back together five years ago for the Unity tour, gigging on and off ever since. In fact, this ‘boy band’ with a difference – 251 years old between them – are set to return to these shores for the opening night of Blackpool’s Livewire Festival on Friday, August 25th, and the following day’s CarFest South, near Overton in Hampshire. And if the brothers get anywhere near their recent form in a 19-song set at Glastonbury Festival, those Tower Headlands Arena and Laverstoke Park Farm audiences are in for a treat. So did Tito enjoy his visit to Worthy Farm with his brothers?
“Oh that was fun, that whole Glastonbury situation! All the people really enjoyed the show, and that was one of the band’s dreams – to do Glastonbury.”
There’s a special atmosphere there, isn’t there.
“There is, and we get it on the telly here as well, and of course every band in the world would love to be a part of that. Not only was it a good feeling but it was also a great accomplishment for the band.”
It also gave Tito the chance to share a couple of songs from his solo LP with the wider world, giving me the opening for that big question – why go it alone only now, after all these years?
“I can answer that quite easily. When Michael was putting out Got to Be There (1972) and when Jackie was putting out Jackie Jackson (1973), then Marlon was putting out his records and Jermaine was putting out his records as solo artists, Tito was busy holding bottles for the babies! I said to myself, ‘How can I be a solo artist when I’ve got these young children? How am I going to find the time to spend time with these kids, who are only kids one time in their life? I can always do the music thing later in life’.
“Later, my boys came to the Los Angeles Forum and watched the brothers perform, then came home and started mimicking the brothers. I told them, ‘If you really want to be like the uncles you’ll have to learn your instruments and learn to do this for real’. I opened up the studio and gave them my experience, and they seemed very interested. So I kept working with them on that instead of doing the solo career, letting the boys be who they were.
“It was more feasible for me to help them out, and I’m glad I did it that way. I now look at my sons as nice young men – they’re brilliant and they’re not disobedient in any fashion. And I contribute that to the time I spent with them when they were younger kids.”
It’s also given you a self-made vocal trio to contribute to your album.
“Exactly! There’s a saying that it’s never too late to follow your dreams, and I’m one of the people trying to prove that to the world you can still have that success and it’s not over until the fat lady sings! And I’m enjoying this as much as when I Want You Back came out or ABC, enjoying my solo career at this age.”
There are some big names helping you out too, such as Big Daddy Kane, Betty Wright, Jocelyn Brown …
“Yeah, and 3T!”
Of course, and to put a fresh spin on a sentiment from the mighty Sam Cooke, it’s been a long time coming, but finally it’s Tito Time, yeah?
“It’s Tito Time, yeah! Not only that, but I’m not the only one who’s recognising that. My brothers are as well, supporting me wholeheartedly when I’m doing my music on stage. They’re right there with me, singing with me. And we’ve always been a family where if one brother does well, It shines with our whole family. So that’s where we are with that.”
Tito was looking forward to his UK return when we spoke, enjoying a little ‘off-time’ at home in Calabasas on the outskirts of Los Angeles. California’s been his home since 1968 – when he was 15, Michael was 10 and youngest sister Janet was barely two – and these days he divides his time between there and Las Vegas, Nevada, as do several of the brothers and his parents. So when was the last time he got back to Gary, Indiana, where the Jackson story started?
“A little less than a year ago. My Mum has an annual tribute show there in honour of my brother Michael.”
“Oh man! When I go back there, I can look at some of the things I did when I was a kid, some of my landmarks, such as the time I took a hammer to the wall in the bedroom. I still see the patchwork!”
Was that a release of teen angst?
“I don’t know what I was doing! I was probably trying to hang up a picture of something! There’s all kinds of memories in the home at 2300 Jackson Street and when we go there we can reminisce and still feel the vibe.”
As the band are currently part-way through a 50th anniversary tour, I asked Tito which of those early shows he remembers best? Was it, for example, their first appearance at the Apollo Theater, Harlem, New York, victors on an amateur night there in February, 1968, or their return to support Etta James at the same iconic venue three months later?
“Oh yeah, that was definitely one of the bigger moments for us. Also, the audition for Motown and The Ed Sullivan Show (both 1969). You can never forget those type of situations. They were ground-breaking moves for the young band, The Jackson 5, that stick with us. Also, being invested in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (1997) and the Victory tour (1984), further good memories for the band. Yeah, it’s been great.”
I hope this doesn’t make you feel old, but that first Apollo performance was barely three months after I was born.
“Well, that’s quite okay. No big deal. It’s funny how people often say how it’s been 50 years. It doesn’t seem that way to me or the brothers, it’s seems like half that time. We enjoy what we do, and when you enjoy what you do, time is not a factor. We just want to get up and have a good time and continue to do what you do. And that’s what we do.
“One thing I like about the situation with the brothers is that we’ve preserved our bodies and our health. We were a family act and our father made sure we got our rest and didn’t go out and party and do all those crazy things that a lot of other entertainers do. We’ve always had that guidance from our father and mother, who always looked over us and kept us as a family.”
There have been upheavals though, including a few false dawns as well as landmark moments like the 1978 self-produced Destiny album. Was that the band finally stepping out of the shadows? For one thing, I understand you were finally free to play guitar on your own records for the first time.
“Yep, I got to play the guitar on my records, and a lot of the songs we did on the Destiny album I had started writing, like the song Destiny, which originated in my cabin in Big Bear. I called my cabin Destiny because it was a place away from home where I could get away and not be found. And that was a good time, our first time doing solo writing and producing, and a breaking time in our career where we had to step it up.”
Now, all those years on, you seem to still like each other judging by all those reunion tours. Do you see a lot of each other when you’re not working?
“Oh yeah. We have special days – holidays or birthdays for cousins and their kids and all participate in those events. We see each other all the time. As long as there’s a way whenever we’re in town. Absolutely!”
And what do those six grandchildren of yours make of Grandad Tito going still being out there, on the road?
“Well, as long as I bring them some t-shirts and candy and a couple of souvenirs, they deal with it … yeah!”
Time flies, and it’s hard to believe it’s been eight years now since we lost Michael. What do you think of first when you remember him?
“The first thing I think of is of him being my brother and the love we had for each other as brothers. That’s what I miss more than anything. Then I think of how brilliant he was as an entertainer, one of the greatest entertainers that ever held a microphone and hit a stage. I can’t deny him of that just because he was my brother. I have to recognise that he was a great. I tell people Michael would have been a leader in anybody’s band, even if he was in The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. He will definitely be missed. He was magical and different and very brilliant, he was a genius and I miss him tremendously. And the whole world misses Michael Jackson.”
“I love the blues, and I love listening to top-40 radio, and I put on my favourite radio stations and work on my cars. That’s what I do in my off-time.”
I get the impression from all that’s been written about the family over the years that we have you down as the Jackson brother with the inner calm. That’s how they like to portray you anyway – the quiet one, but he knows where he’s coming from and where he’s going. Is that about right?
“Yeah, well, when I speak, everybody listens! I don’t say too much but when I have something to say they’ll listen. I’m not saying that they take my advice though!”
I know you have a strong faith, but do you believe in fate? I’m thinking in particular of when you were 10 years old and caught playing your Dad’s guitar. Was that the spark that started this whole journey for you and your brothers?
“A lot of people say that, but I don’t know. There was so much happening around that time, and Jermaine, Jackie and I were singing harmonies behind my mother – country and western songs. With the guitar thing, my father played and didn’t want us to mess with it, but my mother let me play it, and I broke a string and didn’t know how to fix it, and he found out.
“He spoke to me for it, and then put it in my lap and told me to show him what I knew. And when I started playing, his mouth flew open! He gave me the guitar and told me to learn every song I heard on the radio. So I started learning The Temptations and all that, playing songs like My Girl, with Jackie, Jermaine and myself singing, starting to work out parts for these songs. It just grew into a group … and the rest is history!”
The Jacksons, supported by The Christians and Mica Paris, play Blackpool’s Tower Headlands Arena on Friday, August 25th for the Livewire Festival, with recent writewyattuk interviewee Pete Waterman introducing the Hit Factory Live on Saturday (Jason Donovan, Pepsi & Shirlie, Go West, Sinitta, Sam Fox, Brother Beyond, Undercover), and Will Smith & DJ Jazzy Jeff plus Fatman Scoops, Phats & Small and Tiger-S rounding things off on Sunday. For ticket details and more information call the box office on 0871 220 0260, visit the official website or go to seetickets.com.
Tito, Jackie, Jermaine and Marlon then head for CarFest South, for a BBC Children in Need fundraiser at Laverstoke Park Farm, near Overton in Hampshire, on Saturday, August 27th, the bill also including Cast, KT Tunstall, Mel C, Seasick Steve and Sophie Ellis-Bextor. For further details go to the official website or the event’s Facebook page.