Sun | Dec 9, 2018

The Music Diaries: Soul legend Jackie Wilson's moves widely influential

Published:Sunday | November 8, 2015 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Jamaican Jackie Opel was rated alongside Jackie Wilson.
Michael Jackson (left) of the Jackson Five Brothers performing at the National Stadium in 1975. Second left is Tito, while Jackie is at right and second right is Marlon. Randy is at extreme left.

Many musicologists agree that most of Michael Jackson's dance moves were highly influenced by the 1950s R&B Soul legend Jackie Wilson. Wilson, an energetic dynamo who wowed audiences with his physical prowess, unleashed a barrage of scintillating dance moves during his time, which, at times, defied the laws of gravity. While on stage, he would jump, flip, and do full splits, which captivated audiences, while having them perched precariously on the edge of their seats. He was most adept on Rock and Roll pieces like That's why I love you So, I'll Be Satisfied, and Lonely Teardrops.

But Wilson was much more than dance. His was the voice that commanded a lot of respect. With a four-octave tenor vocal range that perhaps could be equalled only by Roy Hamilton and tenor king Mario Lanza, Wilson charted over two dozen hits with his high-pitched tenor voice during the 1960s.

Born Jack Leroy Wilson in the motor car city of Detroit, Michigan, on June 9, 1934, Wilson and Motown's boss-to-be, Berry Gordy Jr, became close friends as teenagers, tied by similar pugilistic inclinations. Wilson was a successful Golden Gloves Boxer, but neither of the youngsters stayed in that field for long as Gordy ventured into songwriting, while Wilson opted for the recording studios.

The association resulted in the irrepressible R&B tearjerker Lonely Teardrops, his first American top 10 hit, co-written by Berry Gordy and released in 1958.

When performed on stage by Wilson, it gave the earliest glimpse of what was to come from Michael Jackson in the following decades as he belted out the lyrics:

"Sho-bee-doo bop bop bop

My heart is crying crying, lonely teardrops

My pillow's never dry of lonely teardrops

Come home, come home, home

Just say you will, say you will.

Just give me another chance

for our romance.

Come on and tell me that one day you'll return

Cause, every day that you've gone away

you know my heart does nothing but crying."




Like so many others, Wilson started out singing gospel, earning his musical education as a member of The Ever Ready Gospel Singers, a Baptist Church group. At age 16, he entered the boxing ring, but on the advice of his mother, he quit and went into music. When he entered the music field, he was still using his boxing name - Sonny Wilson, and in fact, he recorded a couple of singles and won a number of talent shows using that name.

It was at one of these talent shows that he was discovered by the popular talent scout Johnny Otis, who helped Wilson to land a spot in the very popular doo-wop group The Dominos in 1953. They had just recently created quite a stir, acquiring immense popularity almost overnight with their risquÈ rendition of a song named Sixty-Minute Man, which went to number one on the R&B charts and stayed there for an unprecedented 14 weeks.

Wilson was, therefore, on solid ground when he joined the Dominos. In addition, he ran into the larger-than-life lead vocalist of the Dominos - Clyde McPhatter - who was on the verge of leaving to form the Drifters group.

Apprenticed to McPhatter, Wilson quickly learnt the group's vocal and dance routines and soon stepped into the lead-singing role.

After singing lead on a few songs and having a disagreement with group leader Billy Ward, Wilson quit the Dominos to pursue a solo career with Decca Records subsidiary Brunswick Records.

His first hit with the label, Reet Petite (the sweetest little girl in town), again saw his boxing friend and Motown Records' boss-to-be Berry Gordy having a hand in the writing. Gordy returned with his sister, Gwendolyn, and Billy Davis to pen Wilson's breakthrough pop hit, To be Loved, in 1958. Accompanied by sweeping strings, Wilson was in a rather subdued and soulful mood as he sang:

"Someone to care, someone to share

Lonely hours and moments of despair

To be loved, to be loved, oh what a feeling to be loved

Someone to kiss, someone to miss, when you're away

To hear from each day.

To be loved, to be loved, oh what a feeling to be loved.

Some wish to be a king or a Queen

Some wish for fortune or fame

But to be truly truly loved, is more than any of these things."

The writing trio penned several other hit songs for Wilson, including the Rock and Roll cuts I'll be Satisfied (1959) and That's Why (I love you So) - 1959.

An all-round entertainer and one of the most explosive forces in soul music, Wilson, who was nicknamed Mr Excitement, recorded some 50 hit singles, 16 of which entered the R&B top 10 and 14 that entered Billboard's hot 100.


Top 10 hit


By the turn of the decade, Wilson had turned his attention to the lucrative cabaret circuit, deviating from the areas of Blues, R&B, and Soul and venturing into semi-operatic ballads with songs like Night (1960), Empty Arms (1961), and Alone at Last (1961) - a top 10 hit, and one taken from a theme by Tchaikovsky. It was a period of enormous success for him as he broke box office records all over America.

During the height of his success, he surprised many with the tantalising top 20 blues ballad Doggin' me around.

With the rise of new Soul stars in the early 1960s, Wilson's sales and career went into decline but were soon revived with the recordings Whispers (1966) and Higher and Higher (1967).

He had more successes in 1967 and 1968 before his career went into rapid decline. Marred by tragedy, he entered drug rehab in 1968 and in September 1975, collapsed at a New Jersey nightclub, hitting his head and sustaining massive brain damage from which he never recovered until the time of his death on January 21, 1984.

Wilson has been credited with influencing Michael Jackson, Prince, Elvis Presley, and the Barbadian, Jackie Opel. Opel, who adopted Wilson's first name, made an invaluable contribution to Jamaica's ska music in the 1960s.