On April 16 in a North Hollywood rehearsal studio, Tito Jackson, brother of you-know-who, presided over the first rehearsal of the musicians of the would-be backup band for the Jackson 1984 tour. The band—which includes guitarist David Williams, who played on Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, and drummer Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffitt, formerly of Lionel Richie’s band—gathered, joked around a bit, and then began to jam, drifting naturally into a familiar riff from Billie Jean. Shortly after the band began to roll, Tito called them to order and laid down the law. “We start at 7,” he said. “That means 7. You’re not expected to come in carrying your instruments at 7 and be ready to play 15 minutes later.” Long after Tito finished his instructions, Nelson Hayes, the Jacksons’ assistant coordinator, laid down another law. “I’ve been under contract with the Jacksons since 1981,” he said. “They don’t like drugs.” He paused for dramatic effect. “Do anything like that on this tour and you probably won’t be with us by the time the tour is over.”
This is good news not because of the noble messages delivered by Tito and Hayes—though God knows, the presence of a little punctuality and sobriety in the world of pop music would be a welcome change of pace. No, the good news here is much simpler. Since the brothers’ album Victory is already near completion and scheduled for release in June, there can be only one reason for the rehearsals: The Jacksons are getting ready to hit the road.
This comes as quite a shock to industry observers who have been mumbling for months that the much-ballyhooed tour would never happen, that it had become overburdened with lawyers and promoters and accountants and managers, that the people surrounding the Jacksons were in over their heads. “The talent in question is a diamond,” says San Francisco promoter Bill Graham, trying to be discreet, since he is still rumored to have a shot at national tour director. “But if you saw the way things are being done around this talent, you’d think they were dealing with zircons.” Another doubter is Jack Beckman, manager of Dallas’ 19,000-seat Reunion Arena. Beckman has flown to Los Angeles three times to try to bring the Jacksons to his arena. He has taken meetings (as they say out there) with various Jackson aides, Jackson attorneys and Jackson factoti. He has even met with patriarch Joe Jackson. And he knows as little about the Jackson tour now as he did when he started. “I’ve been tracking this thing for months and I’m about to give up,” he says. “It may not happen. It may be so money-heavy that it will sink under its own weight.”
But wait a minute. We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. For the benefit of those readers who have recently emerged from a coma, let’s backtrack a bit. In 1965 Joe Jackson, a steelworker in Gary, Ind., organized his five sons—Michael, Jermaine, Marlon, Tito and Jackie—into a singing group called the Jackson 5. With a little help from Diana Ross, they signed a Motown recording contract and proceeded to sell 100 million records. In December 1982 Michael—now flying solo—released his second album, Thriller, which sold some 33 million copies (at last count) and spawned seven Top 10 singles. Those unprecedented statistical feats seemed to push Michael beyond mere superstardom into a special place that leaves journalists, fans and hustling business types glazed-eyed. Even the New Republic, hardly a pop fanzine, was soon proclaiming Michael “the most successful musical performer ever…bigger than Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles, Jesus, Beethoven—all of them.”
Last November Joe Jackson gathered his six sons—Randy became the sixth member of the Jackson 5 in 1973—around him in New York’s posh Tavern on the Green and announced that he had hired boxing czar Don King to produce a cross-country Jackson reunion concert tour. The contract seemed like a license to print money. There was talk of a 40-city tour, a concert film, a live satellite broadcast, plus the usual T-shirt and knickknack money. Pepsi-Cola ponied up at least $5 million for the privilege of helping to sponsor the event. Estimates of the tour’s fiduciary potential began at a stingy $20 million and escalated to a hyped $100 million. Not only would the tour make the family much wealthier, but it would bring the boys back together. “Michael has had very big success,” says Tito, “and sometimes the success of the Jacksons got undermined a bit. I think the tour is a chance for us to show our success, too.”
On the surface, everything seemed fine. Beneath, however, there were rumblings of squabbles. For months Michael—who fired his two-man management team last year—was said to be disenchanted with Don King, whose boisterous obsession with self-promotion does not hide the fact that he has no experience in music promotion. Michael reportedly sent King a letter stating in no uncertain terms that King could not speak or deal for Michael. King, whose idea of a perfect day is to talk for 24 hours, became strangely mum. “We have been voted into silence,” he said, alluding to the brothers’ business philosophy of decision by consensus.
Rumors had the brothers hiring MCA record exec Irving Azoff or Graham or L.A. promoter Jerry Weintraub to handle the tour. Then, in March, Frank Russo, a veteran New England promoter, announced that he had won that honor and that King had become a mere figurehead. Russo waxed lyrical describing how the Jacksons had hired him. “All the brothers were hugging me, they started popping champagne,” he told the Providence Sunday Journal. “I couldn’t believe it was really happening to a guy from Rhode Island.” Alas, it apparently wasn’t really happening to a guy from Rhode Island. Three weeks later Russo was out.
The comings and goings of obscure businessmen peripheral to the actual creation of music would attract little attention except for one fact: In the confusion, the tour has been left twisting slowly in the wind. Management by consensus may be a noble experiment in participatory democracy, but it isn’t working very efficiently—at least, not as far as the non-Jackson world is concerned. As of last week, not a single hall had been booked and no concert schedule released. Local promoters find themselves dealing with a different Jackson official with each conversation and are left holding nothing more concrete than a mumbled maybe.
Arny Granat, Chicago’s top promoter, says there have been literally hundreds of calls between his office and “15 to 20” representatives of the Jacksons. “It’s a nightmare,” says Granat.
Meanwhile, the long-awaited crosscountry extravaganza has become the incredible shrinking tour. According to one report, the odyssey originally was scheduled to begin on May 8 in Oklahoma City. Now, it is supposed to kick off on either June 15 or June 22 “somewhere in the middle” of the country before hitting 11 or 12 other cities, says tour coordinator Jack Nance. “No one knows when or where they’re going,” says Vernon Williams of the Gary Post-Tribune, a longtime observer of his city’s first family. “The whole thing is shrouded in mystery. First they were going to tour 40 cities, then 30, then 15, now it’s 12 and soon they’ll be able to do the whole tour without leaving home.”
The schedule changes and the rumors have sent Jacksonphiles into a frenzy. In Boston, when a dispute between Russo and officials of Sullivan Stadium threatened to deprive fans of an opportunity to see the Jacksons, the Boston Herald, a local daily, printed coupons allowing readers to “check this box if you want Michael Jackson to perform in Boston.” The paper was deluged with thousands of the coupons, which it delivered to the Jacksons in California. In Detroit, the News mistakenly printed its phone number above a picture of Michael Jackson and received more than 100 phone calls from children who wanted to speak to him: “Is Michael there? When will he be home?”
At Iowa State, students collected 25,000 signatures on a petition urging the Jacksons to play in their state. “We could hold this concert at 4 a.m. on Christmas and it would still sell out,” said Steve Peters, who books entertainment for the university. “We couldn’t do any better if we had the Cabbage Patch babies for the opening act.”
In Tacoma, Wash., on Feb. 25, 14,000 Jackson fans filled the Tacoma Dome to watch Jackson videos and Jackson imitators and a real Jackson, sister LaToya, who promised the crowd, “We’re definitely coming.”
Politicians, who can smell a popular movement a mile away, have jumped on the Jackson bandwagon (Michael’s, not Jesse’s) all over the country. In Boston, Mayor Raymond Flynn issued a public proclamation inviting the Jacksons to play in City Hall Plaza. In Detroit, Mayor Coleman Young invited a promoter with rumored Jackson ties to his official mansion in the hopes of luring the group to the Joe Louis Arena. In Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad contacted King: “As governor of Iowa, I am writing to urge Michael Jackson and the Jackson family to include Iowa in their 1984 victory tour.”
But the Jacksons’ hometown has managed to make the other cities look apathetic by comparison. In Gary the mayor, Richard Hatcher, is circulating the petition, and the president of the city council, Dr. Vernon Smith, has solicited 5,000 please-come-back letters from the city’s schoolchildren. The city fathers are talking about turning the family home into a landmark. On April 20 the city sponsored a “Michael Jackson Come Home” event that featured 27 contestants in three separate Michael Jackson look-alike contests.
“Say, ‘Michael, Gary loves you!'” master of ceremonies Bobbie Wilson shouted into the microphone.
“Michael, Gary loves you!” the roar came back.
“Say it again!” Wilson yelled.
“Michael, Gary loves you!”
“Michael, Gary loves you!”
So far, neither Gary nor any other city knows if Michael will reciprocate that love in person.
The Other Jacksons: Private Lives, Separate Projects
Most of them entered our lives as boys, wondrously precocious adolescents high-stepping out of an Indiana steel town into a blaze of stardom. For the Jacksons, much has changed in the 16 years since father Joe, mother Katherine and their nine children left their two-bedroom bungalow in Gary for the glitter of Motown and beyond. The boys have grown into men, many with youngsters of their own. The girls, after missing the first sweep of fame, have also emerged, displaying talents that are now practically family trademarks. Before the year is out, all nine will appear on new LPs either as solo artists or in family collaboration. More important, perhaps, all seem to have survived the hazards of show business with their sense of kinship intact. “We’re family first and entertainers second,” says Tito Jackson, 30. “That’s the thing a lot of people don’t know.”
Toriano Adaryll “Tito” Jackson remembers well his childhood days in Gary when he shared a bed with brother Jermaine, while Michael slept with Marlon. “I was always a momma’s boy; she had a lot of help,” he recollects. “There was always a kid around. I even remember washing Randy’s diapers.” At 18, Tito married his high school sweetheart, Delores (Dee Dee) Martes, and the couple now has children of their own: Taj, 10, Taryll, 8, and Tito, 5. The yard of their hilltop home in Encino, a mere wind-sprint from that of his parents, is littered with antique cars that the guitarist restores in his spare time. Among them: three Model A’s, a 1959 Mercedes and Tito’s “punk car,” a 1957 Edsel. For the past five years he has spent summers coaching a local Little League team, a task he calls “part of my life. The important part is not winning games but finding two or three kids who have problems and making them feel like they belong. That’s making them winners for life.” Tito, who produced three of the songs on sister Rebbie’s upcoming solo album, Centipede, is now directing rehearsals for the six-man road band hired for the Jacksons’ tour. He insists that security at the shows will be “the best. We put our own love and harmony onstage, and that’s the feeling people will leave with.”
Steven “Randy” Jackson, 22, is the youngest brother and has performed with the group since he was 8. His dancing days almost ended in 1980 when he crashed his Mercedes on a rain-slick Hollywood street, broke both ankles and was paralyzed for a time. Now recovered, he lives alone in a bachelor apartment in L.A.’s Westwood section and dates a Brazilian model. Shy and Iaconic, he insists his offstage life-style is studiously tame. “When I’m not performing, I’m reading or playing piano all night long,” he says. “My favorite music is Chopin, Bach and Stravinsky. Especially Chopin.” For now, the young keyboardist and percussionist has set aside work on a solo album and is helping prep the Jacksons’ road band.
Marlon Jackson, 27, will oversee the tour’s pyrotechnic displays—and try to avoid mishaps like the head-scorching Michael suffered last February at the hands of outsiders. He is the closest in age to Michael (they’re 1½ years apart), and in the early days the two shared lead vocalist roles as the Jackson 5’s small-fry frontmen. Many of the meetings for the upcoming tour have been held around the pool table at Marlon’s 11-room San Fernando Valley home. His tour assignments, which include mapping choreography with Michael and Jackie, mean he now must “go to sleep working and wake up working.” It is nothing new. In the past year he has produced a rhythm-and-blues album for Miami singer Betty Wright, nearly half of sister Janet’s upcoming LP—along with Giorgio (Flashdance) Moroder—and is now planning his own solo album. He has also written two screenplays and is discussing a movie role with Richard Pryor’s production company. Like Tito, he married at 18, and he and wife Carol, a New Orleans-born model, have three children: Valencia, 6, Brittny, 5, and Marlon Jr., 2½. “Everything I’ve gotten. I’ve worked hard for,” he states. “I’ve slept on studio consoles. But I do what I do because it makes people happy. Respect us. Respect us as people. That’s all we ask.”
Jermaine Jackson, 29, has had the most success as a solo artist apart from Michael. Let’s Get Serious, his 1980 million-selling LP, was nominated for a Grammy as the Best R&B Vocal Performance-Male. His seventh solo album is due within a month. Married at 19 to Motown founder Berry Gordy’s only daughter, Hazel, Jermaine stayed with his father-in-law’s label after Michael left in 1976. The couple has two children, Jermaine, 7, and Autumn, 5. His presence on the tour marks the brothers’ first onstage reunion in eight years. A serious film student who studied at the American Film Institute in L.A., he has spent two years working on a documentary. Its subject? Jermaine isn’t talking except to say, “I want to win a Nobel Prize.”
Sigmund Esco “Jackie” Jackson, 32, is the oldest brother and the most athletic. Drafted at 19 as a shortstop by the Chicago White Sox, he opted for pop hits rather than pop flies but keeps fit with a daily 10-mile jog and backyard basketball with L.A. Laker pals Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. Married at 23, he and wife Enid have two children: son Siggy, 6, and adopted daughter Brandi, 2. The boy now attends a private school from which “most of the kids go on to Harvard or Yale or Stanford,” says Jackie confidently. “In kindergarten he did fractions.” Charged with helping create choreography for the tour, Jackie has devised some new footwear-running shoes with leather soles to permit sliding across the stage.
Katherine Jackson, 52, “is like E.F. Hutton,” says Jermaine of the family matriarch. “When she speaks, we listen.” Yet if Mama Katherine, a Jehovah’s Witness, provided her brood: with moral footing, it was Papa Joe, 55, who helped boot them into show business. Although his contract as the brothers’ manager was permitted to expire in 1983 (after 15 years), the sons publicly insist that any notion of “us firing our father is not true. He still gives us advice,” says Marlon. “He looks out for our interests. He takes care of us.”
Of course, minding the family business, even from afar, is an ever-growing task. These days the busy parental home is “like a gas station,” says oldest daughter Rebbie, 33. “You fill up on what’s going on and leave until you need some more.” The least known of the Jackson offspring, Rebbie has been married for 16 years to driving instructor Nathaniel Brown and has two children: Stacy, 13, and Yashi, 6. This summer she will hit the record stores with her first album, Centipede, which will include one track written and produced by Michael. It will quickly be joined in the bins by new LPs from sister Janet, 18, an aspiring actress who has appeared on TV’s Good Times and Diff’rent Strokes, and sister LaToya, 28. The latter’s album, Heart Don’t Lie, is her third, and LaToya concedes that a recording career can be “difficult when you come from a family where Michael has made his mark. But he does what he does, and I do what I do.” What the young entertainer will be doing soon is promoting her own line of leather products. LaToya, who will open some tour concerts, rarely appears professionally these days without a leather headband. The fashion accessory, which designer David Laurenz will mass market this summer, is one LaToya hopes to make as famous as Michael’s rhinestone glove.