When Millie Jackson headlines this week’s Augusta Blues Festival, it’ll be considered a homecoming, of sorts.
During a recent conversation from her current home in southwest Atlanta, Jackson reflected on her early origins as a self-proclaimed “country girl” who grew up in the rural Briar Creek community of Thomson, Ga.
“No, I did not grow up as the typical R&B singer with the Baptist church choir backgrounds. In fact, I spent very little time in church, except for a few years at a CME (Christian Methodist Episcopal) church. No singing, though.”
On Saturday, Feb. 16, Jackson joins a star-studded cast of Southern Soul blues artists at the fourth annual Augusta Blues Festival at Bell Auditorium. Tickets are $47.50 and $39.50 from (877) 4AUGTIX, georgialinatix.com and at the James Brown Arena box office.
Crooners Mel Waiters and TK Soul will join guitarist/singer Theodis Ealy and Augusta’s own Klass Band Brotherhood as featured openers for the original “Nasty Miss Jackson.”
Though she left Georgia at 17 when she moved with her father to live with her grandparents in Newark, N.J., Jackson gives credit to her Southern roots for helping her become an internationally-acclaimed artist.
Her father, Ty Jackson, was a sharecropper who sold corn liquor, she said. Though she was never good at working in the fields, the singer said she’d bring water to her father and his co-workers.
“I never gave myself credit for being a great singer,” she said, adding that she developed a knack for “attacking the audience” before they could criticize her.
“I learned all those techniques in the country – tellin’ stories and lies, and joking on people. I learned all that stuff in Thomson,” she laughed.
She names Gladys Knight, an Atlanta native, as one of her early influences.
“I see her on occasion. There’s a mutual respect for one another. She’s a legend.”
Listening to the party records purchased by her father from Randy’s Record Shop over WLAC radio in Nashville propelled her into a singing career, she said.
While hanging out with friends at a club in New York City, Jackson boasted that she could outdo the club’s featured vocalist. She hit the stage, won the bet and a singing career was born.
The club was Palm Cafe in Brooklyn. The bandleader was legendary saxophonist Lester Young, forever noted as jazz singer Billie Holiday’s musical mentor. “Yes, I, too, sang with Lester Young,” quipped Jackson.
Hits including Hurt So Good and country-flavored ditties such as If You’re Not Back In Love By Monday, Loving Arms and Sweet Music Man helped provide Jackson with a wide-ranging audience. But not wide enough, considering her bouts with record labels, specifically Polydor Records, whom she says intentionally failed to market her as a country artist.
Meanwhile, hits such as Ugly Men and Young Man, Older Woman showcased her skills as a controversial singer, using expletives and risque rap lyrics to describe the details of marital and extramarital relationships.
Though you won’t find Jackson’s hits among elite Grammy Award-winning categories, the proudly-mature singer says she has no regrets, concerning her career.
In addition to supporting her only child’s vocal career (daughter Keisha Jackson is an in-demand background singer with Erykah Badu and touring with Cee Lo Green) Millie Jackson stays busy developing her own music company, Weird Wreckuds. She formerly recorded on the Ichabon label and on Bishop Joe Simon’s Spring Records.
Concerning today’s artists, she considers Beyonce as the elite. “She does it all. She sings, acts, dances and she’s a great businessperson.”
Jackson is skeptical when posed with the thought of releasing new music.
“Today, if you release a new record, it costs so much to produce, then the bootleggers sell it for cheap. They make all the money. And today’s labels only want people age 25 and under. It’s all about business. I understand,” she said. “Millie Jackson is my brand, and it’s my job to keep this brand alive and kickin’.”