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Interview:
Even without Michael, the Jacksons make it look easy as 1-2-3
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Michael Jackson's hologram may be floating around out there in the pop culture ether. But his brothers are still flesh and blood and making sure the music is being heard in a very real way.

For the past two years the four other members of Motown's famed Jackson 5 -- Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon -- have been on the road, playing the group's greatest hits as well as post-Motown material recorded as the Jacksons. They're not shirking from Michael's solo hits, either, though eldest brother Jackie acknowledges that the youngest Jackson's presence is clearly missed during the performances.

"We love singing those," says, Jackie, at 63 the oldest of the brothers, who were put together by their father, Joe Jackson, in Gary, Ind., and signed to Motown in 1969. "That's our brother, and people want to hear those songs and it's very emotional as well because we try to do the best we can with them.

"It's kind of a like a tear-jerker moment, but we manage to do OK with it and really enjoy it and people have a great time when we're singing those songs."

The Jacksons hadn't performed together in 11 years or toured in 28 years before launching their Unity Tour in 2012, which came in the wake of their 2010 A&E TV reality series "The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty." Nevertheless, an appetite for the group's legacy never wavered, and after spending "the longest time" on logistics, the Jackson managed to finally get their show back on the road.

"It's really the fans who have been crying for us to go out this year," says Jackie. "The fans just want to go out and sing the songs with us and reminisce for the old days. So we're going out for the fans and our brother Michael -- I'm sure he would want us to go out and do what we're doing now. His spirit will be with us in the house as well."

The show has evolved over the past two years, too, he says. The Jacksons played a residency earlier this year, and they've added more talk between the tunes.

"There's going to be a lot of storytelling in this show, telling stories that you've never heard before," Jackie promises. Like what? "Ah, I can't let the cat out of the bag," he says with a laugh. "There'll be some significant stories about the Jacksons -- what Michael used to do, what we all did. That's all I can say.

"But it's gonna be a lot of fun."

The time is certainly ripe for that blast into the past. It's the 45th anniversary of the Jackson 5's emergence, which started with a string of four consecutive No. 1 singles and an album, "Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5," which has sold more than five million copies worldwide. "You'd go in the studio and record those songs and do the best you could do," Jackie recalls. "You don't know what's going to happen when they come out. It's almost like a challenge.

"We were just lucky enough that people loved the songs and we had hit records."

In fact, it actually took a minute before Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. was satisfied with what he was hearing from the group, which he'd designated to be the vanguard of the Detroit label's move to Los Angeles. Gordy himself had to enter the studio and join the songwriting team he dubbed The Corporation, and in short order it came up with pay dirt in the form of "I Want You Back."

"When we heard the first lick of the piano we knew that was an instant smash, 'cause the intro was so strong," Jackie recalls. "A lot of songs today don't have that strong intro. Once you have that you can grab people right away.

"So that was a great start, but we had everything -- great songwriters, a great marketing team behind us, Berry Gordy. It was, like, five boys from Gary, Ind., who wanted to follow a dream in life and make great music around the world and make people happy. That's what we did. It was wonderful and turned out so great."

The rest is, of course, history -- to the tune of 22 Top 40 hits on the Billboard charts and sold more than 100 million records worldwide. The Jackson 5 its own TV cartoon show, merchandising to rival the Beatles and any contemporary pop act, and it was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame two years later.

Michael's death in 2009 means that history can never fully repeat itself, of course, but the four Jacksons do have designs on continuing the legacy. The group has been working on a new album -- its first since "2300 Jackson Street" in 1989 -- with hopes of bringing it out later this year.

"It sounds like Jacksons music, with today's sounds," Jackie reports. "People still want to hear that Jackson 5 harmony; we can't get away from where we came from. That's what they want to hear. But there's a lot of new flavors we can combine that with. Something like Bruno Mars' 'Treasure,' that's like on old Jacksons song. When I first heard that song I said, 'That could have been ours!'

"So if we come up with the goods, I think people will definitely want to hear it."

The Jacksons perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 12, at SoundBoard in the Motor City Casino Hotel, 2901 Grand River Blvd., Detroit. Tickets are $58-$78. Call 313-237-7711 or visit www.motorcitycasino.com.



DANCIN' IN THE STREETS

It's been 55 years since Berry Gordy, Jr.'s Motown empire started with the first release on the Tamla Records imprint. And fittingly, several of Motown's biggest names will be cruising through the metro area this summer. The Jacksons start things off, but also on the docket are...

* Diana Ross, Motown's first lady, playing June 13 at the Freedom Hill Amphitheatre, 14900 Metropolitan Parkway, Sterling Heights. Tickets are $10-$89.50. Call 586-268-9700 or visit www.freedomhill.net.

* Lionel Richie, June 20 at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $25-$125. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

* Four Tops and Temptations, June 21 at Freedom Hill. Tickets are $10-$85.

* The Michael Jackson Laser Spectacular, June 28 as part of the Stars & Stripes Festival at Freedom Hill. Admission is free.

* El Debarge, July 9 at the Chene Park Amphitheatre, 2600 Atwater, Detroit. Tickets are $12-$35. Call 313-393-7128 or visit www.cheneparkdetroit.com.

Web Site: www.motorcitycasino.com

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