Your Folks or Your Wife? Jermaine Jackson Quit the Family Five but Could Inherit Motown

When the Jackson 5 defected from Motown to CBS’ Epic Records in 1975, it was a trauma repressed in their lyrics. Just as well. Shakespeare had already said it all in Romeo and Juliet. Four of the Jacksons dutifully accepted the decision of their iron-willed father, Joe. But the middle of the singing brothers, Jermaine, the bassist and sex symbol, had an entanglement: His new wife, Hazel, was the boss’s daughter, indeed, the only daughter of Motown mogul Berry Gordy Jr.

“I asked her, ‘If I go with my brothers, will that have anything to do with our relationship?’ ” Jermaine remembers. “She said, ‘No. We’re married and in love, not married and in business.’ ” In the end, Jermaine stayed with Motown anyway—splitting from perhaps America’s most successful family act and alienating himself from his dad. “I never regretted my decision,” says Jermaine, now 25. “Motown did everything for us, for the whole family. But that doesn’t mean it was easy. I didn’t know how difficult it would be.”

Fans blamed Jermaine for the breakup, perhaps unfairly, and his next three LPs fizzled. Meanwhile his brothers regrouped (as the Jacksons) and kid brother Michael became a bigger star than ever (his Off the Wall is one of 1980’s best-selling pop LPs). Finally Jermaine turned to his friend Stevie Wonder, who helped him produce and write a new album. The LP, Let’s Get Serious, took off to No. 1 on the soul charts and the Top Five in pop. “No one has to tell me how lucky I am to be working with Stevie Wonder,” says the gracious Jermaine of his comeback.

His Serious success has also mellowed him enough to make the first move toward a family rapprochement. Last May Jermaine dramatically joined his brothers in Philadelphia for a tearful onstage reunion, their first performance together since youngest brother Randy replaced him in the quintet in 1975. Now Michael is planning to help Jermaine on his next album, and Jermaine is more hopeful than ever that they’ll regroup permanently. “They didn’t want to before because they didn’t see me with a hit,” he says.

All nine Jackson kids (there are three girls) grew up in a two-bedroom house in Gary, Ind. Joe, a crane operator at a local steel mill, and their mom, Katherine, who worked at Sears, are both musical, and their children began singing around home when the TV broke down. In 1966 they decided to start a family band. With cousins on drums and piano (instruments Joe couldn’t afford), the Jackson kids began winning talent shows with their versions of R&B hits. Jermaine alternated lead vocals with Michael. By 1967 the family was playing on bills with the Isley Brothers and the O’Jays, traveling as far as New York in a borrowed VW bus. In 1968, at a benefit for Gary (Ind.) Mayor Richard Hatcher, Diana Ross was in the audience and, encouraged by what she heard, she set up an audition with Gordy. Berry was so impressed he moved the entire family to California, supporting them for a year before the debut of their first album, Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5. It was an immediate smash, and soon the Jack-sons were a permanent fixture on the pop charts with hits like ABC and I’ll Be There. Jermaine also scored solo with I Found That Girl and Daddy’s Home, and the family eventually cut 14 albums for Motown.

In the meantime Jermaine, who was only 15 when he met Hazel Gordy at a Detroit recording session, married her four years later in a Beverly Hills Hotel gala attended by Coretta King, Sue Mengers and Billy Dee Williams. (Smokey Robinson, no less, performed a song he wrote for the newlyweds.) “We were able to grow up together,” says Hazel, “so we haven’t had any problems.” She serves as Jermaine’s co-manager, reading up on deals even when she’s having her hair corn-rowed (which takes five 12-hour days every three months). Jermaine has never been totally cut off from his family—he always called Michael for advice, and all the brothers regularly play basketball together.

At Jermaine and Hazel’s own house in Malibu, 3-year-old Jermaine Jr. (called Jai) and Autumn, 2, vie for attention with Jermaine’s dog, a Bouvier, and Hazel’s two poodles. Jermaine also boards 25 horses at a friend’s stable and recently bought two cougars as pets. A semivegetarian, Jermaine often jogs along the beach or bicycles past the house of neighbors Ryan and Tatum O’Neal. When he needs something a little swifter, there are a couple of Mercedeses, but he admits going through cars “so fast you wouldn’t believe it.” He’s become a bit of an Anglophile, because you can drive cars faster in Britain.

Jermaine balks at other barriers in his life too. He has placed electric pianos in virtually every room of his house to serve his creative bursts (“If I can’t get to a piano when an idea comes to me, I lose it”). “I’m happy the way things are going, but I’m not ready to stop pushin’,” exults the jubilant Jackson. His ultimate goal, says the singer of Let’s Get Serious, is to succeed father-in-law Gordy as president of $65 million-a-year Motown Industries.

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