Randy Jackson's Music Club
"I started as a musician and developed into a songwriter, then a producer, a manager, a record executive - and then into a judge on this great TV show," marvels Randy Jackson, looking back on the path that has led him to become one of the most respected and beloved figures in the modern music business. "It's pretty wild."
During his time on this wild road, the virtuoso bassist, Grammy-winning producer, A&R trailblazer, radio personality and American Idol co-star has worked with such superstars as Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, *NSYNC, Madonna, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Journey, Billy Joel, Herbie Hancock, Destiny's Child and countless others. A contributor to more than 1,000 gold and multi-platinum albums, he has been a factor in the sales of some 200 million records worldwide.
A reflection of the man's reach and versatility is his first-ever solo album, Randy Jackson's Music Club, Vol. 1, the maiden release on his Dream Merchant 21 imprint and distributed by Stax/Concord. Calling upon all corners of his expertise, Jackson painstakingly cultivated the material, handpicked the all-star roster of singers and musicians, produced the tracks and laid down some of his inimitable bass lines.
The album's first single, "Dance Like There's No Tomorrow," features vocals by Jackson's Idol colleague and longtime friend, pop icon Paula Abdul. The track, Abdul's first new single in more than a decade, is a sparkling return to form that conjures the effervescent appeal of her best-known hits.
"Paula's been one of my dearest friends for many years, and we've worked on countless projects together," Jackson points out. "As we've sat together on the Idol judging panel, we've hinted around about collaborating on some music. Then I found this song and knew it was perfect for Paula; I called her up and said it was time for us to make it happen. She loved the song, and I'm over the moon about having her on the first single on my album. I have nothing but mad love and respect for her; she's one of my favorite artists, and I think she's better and stronger than ever."
Other guests on the album include R&B diva Mariah Carey; soul luminary Sam Moore; R&B superstars Anthony Hamilton and Angie Stone; country trailblazer Travis Tritt; velvety U.K. phenom Joss Stone; neo-soul visionary Van Hunt; pop-rock hitmaker Jason Mraz; Idol graduates Katherine McPhee and Elliott Yamin; gospel powerhouses Rance Allen, BeBe Winans, Kim Burrell and the Hezekiah Walker Choir; ace country songwriter-producer John Rich (of Big & Rich); blues torch-bearer Keb' Mo'; Bon Jovi guitarist-harmonizer Richie Sambora; and Tony-winning theatrical sensation Kristen Chenoweth, among many others.
He imagines this musical "potpourri," as he calls it, as a kind of ideal radio station, reflecting the tremendous range of his sonic passions. "I always felt this project would be a great way to announce the new label, hear from some great artists and share a little musical history," Jackson relates. "In a way, it's autobiographical - it covers a lot of my life experience."
That experience begins in Baton Rouge, La., where he grew up listening to, in his words, "every kind of music known to man."
"When I was a kid, my brother was a drummer - he used to rehearse in my mom's garage," Jackson recalls. "They were playing R&B, and I remember hearing James Brown, Sly Stone, Motown and Stax. I was blown away by Sam & Dave. Then there were The Meters and Slim Harpo, as well as Clarence ‘Gatemouth' Brown, whom I later played with. At the same time, I got turned on to The Beatles, Hank Williams, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. The environment was open to any kind of music, as long as it was good. All the richness of growing up in the South - I wouldn't have traded it for anything in the world."
Jackson developed his musical chops at a young age, and - after graduating from college and relocating to the San Francisco area - became an in-demand session bassist. His first such gig, auspiciously enough, was for fusion-jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty; he later played with chart-topping rockers Journey, guitar firebrand Carlos Santana, Grateful Dead leader Jerry Garcia, hitmaker Billy Joel, Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, R&B diva Mariah Carey, pop bellwether Madonna and plenty more besides. He made the transition to producing at the end of the '80s and over the ensuing years helmed records by a stunning array of artists in virtually all genres.
His facility in the studio led quite naturally to an A&R position at Sony, which he occupied for a decade before departing for MCA Records. As a label executive, Jackson embraced the classic "artists and repertoire" sensibility of the industry's greatest record makers, always looking for a magical pairing of singer and song.
After working in all facets of the star-making machinery, Jackson achieved global fame of his own starting in 2002 as a judge on the TV phenomenon American Idol, adding immeasurable credibility to the show's evaluation process - while popularizing "dawg" as a term of endearment. "Someone recently told me I was like Jack Nicholson on that show," he notes with a laugh, "because I'm the one saying, ‘You can't handle the truth!'"
In the wake of Idol's explosive success, broadcast giant Westwood One offered him a radio vehicle, the syndicated countdown show Randy Jackson's Hit List, which he began hosting in 2005. The following year saw him named to the post of Executive A&R Consultant and Producer at Concord/Stax. He also began developing the TV reality series World Moves for NBC, serving as Executive Producer.
Jackson has also become deeply involved with such charitable organizations as The Gibson Foundation, Save the Children, The Lili Claire Foundation, The Ronald McDonald House, and NARAS Music for Schools. He's also seized the opportunity to assist worldwide relief efforts through the hugely successful fundraiser Idol Gives Back. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, meanwhile, he returned to Louisiana and became involved in restoration efforts there.
But despite his myriad activities, nothing can keep Randy Jackson from creating music. Indeed, his achievements in the spotlight have not prevented him from producing records like the Grammy-winning Overnight Sensational for Sam Moore (of Stax R&B icons Sam & Dave) as well as discs for artists as diverse as Travis Tritt, Joss Stone and numerous up-and-coming acts.
When the time came to create his own record, a throng of artists whose lives he'd touched jumped at the opportunity to participate. "I'm really happy and pleased that so many great, talented people showed up," Jackson muses. "I'm really blessed at the way it all came together."
Randy Jackson's Music Club, Vol. 1 embodies Jackson's commitment to a musical world free of genre pigeonholes. "I love people who break boundaries and always create something new and fresh," he points out. "I'm still true to my Southern roots."
A prime example of the album's stylistic gumbo can be heard in "Walk On By," a bubbling blend of pop, R&B and hip-hop sung by Joss Stone; the interpolated hook is from the Burt Bacharach-Hal David hit of the same name.
And while Jackson is always interested in pushing the stylistic envelope, he retains his reverence for tradition, as when Moore sings the blues classic "Wang Dang Doodle" with the assistance of young lions Keb' Mo' and Angie Stone. "I always say the greats just get better," Jackson reflects. "Sam sounds better than ever, and he's in his seventies now."
He also expresses gratitude to Idol for bringing him together with Yamin and McPhee. "When I heard them sing on this track," Jackson declares of "Real Love," which also features Hamilton, "I was completely blown away."
More than anything, Jackson expresses gratitude for a life spent indulging what he loves the most. "At the end of the day, I'm a song guy," he muses. "Working on these songs has been a way to express my passion for music, which has never been stronger."