Detroit’s country music scene of the 1950’s featured a solid mix of talents and clubs where folks could stomp ’till two o’clock every night of the week, with some of the wildest sounds this side of Mason-Dixon Line. One man who was there in the thick of the good times was Eddie Jackson, who assembled the hottest bands and shows in town for two decades straight !
He was born in Cooksville, Tennessee, and Eddie’s family, like many Southerners, moved to Detroit during a period a growth in automobile manufacturing. As a youngster during the 1930s and 40s, he took up guitar and singing, and idolized musical giants such as Hank Penny, Milton Brown, Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan (he even met Wills and Duncan in Stockton, CA, while Eddie served with the Navy during WWII). Upon his honorable discharge by Uncle Sam in 1947, Jackson returned to Detroit, and was offered to lead a band the same night he arrived ! From then on, Eddie Jackson and his various combos were crowd-pleasers at shows all over Michigan, parts of Ohio, and Ontario. Around 1950, Eddie’s first group, the Melody Riders, cut a record in Detroit. The song « I’m willing to forget » was his first composition (Fortune 134).
“New set of blues”
(Accompanying the Riders was Hal Clark on guitar, who later changed his name to Hal Southern and co-wrote « I dreamed of a hillbilly heaven ».) Hal Clark sang his comp on the flip “New set of blues“. As the scene got cooking, Jackson’s band started sizzling, and they found
Hal Clark (Fortune 146) “I don’t mean a thing to you”
themselves booked nightly. Ted’s 10-Hi Bar, on the east side, was the sight of Detroit’s first C&W Jamboree, as hosted by Eddie Jackson and his Cowboy Swingsters (including Tracey White on guitar, and ‘Smitty’ Smith on bass). For several months, the trio performed 15-minutes radio broadcasts from WMLN-FM in Mount Clemens.Eddie Jackson also led a country music variety show, « The Michigan Barn Dance » on Detroit NBC affiliate Channel Four TV, during the early 1950’s.
“Baby doll”(first version)
Throughout his career, Jackson performed with the finest musicians available in Detroit. Among the more famous were steel guitar players Chuck Hatfield (from Hank Thompson’s band) and Billy Cooper (from Ferlin Husky’s). When Elvis Presley brought rock and roll craze to country music, Eddie was sharp enough to add the big beat to his repertoire, and he wrote « Rock and roll baby » around 1956 (Fortune 186), with a fine accordion.
“Rock and roll baby“
« Baby doll »(second version) (Shelby 297) and « Please don’t cry » were recorded after that, and through the 1950’s the Swingsters played regular shows at a nightclub called the Caravan Gardens.
Eddie Jackson solidified the band’s line-up with Joe Magic on bass & drums (played at the same time!), ‘Uncle’ Jimmy Knuckles on piano, and Tracey White on take off guitar. This group attracted big crowds, as well as popular country singers like Webb Pierce, Jean Shepard, Lefty Frizzell, Red Foley & many other top artists who often stopped in to perform songs with the Swingtsters ! Jackson also had his own program on Royal Oak radio station WEXL-AM, where he spun records and sometimes broadcast from the Caravan. In 1959 the Swingsters cut their most popular record record in Detroit : « I’m learning » backed with the rocker « Blues I can’t hide »(Caravan 101). Even though Jackson says he preferred « Blues… », the ballad « I’m learning » went through the roof of WEXL’s country & western charts. As a result, Eddie was able to pay cash for a new ’59 Cadillac with a convertible top !
“Blues I can’t hide”
The Swingsters’ next recordings stayed in step with country music trends of the early 1960’s, with Jackson’s version of his buddy Ricky Riddle‘s tune « Ain’t you ashamed » sounding among the best.
“Ain’t you ashamed“
They also backed Betty Parker on the Elm label # 742.
Betty Parker “Couldn’t see”
Eddie cruised down to Nashville and recorded two more singles, including « You put it there » (Caravan 1004), a song from his last session in a recording studio. By the late 1960’s he quit performing regularly, in favor a starting a successful business. Knuckles, White and others have since passed on. But whenever Eddie Jackson sings and entertain people, the crowd’s humor rises, and sparks fly.
“You put it there”
Notes by Craig Maki to « Eddie Jackson and the Swingsters – « Music with a Western beat » (Woodward LP WD-100, 1996). Reproduced by courtesy © Craig Maki. Additions from bopping’s editor. With appreciated help fro Drunken Hobo: thanks Dean!