1964 was a pivotal year for American popular music. The Stateside breakthrough of the Beatles and the ensuing British invaders changed the face of the nation’s charts, triggering a decline in sales for many domestic hit-makers who, overnight, became seen as outmoded. An exception to the rule was Motown, whose stable of stars not merely hung in there but went from strength to strength. The company’s golden girl, Mary Wells, topped the charts that year with ‘My Guy’, but her ill-advised departure at the height of her success signalled the cancellation of a projected follow-up, effectively opening a gap in the market.
Meanwhile in Chicago, Leonard Chess, founder of the venerable company that bore his name, was ever mindful of happenings at Berry Gordy’s nearby Detroit empire. As did Motown, Chess had its own family of musicians, writers and producers who were turning out a stream of fine product for the hungry soul market, but rarely scoring with a solid crossover smash.
Enter former Sam Cooke protégée Jackie Ross, a pretty teenager with a voice not dissimilar in tone to Mary Wells. Newly signed to Chess, her label debut unintentionally filled the ‘My Guy’ follow-up gap perfectly. Just as the intro to Mary’s smash had subtly incorporated strains of ‘Canadian Sunset’, so ‘Selfish One’ employed Nat King Cole’s ‘Tenderly’ to equally cool effect. Jackie slid easily from the soul to the pop charts with one of the most memorable hits of the year.
Jackie was soon ensconced in Chess Records’ Ter-Mar Studios with in-house arrangers Phil Wright and Riley Hampton and producer Billy Davis cutting material for future singles and her “Full Bloom” album. ‘I’ve Got The Skill’ and ‘Jerk And Twine’ both made the charts, but the equally fine ‘Haste Makes Waste’, ‘You Really Know How To Hurt A Girl’, ‘Take Me For A Little While’ and ‘We Can Do It’ all failed to catch on. A few ill-chosen words with Leonard Chess later, after just over a year with the company, Jackie’s tenure as a Chess artist came to an abrupt end.
As a result, a number of excellent 1965 recordings were consigned to the shelf, of which ‘It’s Going All The Way’, ‘I Dig His Style’ and ‘Trust In Me’ first surfaced on a 1998 CD release. The previously unissued ‘Stick To One’ and ‘My Square’ debut here, making this collection Jackie’s complete Chess Records output. Together with our recent Etta James, Sugar Pie DeSanto and Mitty Collier releases, it shows how great the company’s roster of female talent was.
By Malcolm Baumgart