“I grew up in the country, a hard working environment where your ass had to get out there and work,” laughs Ralph ‘Soul’ Jackson from Phenix City, AL, a rural city deep in the Black Belt across the Chattahoochee River from Columbus, GA, where the last battle of the Civil War was fought. During Jackson’s childhood, this Southeast corner of Alabama was called the Las Vegas of the South. The city’s infamous club-lined main drag became such a hotbed for organized crime there were city ordinances calling for a weekly drag of the River. Jackson was sneaking into those same clubs throughout the 60s, learning how to turn out a crowd and entertain the ladies. Now a sleepy hub city to Columbus, he finds his hometown, neighbors and country living the greatest influences on his nearly 50 year career as an entertainer and The Alabama Love Man.
Jackson began writing as a teenager and after hearing Otis and Pickett on the radio he sent a demo to Rick Hall at FAME. Hall brought Jackson to Muscle Shoals for his fiery debut recordings, christened him ‘Soul’ and released his first single in 1965. Like in the local juke joints, he watched Hall pull sounds from instruments and the angles of his studio, saw Spooner Oldham run one-take live sessions and experienced the marriage of what Jackson calls “honky-tonk” guitars and driving, church-influenced rhythms, the blueprint for southern soul. “Steve Cropper, Jimmy Johnson and the white bands playing those country licks made a lot of hit records. I was expecting to show up in Muscle Shoals surrounded by black musicians. Growing up, we were all dancing to “Hi-Heeled Sneakers” not knowing it was a country and western song.”
The overwhelming theme in Jackson’s music is the love of a good woman. “I’ve learned. Women dogged me out when I was 18, 20. I got burned, man. Finding a good, trustworthy woman of virtue takes years and when you find one, well, it makes you want to moan. They tell me “I get chills when you scream from the stage.” See, I may sing my songs from the gut but they come from my heart. I learned very early that women appreciate attention, I’m not singing for women, I sing to them.”
‘The Alabama Love Man’ is Jackson’s debut album The process began three years ago with a core group from Alabama and Chicago cutting the rhythm tracks live in Jackson’s home studio during a wicked March cold snap. Over the next couple years, overdubs and vocals were recorded in Chicago with the help of Todd Rittmann, Adam Fitz, Nellie ‘Tiger’ Travis, and members of The Drastics, Mucca Pazza, Detholz!, US Maple and Dead Rider. Not trying to recreate the magic of an era disconnected by our analog to digital world, the album captures a living document of Ralph ‘Soul’ Jackson in his prime. After all, Jackson is constantly advancing his craft and he believes you’re never too old to entertain, “I’m still up at 3 AM writing songs or performing two sets or learning how to get the most out of my access to technology as an independent artist.” He understands he’s not in this alone, “The Lord gave me this gift and it’s been good to me. With him on my side I’m able too keep moving forward.”