» Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]


 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]


 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum

January 9, 2007
On a cold night in early December, Ralph "Soul" Jackson performed at The Hideout in Chicago. It was Jackson's second performance there in 2006, and only the second time in the last 20 years that he had played out in public.

Jackson, who would turn 60 years old just two weeks after his set at the Hideout, is a soul singer and musician whose Southern roots run deep and whose dedication to music runs even deeper. He has resided in Georgia and Alabama for most of his life, and for nearly that entire time he has performed, written, or simply enjoyed the soul music that is indicative of the region and some of its notable cities like Memphis, Muscle Shoals, and Birmingham.

In the mid-1960s, straight out of high school, Jackson joined the Southern soul music community when he recorded with Rick Hall at the legendary FAME Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals (AL). In 1965 he released his first single "Jambalaya" (a Hank Williams cover) and backed it with "Don't Tear Yourself Down" (an original). Over the course of the next 15 years Jackson would record and release only five other singles, with a career highlight coming in 1975 with "Set Me Free"/"Take Me Back."

Fast forward to 2006 and deep soul has been heating up again over the last several years. The release of The Birmingham Sound: The Soul of Neal Hemphill, Vol. 1, a collection of rare soul cuts, marked a significant reappearance of some hard-to-find gems like Jackson's "Set Me Free" and "Take Me Back." For the compilation's record release party in August, Jackson performed for the first time in more than two decades, and the sold-out crowd was wildly impressed.

So it was that on a bitterly cold Friday in the Windy City the stage was literally set for Jackson's return. Local musician Adam Fitz - backed by the night's opening band The Drastics - warmed up the room-filling crowd with a handful of rousing ballads and uptempo soul songs. By the time Fitz called out to the crowd asking, "Are you all ready for Ralph 'Soul' Jackson?" the buzzing throng yelled back an energetic "YEAH!" Up from the back of the club walked Jackson, being patted on the back each step of the way, a modest smile spread across his face. The band vamped a funky, repetitive introductory lick and by the time Jackson ascended to the stage the crowd was already applauding and cheering.

Ralph "Soul" Jackson was dressed for the occasion: a purple suit, swirly tie, black and white leather shoes, slicked back hair. Although The Drastics weren't Spooner Oldham and Co. or the Memphis horns, the band was more than apt to back Jackson. The collective consisted of players on organ, rhythm and lead guitars, drums, electric bass, trumpet, saxophone, and trombone. The sound was new school in aesthetic but thoroughly funky and traditional in its execution.

Over the course of his set, which was achingly brief at just a handful of songs, Jackson gave off no sign that this was only his second show in two decades. "Set Me Free" and "Can't Leave Your Love Alone" were definitive high points. During the latter tune, a funky combo of steppin' bass and drums laid the foundation for swirling Hammond-sounding organs and clean channeled, chick-ed guitars. Jackson let loose and shook his arms to his chest, danced, and showcased his rangey, on-pitch vocals. A good portion of the onlookers mirrored the singer - dancing throughout, clapping to beat when he clapped, singing choruses when he called for them.

At one point Jackson made a point of showing that he is still equal parts musician and showman as he called for the band to "take it down" and then asked a male member of the audience if he could borrow his girl for a second. The crowd laughed and the boyfriend character could do nothing but oblige, as his lady friend scrambled onto the now-crowded stage. Few knew what was could be coming next, and Jackson quickly commanded the band "Hit me one time!" as he threw his hips towards the girl in a pelvic thrust. Synchronized, the band let out an accented pop and the crowd - and onstage guest - reacted in surprise and howling amusement. Jackson and band repeated this command and response pattern until he called "Hit me five times!" and the band returned to the song's original groove.

Similarly significant moments were when the collective covered Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" and Elvis's "Love Me Tender." Jackson, a man who was present at the early stages of soul, still offered reverence to musicians and styles that were clearly outside of his own, and of greater familiarity to his audience. Many of those in attendance came to hear Jackson's set of pipes, and were not disappointed - moments of silky smooth and down-pitched crooning during "Love Me Tender" were counterbalanced by his ability to reach excited shrill yells ("yows!") for extra color and punctuation with the band. This was a show, albeit brief, that was for the ages; a momentous occasion from a performer reborn.

Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other articles by Josh Zanger.



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