I love these pictures of Jackie Wilson. They really give you the feeling of just what an incredible performer he was. He was one of a kind. His career was controlled by a syndicate of Detroit and New York mobsters including Nat Tarnopol and Tommy “Corky” Vastola aka The Gahloot (the Hesch character on the Sopranos is a sanitized composite of Vastola and Morris “Moishe” Levy). Both would later be convicted of crimes related to their music biz dealings. On one FBI wiretap you can hear John Gotti and Sammy Gravano discuss killing Vastola. Gotti wasn’t such a good judge of charachter, Gravano ate cheese, while Vastola kept his mouth shut and did his time. He’s still alive today, which is why I can’t really write much more about him, other than most artists he dealt with speak very highly of him. At least the ones I’ve spoken to. You can’t say the same for Edgar Brofman. I’d rather go back to the days when the mafia ran things than the current system of mega-corporate oligarchy, but that’s a whole ‘nuther posting, one I’ve been working on for a while.
Getting back to Jackie Wilson, who began his career as Clyde McPhatter’s replacement in the Dominoes, then went on to stardom at Brunswick Records. He had a tragic ending, suffering a stroke onstage in ’75 at an oldies show in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He spent his final years paralyzed while various women fought over his half dead body (woman often fought over Jackie, he was shot by a spurned lover in ’61). He finally died in 1984 after nine years sitting in a chair vegetating. The best source on the subject, in fact, a must read for any R&B fan is Jackie Wilson: The Man, The Music, The Mob by Tony Douglas (Mainstream, UK, 2001). Jackie didn’t trust banks, or the IRS, so he kept his money in safe deposit boxes in the diamond district (48th Street) in New York. Where did it go? I wouldn’t want to speculate in public.
He never made a great live album, although their may be tapes out there like similar to the Sam Cooke one cut in Miami at the Harlem Square Club in ’63 that surfaced in the 80’s. It would be nice to hear the real Jackie Wilson, without the corny productions that mar many of his recordings. Still, he did make some great records– Reet Petite, Baby Workout, Whispers, etc. No point in posting them and risk getting my legs broken. The above clips are killer, and those pix tell the story in a way words just can not.
Addendum: In the comments section Barry Soltz mentioned the X-rated outtake of Think Twice, on which Jackie and Lavern Baker trade insults in a most profane manner. So, for those who haven’t heard it, I’ve added it, thanks for the reminder Barry. Dick Dale also refers to himself in the third person.