Six Best Tidbits From New Book About The Jacksons
Nobody ever said it (or sang it) better than the Jackson 5: “It’s plain to see / I still got Indiana soul in me.”
By the time the band delivered that lyric, in “Goin’ Back to Indiana,” it was 1971. They’d already moved to Motown and dropped multiple No. 1 hits. But that line got it right—the five brothers would always keep at least part of their Indiana soul.
That’s only one of the things you’ll learn from The Jacksons: Legacy, a hefty and handsome new coffee-table book that celebrates the band’s 50th anniversary. The volume draws on hours of fresh interviews with the surviving brothers, in addition to material from the family’s archives. It offers page after page of rare and striking images, ranging from the band’s breakthrough to their various solo careers.
Still, The Jacksons also underlines how it all started in Gary, Indiana. Here are six of the book’s best Hoosier tidbits.
The Jacksons’ parents met in Indiana—and through music
Joe Jackson and Katherine Scruse (sometimes spelled Screws) were both born in the South; their families moved to Northern Indiana when they were still young. So it was in East Chicago, Indiana—at a high school house party, where everyone was dancing to radio R&B—that Katherine and Joe first met.
The family’s first home
The couple married in 1949, and money was tight. Joe worked at a steel mill, Katherine worked part-time at Sears, and together they bought a tiny, two-bedroom house in Gary for $8,500. Money got only tighter as the home filled with their nine eventual children—and space got tighter, too. The parents slept in one bedroom, the six sons piled into the other, and the three daughters landed in the living room on couches. “It was a tiny house,” Marlon Jackson says in The Jacksons, “but it seemed huge to us.”
Growing up in Gary
“Being a kid in Gary was fun,” Tito Jackson remembers in the book. “We would shovel snow to make money. We cut lawns and pulled weeds.” Joe played the tough parent, pushing his kids to work hard. But the family had fun, too. There was boxing and baseball and, most of all, music. The Jacksons wore out a radio, a record player, and, later on, a TV that Michael would sit in front of to watch James Brown. But the best songs came from inside the house. Katherine would sing country tunes while doing the housework, and the children would harmonize with her. Joe and his brother had a band, and they often practiced at home. “We could sit around for hours and hours,” Jackie Jackson remembers, “just watching them play.”
A band of their own
Surrounded by music—and by their father’s instruments—the Jackson brothers started jamming on their own in the early 1960s. At first it was the three oldest: Tito, Jermaine, and Jackie. “We were just fooling around on guitar and bass,” Jackie recalls, “and then one day Michael joined us, playing bongos on a Quaker oatmeal box.” Once they added Marlon, it was a brotherly quintet. They practiced at home, covering Motown hits, and before long, their Gary neighbors would crowd around the house, looking and listening through the windows. When one of Katherine’s friends asked them to play at an Illinois department store, they agreed—and came up with the name the Jackson Brothers Five. Next came high school talent shows in Gary. “There was no hope once they hit the stage,” remembers another local singer. “It was over.”
Once Joe realized his sons’ talent, he bought them better instruments and a VW van. They started playing clubs in Gary—their first paid gig was at the city’s Mister Lucky’s Lounge—and in Chicago. Each trip to the big city awed the boys, and they looked forward to getting White Castle burgers on the drive back. One early show occurred at Chicago’s famous Regal Theater, where Gladys Knight was also on the bill. “I was sitting in my dressing room on the second floor,” she says in The Jacksons, “when I heard these little voices.” Knight put down her makeup brush, marched out, and watched the band play through the curtains.
Goin’ back . . .
After more Chicago gigs, and a van trip to the Apollo in New York, the Jackson 5 signed their first Motown contract in 1969. One mark of their fame was “Goin’ Back to Indiana,” a TV special that aired on ABC. The band played their hits, sometimes in a studio setting and sometimes in concert footage that’s still electric today. (While the special suggests it’s a Gary show, the sold-out concert was actually shot in Indianapolis.) The brothers and a roster of guest stars filled in the gaps with variety show bits, but even those were pure Indiana. Indeed, the best and silliest one centered on the most Hoosier activity of all: a game of pickup basketball.