The respect Jackson has already earned within the music community is evident throughout Tony Jackson, as the new album is titled. It features songs and/or performances by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members John Sebastian, Steve Cropper and Dr. John “Mac” Rebennack, Country Music Hall of Famers Vince Gill, Bill Anderson and Conway Twitty and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame luminary Norro Wilson.
It is the ease with which Jackson makes every song—even the familiar ones—distinctly his own that sets him apart. Who else would dare to try and then succeed in bringing a fresh layer of emotional urgency to such a classic as George Jones' “The Grand Tour” or Conway Twitty's eternal “It's Only Make Believe”?
On the first-time and lesser known songs, Jackson mints his own classics. With its sweeping steel guitar flourishes and ambient barroom clatter, he transforms John Sebastian and Phil Galdston's “Last Call” into the sweetest, most affectionate separation ballad imaginable. With reverence and a twinkle in his eye, he enlists Sebastian and Vince Gill in revivifying (after 50 years) the Lovin' Spoonful's 1966 romp, “Nashville Cats.” “When asked if we should recut the song,” Sebastian begins, “I said absolutely but we have to get Vince Gill, Paul Franklin and today’s real Nashville Cats in on the session and fortunately it was preserved on video,” he beams.
After capturing perfectly, the excitement of new love in Bill Anderson's “I Didn't Wake Up This Morning,” he moves on to a memory-stirring homage to Merle Haggard, Hank Williams Jr. and Willie Nelson in “They Lived It Up,” a lyrical scrapbook from Anderson and Bobby Tomberlin.
Jackson shines as a keen-eyed songwriter in his own right with such memorable excursions as “Drink By Drink,” “Old Porch Swing,” and “She's Taking Me Home.”
A song that particularly appealed to Jackson was George Jones’ heartbreaking 1974 hit, “The Grand Tour.” When Jones died, Jackson and some friends went into a Richmond studio and recorded it. In the process, they also made a performance video that eventually wound up on YouTube. By sheer accident, singer Donna Dean Stevens saw the video and instantly decided Jackson should do “The Grand Tour” on the Old Dominion Barn Dance, which she had just resurrected. After she witnessed Jackson’s standing ovation—an honor that hadn’t yet been accorded to any of the show’s headliners—she offered to co-manage and co-produce him with noted talent manager Jim Della Croce. A commanding performer in her own right, Dean Stevens recorded for Mercury Records in Nashville as Donna Meade. She is also the widow of Country Music Hall of Fame member Jimmy Dean and a zealous guardian of his vast musical legacy.
Dean Stevens and Della Croce then whisked Jackson to Nashville, where he recorded most of Tony Jackson at the hallowed RCA Records Studios. In one of his best-loved songs, George Jones considered the dwindling ranks of country superstars and asked plaintively “Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes.”
Tony Jackson volunteering for duty.