Freddie Jackson brings smooth sounds to sold-out Dover show

DOVER — In 1985, Freddie Jackson’s debut album “Rock Me Tonight” spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the R&B charts.

R&B performer Freddie Jackson will perform his top hits Feb. 17 at Dover Downs’ Rollins Center for a sold-out show. (Submitted photo)

And no one was more shocked than Mr. Jackson himself.

“I took the industry by surprise. People were saying ‘Who the heck is this guy? We heard nothing about this record.’ I was working as a word processor typing 100 words a minute and singing on the side and my management figured ‘Let’s give him a shot,’” he recalled during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.

“I lived in an empty apartment in the Bronx and figured I would make this record and be able to furnish my apartment and I would go back to work. The album didn’t even have a label when I recorded it. We shopped it around to a few different ones and finally Capitol Records picked up. It went platinum and more than a few people who turned it down were fired.”

That first album produced four top-10 singles on the U.S. R&B chart, with the first two, “You Are My Lady” and “Rock Me Tonight (For Old Times’ Sake),” reaching No. 1. The latter two, “Love Is Just a Touch Away” and “He’ll Never Love You,” peaked at Nos. 9 and 8, respectively.

He’ll surely sing those smooth hits and more when he visits Dover Downs Hotel and Casino’s Rollins Center for a sold-out post-Valentine’s Day show Feb. 17 at 9 p.m.

“That first album’s success was certainly a surprise to me and others. Nothing was preconceived. I was this nappy-head little guy with an afro who had to borrow my manager’s sweater to wear on the album cover,” he said.

“I remember getting a call from my manager when I was in London. He said, ‘I hope you are sitting down because your album just went to No. 1.’ I said, ‘That’s nice.’ He said, ‘That’s nice? Are you crazy?’

“Before that I was singing background for people like Harry Belafonte and Angela Bofill. I didn’t concern myself with whether their album went No. 1.”

Starting out singing gospel music at a young age at the White Rock Baptist Church in Harlem, N.Y., Mr. Jackson said he lived four blocks from the famed Apollo Theater where he saw a host of music legends.

“Seeing acts like Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and The Jackson Five was more educational for me than any college. I could see three shows a day for 90 cents. But I’m not trying to date myself,” the affable 60-year-old Mr. Jackson said with a laugh.

He said growing up and even into his early 20s, he never really considered music as a career.

“I was in such a wonderful comfort zone. I held down a full-time job and was singing in church on Sundays. My parents considered any music that wasn’t gospel music to be sin music,” he said.

“But there came a time where I realized this was what I really wanted to do and there was some disappointment from my family but they mostly said ‘I wish you the best’ and it was the greatest thing I could have done. I figured if it didn’t work out, I would go back to being the biggest and baddest word processor around.

“I often kid with people who text today that I used to get paid to type like that.”

On the heels of the No. 1 R&B duet “A Little Bit More,” which he recorded with Melba Moore for whom he sang backup, his follow-up 1986 album “Just Like the First Time” continued the crooner’s dominance of the R&B singles charts.

“Tasty Love,” “Have You Ever Loved Somebody,” and “Jam Tonight” all hit No. 1, while “I Don’t Want to Lose Your Love” went to No. 2.

“I definitely cold cocked the industry. Luther Vandross even showed up at my hotel room in Los Angeles one day because he just wanted to see who I was,” said Mr. Jackson, who was nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy in 1986.

Mr. Jackson’s career saw the 1988 release of “Don’t Let Love Slip Away” which featured two No. 1 R&B hits in “Hey Lover” and “Nice ’N’ Slow.”

The title track of 1990’s “Do Me Again” and “Love Me Down” also hit No. 1 while “Main Course” reached No. 2 on the R&B chart.

After leaving Capitol for RCA in 1993, his subsequent albums didn’t sell as well.

“Time takes a toll on an artist over a 31-year career,” Mr. Jackson said.

“The music industry changes and radio changes and all the propaganda that comes along with it changes. We all face highs and lows. But I feel like I still got it going on and I’m in this game to win it.”

He points to Bruno Mars’ latest album “24K Magic,” which contains the song “Versace Magic,” a musical homage to Mr. Jackson’s “Rock Me Tonight.”

“I hear something like that and I hear ‘You go ahead Freddie Jackson,’” he said with a booming laugh.

This spring, he is set to release his first album of new material in 10 years with “Love Signals.”

“I went back to the beginning of my career for the sound for this album. A lot of people say R&B is dead but it’s not dead. It just needs to be nurtured organically and I think I do that on this album. I’m very excited for people to hear it,” he said.

The fact that the Dover Downs show is sold out is testament to Mr. Jackson that people are longing to hear his music three decades after his first success.

“You should never underestimate the fans who love the music. People are still dying to hear these songs,” he said.

“I just want to thank my fans for their support over these 31 years. I’m looking forward to rocking Dover Downs for old times’ sake.”

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