Blues music has always held a special place in Tito Jackson’s heart. Before his stint in Jackson 5 and The Jacksons, a young Tito found himself fascinated by his father Joe’s guitar. On Saturdays, he would watch Joe and his brother Luther play blues music. On days his father worked, Tito would sneak into his parents’ room and play with the guitar, though his father told him not to touch it.
“I was hard-headed, of course,” Tito tells Rated R&B over a Zoom call. He eventually got caught when he accidentally broke a guitar string. When Joe found out that Tito had broken it, he asked him to play something for him. “He said show me what you know,” recalls Tito. “He gave me the guitar and said play every song you like on the radio.” When Tito showed off his skills, his father was impressed by what he heard.
Before signing to Motown Records as the Jackson 5, Tito and his brothers would perform around local talent shows in their hometown Gary, Indiana. He remembers incorporating blue songs in the show. Even as the Jackson 5, Tito says he would play blues music whenever there was downtime at one of their shows.
“We would only play blues if there was an accident on stage — the mic went out, or Michael split his pants or something,” says Tito. “They would yell, ‘Tito play some blues to kill time.’” Besides that, Tito didn’t have much of an outlet to express his love for blues. “I kept it in the closet until maybe, I’ll say, 20 years ago, I started doing solo things. I started playing blues all around the state and the world.”
Now, Tito isn’t holding back anymore. His second solo album, Under Your Spell, is pure blues at its finest. It follows his 2016 debut album, Tito Time, which explored more pop and R&B sounds.
“I did that for the record because everything the Jacksons had done was basically pop or R&B,” he explains. “I wanted the Jacksons fans to hear the record.”
Under Your Spell features a star-studded guest list, including George Benson, Joe Bonamassa, Marlon Jackson, Eddie Levert, Kenny Neal, Bobby Rush, and Stevie Wonder.
In our interview with Tito Jackson, the music icon dives more into his new album Under Your Spell, which is out now.
In past interviews, you mentioned that you were trying to prove the doubters wrong about pursuing a solo career for your first album. Did you still feel that you had something to prove with your second album?
No, not really. Either you like it, or you don’t. That’s what I learned. I released a video [“Love One Another”]. I had over 100,000 views in the last five or six days. I had 300-400 [comments] and 20 dislikes. As long as those numbers can stay like that, that tells me what I need to know. There’s always going to be a hater. You could have the most beautiful girl in the world, and somebody is going to call her ugly.
Let’s jump into your new album. Your single “Love One Another” features Stevie Wonder, Bobby Rush, and your brother Marlon Jackson. It has a very empowering message, something that the Jackson family is known for incorporating in their music. What was your experience creating that song?
This has been known ever since we’ve been pretty much doing this thing. We were brought up in the time of the civil rights movement. We know what it’s like to be discriminated against, and we still face that every once in a while. So to have that in your music, I think it’s very important to remind the world that we’re all the same. Let’s do away with racism. Let’s love one another. It’s time to stop fighting. It’s time to end police brutality towards certain races, or the split between Republicans and Democrats beyond politics. It’s okay to be a Republican. It’s okay to be a Democrat. It’s not okay to hate each other. We have to love one another and that’s unity.
What’s the story behind making “All In The Family Blues” with Eddie Levert and Kenny Neal?
Eddie Levert lives in my town, so I see him every once in a while. We don’t hang out but we’re friends that see each other around town here and there. We always talked about getting together and doing something, so I called him on that favor. Of course, he immediately said yes. Then I got to thinking, “What can I do with Eddie Levert with that killer voice that he has?” I couldn’t come up with nothing. I said, “Wait a minute. I’m going to call Kenny Gamble because he wrote hits for both of us.” I called Kenny and told him what the situation was. He said, “Let me get back to you in few days.” He got back to me with this song, “All In The Family Blues,” and it just fit like a glove. It fit perfectly.
You teamed up with B.B. King’s daughter Claudette to remake “Rock Me Baby.” What inspired you to cover a song by King?
B.B. King is my hero. I’ve always admired him ever since I was a young man. After he passed away, I went up to see his museum — that’s his gravesite, as well. I talked to the museum manager and asked him, “What is the band doing right now?” He said, “They’re not doing too much. They did a couple of things for a few people. They did some with Bonnie Raitt, then a few other blues artists, but they’re not doing too much. B.B. wanted them to continue even if he was gone.” So, I said, “You think they would mind if I join them on stage, maybe do four or five songs?” He thought that would be a good idea. They ended up opening up the stage and their arms to me. I ended up doing maybe like 45 minutes and that’s when I met Claudette.
She knew that her father was my hero. I was going to this studio soon to do a recording. I said we should do a tribute to B.B. King. I had did a show with [guitarist] George Benson in Las Vegas about three or four years ago. We talked about getting together sometime in the future. B.B. King’s stage manager just so happened to be friends with George Benson. I had lost touch with him. We were headed up to Reno, Nevada. He said, “We’re going to stop by Benson’s place and shout at him.” We stopped by there and we were there for a day or so and we made that recording.
You named the album Under Your Spell, which has a title track featuring Joe Bonamassa. What makes this song special?
I had been playing that guitar lick for quite some time. It was one of those things that players just picked up and like to play, but they never do nothing with it. Mike Zito, the owner and CEO of Gulf Coast Records, knew Joe Bonamassa. He’s one of my favorites as well and is on top of his game right now. I wanted to do something with him. Of course, he said yes. I said to my producer, “I got this guitar lick. Maybe we can do something with it.” I sent a demo file to my producer/writer friend. He came up with a B-part and little flavors. After we finished the song, we were very pleased. I felt that I’m under that spell of music — blues.
I understand that blues is not popular like it should be. It doesn’t sell as many records as pop, R&B or urban. But I like it. I’ve sold tons of records. I know what it feels like to have a double-platinum album. I have nothing to prove in that area. With Under Your Spell, I’m doing what I like. This one is for me. It’s not for any other reason but the music I like.
Improvisation is an essential factor in blues music. Did this way of creating come easy for you, or was it a challenge?
Well, musically, most of the songs on the radio are written on a computer. I started this album not to be meant to be written on the computer but I used the computer to put down ideas. Then I took those ideas to my friend in Baton Rouge, Louisiana — a guy by the name of Kenny Neal — to get that live musician feel because that’s what I want my tracks to sound like. We sent it over to Kenny. They call his family “The Jackson Family of Blues” because they have nine members and they do blues. He sends it back to me. Killer. Feels good. I could feel it here. It doesn’t sound like a robot, you know? From that, I added my flavors: played my guitar to tracks, did vocal work and invited guests to sing on it. The next thing you know, you have the song.
What do you hope people take away from listening to this album?
I hope they say, “You know what? Blues isn’t all that bad. I like it. I’m going to try to incorporate more blues into my musical catalog. I’m going to give blues a chance.” All blues ain’t traditional blues. Traditional blues is the oldest form of blues. Music changes, but there haven’t been a whole lot of changes in the blues genre. “Love One Another” is a blues-rock song. If you like it, you’d like blues. That’s the way I see.
Lately, there have been R&B singers who’ve expressed interest in recording a country album. What are your thoughts on them stepping outside their preferred artistic box?
I think it’s very interesting. I did some of that on my last album. I had country, reggae, R&B and pop. I had a little bit of everything. I think it’s very good. I think more of them need to try some blues, baby! Try some blues. Try some gospel. It’s all in the same family. They probably go country because it’s more popular than blues, but blues needs your help. It’s the blues that need to help them to love. And if you have blues and love, I don’t think you lose anything. You’ll gain.
I know you just put out a new album but have you started thinking about your next project and what that will sound like?
Most likely, it’s going to be another blues album.
Listen to Tito Jackson’s new album Under Your Spell below.