Lost Albums: Reverend Charlie Jackson - God's Got It
Reverend Charlie Jackson's brand of blues and gospel is as powerful and affecting as any artist you'll ever hear. A travelling guitar evangelist, Jackson's devotion to God was immense and unwavering. Each of the obscure 1970s singles collected on God's Got It: the Legendary Booker and Jackson Singles focus on redemption, faith, and praise for the Lord alone. It is perhaps because of this devotion, not in spite of it, that it's such a vital piece of music regardless of the listener's beliefs.
Jackson released singles for the New Orleans gospel label Booker Records early in the '70s and then under his own Jackson Records imprint later that decade. In 2003, 18 of these recordings were compiled by archivist and CaseQuarter Records producer Kevin Nutt and released as God's Got It: The Legendary Booker And Jackson Singles.
The almighty title track is probably the most well-known of this obscure collection of songs, largely thanks to popular modern blues acolytes The Black Crowes tackling it on 2008's Warpaint.
An open chord rings out. "Weeeeellllll," Reverend Jackson bellows with his deep, powerful baritone. He launches into a bluesy shuffle on his tinny Fender Mustang and a small backing group, featuring family members and friends, join in on chorus vocals and handclaps. It may only be three voices and sets of hands but it sounds like an army, such is their passion.
It was this song that attracted Adam Lore – from the 50 Miles Of Elbow Room label - to Jackson's music. 50 Miles Of Elbow Room was initially a magazine focusing on largely unknown American free jazz, blues, gospel and old time music. It has since become a record label and distributor, allowing Lore to release a number of recordings from Reverend Jackson's personal archive.
"'God's Got It' was the song that initially grabbed me," Lore says. "It has a deeply potent swing and groove, delivered directly to and from the heart."
But to hear the Reverend Charlie Jackson in full flight, to hear the extent of his passion for music and his passion for God, look to 'Fix It Jesus'. For the first two minutes, Jackson sounds like he's summoning spirits. He hums, darkly and deeply, and screams with such guttural fervour that you can feel the impact in your chest and in your throat if you listen loud enough. From here it explodes into a jagged blues progression and Jackson pleads with his deity to make his woes right.
Jackson travelled as an evangelist for many years, visiting congregations to play for whoever was willing to come out to church on any given day.
"Rev. Jackson would likely be a draw for some who didn’t always attend a given church," Lore says. "Based on what I’ve been told and from listening to many hours of live recordings, my estimate is that attendance at these services and programs was quite variable and ranged from well over 100 – perhaps in the hundreds during the heyday of such programs, which largely predates these [God's Got It] recordings – to fewer than ten."
It's fair to assume Jackson's devotion made him sing and play with such primal force and unwavering strength.
It is fortuitous that these stunning records ever lasted past the 1970s, as their initial pressings were extremely limited.
"Rev. Robert Booker of Booker Records told [music historian] Lynn Abbott, 'A group would get together and put on chicken suppers, get enough to pay for a pressing. At that time you could get 500 records for about $110.' So, perhaps 500 was the standard run, though these 45s rarely turn up so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was fewer.
"I believe the Jackson Records 45s were solely sold by Rev. Jackson at his performances and I’m not sure the Bookers got much, if any, further distribution outside the church circuit, which contributes to their scarcity today."
Jackson passed away in 2006 after suffering a number of strokes through his life. His first stroke is mentioned in the redemptive, reflective 'Testimony Of Rev. Charlie Jackson'. The vibrato makes his guitar tremble, but his voice remains strong as he talks about the effects of the brain attack.
“I want to say that it's a blessing to be here” Jackson begins. “Two years ago, I had a stroke, and I couldn't speak nothin'... I did all the pills and all the shots. The doctor was lookin' at me: 'I don't believe that he gon' make it'. The doctor went home and went to sleep. I went home and I still couldn't speak nothin', but I got the guitar. When I couldn't speak nothing, I let the guitar do it.”
At this point he launches into a beautiful, mournful solo guitar version of popular hymn 'What a Friend We Have in Jesus'. It's far removed from the brutal hollering and guitar attack that propels the majority of his songs.
Given the overtly religious themes of God's Got It, convincing a secular audience to embrace the record is difficult. It's fair to assume Jackson's devotion made him sing and play with such primal force and unwavering strength. But his brutal vocal performances and stunning, punkish blues guitar skills can appeal to devout atheists, so long as they have a penchant for the roots of rock'n'roll.
Certainly a fan of say John Lee Hooker or Billy Childish wouldn’t find this music out of their comfort zone. The message, maybe.Adam Lore
"I just try to get people to give it a chance and let Rev. Jackson do the rest," Lore says. "It seems there are connections to be made, especially with listeners those whose tastes skew toward the raw, rocking, and soulful. Certainly a fan of say John Lee Hooker or Billy Childish wouldn’t find this music out of their comfort zone. The message, maybe.
"But, you know, the songs Rev. Jackson sang focus on a personal and often celebratory relationship with God, not telling sinning listeners that they need to get right or anything like that."
God's Got It is an intense, powerful, joyous and ruthless album. While it has more in common with a band like The Cramps than it does the music of Hillsong, it would be a disservice to Jackson to gloss over what drove him to perform.
"There are of course many definitions of success, and a primary goal was to help bring down the Holy Spirit," Lore says. "One of Rev. Jackson’s sons told me, 'He wasn’t about the crowd. I don’t care if it’s just four or five in there, he’s gonna play like 4,000 was in there.'"
That these obscure singles, recorded for small congregations, were resurrected is miraculous. Go forth and enjoy the bounty.
Check out the rest of our Lost Albums series:
The Riptides – Tombs Of Gold by Andrew Stafford
Black Francis – Svn Fngrs by Sarah Smith
Sibylle Baier – Colour Green by Jimi Kritzler
The Cannanes and Steward – Communicating At An Unknown Rate by Megan Spencer
Bluetile Lounge – lowercase by Andy Hazel