Singer Tony Jackson got hooked on Nashville while living in Spain
With an expressive singing style infused with purevocal honey, Jackson is a welcome anomaly in the country music genre. In one way, the friendly,goateed vocalist is a throwback to classic sounds — Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Lefty Frizzle,Waylon Jennings — with only a courtesy nod to the "bro-country" currently assailing radio. He'salso an African-American man singing country music. Other than Charley Pride and (of late)Darius Rucker, there haven't been a whole lot of those.
It was the sound from his throat, not the color of his skin, that caught the attention of his new managers, Donna Dean Stevens and Jim Della Croce. A self-produced demo that he cut at Sound of Music studios of George Jones' iconic weeper, "The Grand Tour," made them takenotice.
"I was so impressed by his voice," says Stevens. The widow of singer and sausage company founder Jimmy Dean, she had her own country career as Donna Meade. "It blew me away," shesays. "I thought, 'This guy is wonderful.' " Stevens asked Jackson if he would like to be a guestperformer on her reincarnation of the venerable Old Dominion Barn Dance at the HenricoTheatre. His version of "The Grand Tour" brought the house down and he was asked to be aregular cast member.
While Jackson was born in Portsmouth and his family roots are in the Ashland area, the singerspent his childhood as a self-described Navy brat, living on bases all over the world. His dad,Tony Jackson Sr., listened to a lot of music around the house, but not country. "I heard Earth,Wind and Fire, classic Motown, George Benson. But I first got exposed to country through ArmedForces Radio," he says. When he was a pre-teen, there was also a fortuitous encounter with acountry superstar.
"My dad was stationed in Rota, Spain, and we kids kind of had the run of the base. One day thisguy comes up to us and starts asking us questions about what it's like to live on a military base inSpain. Real nice guy, and of course we started eating it up, this man talking to us and asking usquestions like it was important."
The inquisitive stranger turned out to be singer Randy Travis, who was performing on the basethat night. "I didn't realize it until I saw him on the stage. It turned me on to his music."
With his solo single climbing the charts, Jackson is working on a full-fledged solo album,recording with the likes of Steve Cropper (Booker T & the MGs) and John Sebastian at RCAStudio B in Nashville, famous for waxing timeless hits by Elvis, the Everly Brothers, Dolly Partonand, yes, Charley Pride.
"You can definitely feel the magic when you walk into that place," he says. "The fact that I wouldbe recording with people like Willie Nelson's harmonica player [Mickey Raphael] is so unreal."
Although he's in it now for the long haul — having recently given up a lucrative, six-figure IT jobwith Bank of America to pursue music — Jackson didn't originally plan on having a singingcareer. He joined the Marine Corps after high school, served four years and was later redeployed during the Iraq War. He says that contrary to what you might think, serving in themilitary has helped him navigate the often-heady world of entertainment.
"When you are in the service, you learn to bond. These are your brothers, even if you've nevermet them before. So I can connect with anyone, with any crowd."
The race thing, he says, rarely comes up. "I haven't had a single problem in all of the places I'vesung," he says. "But one of the things I do hear from people after a show is, 'I'm not a countrymusic fan, but I really like what I just heard.' You see, I think that everybody likes country music,but most people just don't know it yet
Courtesy of Don Harrison of Richmond Mag