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vol 5 - issue 10 (jun 2003) :: untapped
UNTAPPED TALENT: COTTON JACKSON
interview by neogeo the prophet

Q: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A PROPHET ARMED WITH A TAPE RECORDER SITS DOWN ON A PORCH WITH THREE, MUSICALLY-TALENTED HILLBILLIES KNOWN AS COTTON JACKSON?

A: YOU GET ONE OF THE MOST BIZARRE AND ENTERTAINING INTERVIEWS TO EVER CROSS THE PAGES OF TASTES LIKE CHICKEN.

Neogeo: Let’s go around and introduce you three, one at a time.

Marvin Jackson: I’m Marvin Jackson, and I play the guitar.

Cletus Jackson: I’m Cletus Jackson. I play guitar and I sing.

Jackson Jackson: I’m Jackson Jackson. I play them drums and a bucket.


N: Right on. Now, where are ya’ll from?

CJ: Well, now,.. Marvin, I don’t reckon I know where yer from.

MJ: I’m from various places around the greater Tri-State area.

CJ: Which three states are them?

MJ: Various ones.


N: Wait a minute. Are ya’ll related?

CJ: In one way or another.

N: Yer all Jacksons, but not necessarily brothers and sisters?

CJ: Right. Like I said, related in one way or another,.. but it’s mostly the other.

[ALL LAUGH]

CJ: I met Jackson Jackson at a family reunion when we was about 14. I was living in New Orleans with my stepmother and stepfather, which was a weird situation, what with both of ‘em being “step” parents. But I met Jackson Jackson, and that’s when we started playing together.

N: How did the rest of you come together?

MJ: About three summers ago, Cletus and Jackson found me alongside the road.

JJ: That was outside my hometown of Maybury.


N: And where is Maybury at?

CJ: That was somewheres in the Carolinas, weren’t it?

JJ: It was in North Carolina. But I think it moved.

CJ: Didn’t it get sold to Los Angeles?

JJ: I ain’t sure. But I do know it’s in America somewhere.

CJ: Anyways, Marvin was in the Tri-State area playin’ at bars--

MJ: And I’d been playing at the Holiday Inns as well.

CJ: That’s right. And that was somewhere near Ironton, so it was them nice Holiday Inns.

MJ: Yeah. The Rainbow Lounge.


N: So, you packed up and went with Cletus and Jackson?

MJ: Something like that.

N: Who was next?

CJ: I guess it would’ve been Percy.

JJ: Percy was playing piano at a Shakey’s Pizza in a bear costume, and we thought, “Oh, my God.”

CJ: I knew it had to be a person in that costume, because ain’t no mechanical bear can play piano that good. So we hooked up with Percy. Then we come to find out that his cousin’s sister, who was married to my stepmother’s brother and related to my stepdad, was Splendid Jackson.

JJ: Marvin actually found Splendid.

MJ: She was selling johnny cakes, which she still does now. After I bought one, I convinced her to come play the fiddle with us.

CJ: And that’s how we all come together to be Cotton Jackson.


N: Tell me a little about the history of the music you play.

CJ: Well, we’d made our way to Ohio, and we were down by this place right near Waynesville, Ohio.

JJ: We once had a friend called Wayne. He killed somebody.

CJ: Actually, he killed a woman. So we wrote a song about it. But we don’t like to talk about it.

JJ: Oh, yeah. Never mind.

CJ: So we was down at this flea market, where I was trying to find a Def Leppard t-shirt to buy, and Jackson Jackson stumbled across this box of records. We started leafing through them. There was these old 78s.


N: 78s?

JJ: Yeah. Those are bigger than 45s, but smaller than an album.

CJ: Right, right. They’re really thick, like Mickey Mouse records.

JJ: They’s frisbee heavy.

CJ: Anyway, these records didn’t have no labels on them that I could see. But I had this old Victrola that someone had turned a peach box into a speaker cabinet for, and it actually worked. So we took the records home and put the records on it. Through this tiny peach box speaker came the most beautiful music. We later found out the music was written by a great great grandfather of ours named Cotton Jackson.


N: I read there was a special feature about old Cotton Jackson, that made him kind of an interesting character in the music industry.

CJ: Yessir, that's right. He had three penises.

N: Three penises?!? Wow! I’d heard that he was missing a hand!

CJ: Oh, yeah. He was missing a hand, too. Strangest thing.

JJ: (laughing) Yeah, he was missing some digits!

CJ: Missing ‘em in some places, but he had more in others! So it was really weird to watch him count, you know?


N: He’d have to unzip himself to get to ten?

CJ: (laughing) Yeah. You didn’t really want to get him going with that counting numbers and whatnot. He used to claim that if he was excited, he’d just count each of 'em as two. But that’s just a rumor.

JJ: (to Cletus) but you digrest.

CJ: Yeah. I digrest.


N: So, old pappy Jackson turned out to be a musician?

CJ: Yes, he was. A great musician in my mind. He was born to two black share croppers, but he come out an albino. That's why we all look like this.

N: You look white.

CJ: That’s right.

N: Then, all your songs are covers of old Cotton Jackson tunes?

MJ: Sort of. The original 78s got burned up in a tragic fire. So, in order for us to pay tribute to Cotton, we all had to get together and try to remember as much as possible about every single song. A lot of them we got the music for, and a lot of them we got the words for. And for whatever we couldn’t remember, we just tried to do what Cotton would’ve done.

N: So, you guys are really carrying on the legacy of the family music tradition?

CJ: Yessir!

MJ: Absolutely!

JJ: Darn tootin’!


N: Now, how long has Cotton Jackson, the band, been playing here in Columbus?

CJ: Well,.. we don’t play. We figure since Cotton never really “made” it, or was never really accepted in the music industry, then why should we play?

JJ: Yeah. We play.

CJ: (to Jackson Jackson) “We don’t have a band, Randy!”

JJ: But, we play!

CJ: We play. But we only play on porches, and only when we’re not invited.


[ALL LAUGH]

CJ: And we're going on a Truck Stop Tour, which will be completely uninvited. And that’s how we’ll get the songs of Cotton Jackson out; by showing up and forcing it on people, whether they like it or not.

MJ: And this all comes from the Uninvited Porch Tour.


N: You’ve finished that tour.

CJ: Yeah. We played two porches to packed audiences. That’s how we all got started. And we’re also going to do the Uninvited Youth Hostel Tour this summer.

N: Overseas, huh?

CJ: Yup. In Europe. It’s a self-funded project. We're trying to try enlighten the,.. uh,...

JJ: The Europonease?

CJ: Yeah, that’s right. The Europonease. To let them over there know what Cotton Jackson is all about.

MJ: Is it "Europonease" or "Europans"?

CJ: Europans is whatcha cook out of.

JJ: (laughing) Your pans is in the kitchen!

CJ: (laughing) That’s a good one, Jackson!


N: If ya’ll had to describe your sound to someone, how would you do that?

MJ: Brilliant!

CJ: Well, I wouldn’t go that far,...

MJ: (to Cletus) Have you heard me play?!?

CJ: Now, I’m not saying yer not brilliant, Marv. I love your guitar work, and I’m in awe that you still stick around after that offer the Dixie Chicks gave you. That was real nice of you, not leaving us fer them. But I would say that our sound is like country-blues-rock-hip-hop-metal, without any metal or hip-hop. (laughs) But we are going to do an R&B stint after the Uninvited Truck Stop Tour. We wanna start to get into what the kids want to hear, you know?

MJ: Well, it’s not just R&B that we’re gonna do. It’s also a little industrial sounding, too.

CJ: Yeah. Some industrial R&B.


[ALL LAUGH]

N: So, you guys have a record out now?

CJ: Yessir. A friend of ours out in Johnstown decided to lay down some tracks for us. Percy, who plays piano for us, and Splendid, who plays a splendid fiddle--

JJ: Her johnny cakes business is blowin’ up like crazy!

CJ: Yeah. She’s just selling ‘em like crazy. She’s making more money than she knows what to do with. So, she’s busy and couldn’t be here.

MJ: And she’s been drinkin’ since two.

JJ: Two? You mean, too early! That’s when she started drinking! (laughs)

CJ: But we recorded an eight song EP with both Percy and Splendid Jackson. And we also found a couple other Jacksons, Puddin’ and Ruby, to do some back-up vocals.


N: And will that be available soon?

CJ: Well,.. we don’t expect to get a lot of financial backing for that, so we’re just going to sell t-shirts. And with every t-shirt, you get a free CD.

[EVERYONE PAUSES AND LOOKS AT ONE ANOTHER]

JJ: Wait a minute. We haven’t discussed that at all. If we ain’t got no money for records, then we ain’t got no money for t-shirts.

CJ: Hmm,.. yer right.

MJ: What about my bling?

CJ: Yer what? Yer blang? I told ya’, if you’d quit touching it, then it would heal!


[ALL LAUGH]

CJ: We will have a CD out here shortly, I believe. But I don’t know when, to be honest with you. We have recorded, and you can check it out on our website. We also recorded the “State Fair” song.

N: You’re doing a song for the Ohio State Fair?

MJ: Well, they haven’t given it to us yet, but we’re hoping.

CJ: The song was originally recorded in 1958.

JJ: We had to change a few words because of that.

CJ: Yeah, we had to make it more modern, hence the line about Cheap Trick. Who I have seen every year that they played at the State Fair.

JJ: Which has been every year.

CJ: The song is called “The State Fair Song”. We left the state name out in case any other state wanted to use it. We think once the media gets wind of it, it will put Cotton Jackson on the map.

JJ: We left the name out so anyone can use it. You know, like Germany.


[ALL LAUGH]

N: Now, I know that Cotton Jackson will be playing a show at a tastes like chicken party. Why don’t you tell the readers about that.

CJ: Yeah. We gonna have a little “sayin’ goodbye” party for the boys and gals at tastes like chicken.

N: And where’s that going to be at?

JJ: Behind your house.

N: Is it really?!?

[ALL LAUGH]

N: I thought we had a venue set up?

JJ: It was going to be at the St. James Tavern, but that ain’t going to be ready in time. They need to put in another fire escape or something.

N: Alright. So it’s going to be behind the house.

CJ: Where it should be! On a porch!

MJ: We do our best work on porches.


N: Now, if people want, can they show up to the show with a couple spoons or a washboard and join on in?

CJ: Hell yeah! Bring it on! The more the merrier. It’s all about porch music.

JJ: Unless you ain’t no good.

CJ: Yeah. Unless you suck. Then we’ll tell you to get the fuck off our porch!

MJ: Even if it ain’t our porch! (laughs)


[CHICKEN JACKSON, THE FAMILY DOG, BEGINS TO WHIMPER]

JJ: Shut up, dawg!

N: Hey, that reminds me. Do ya’ll think dogs have lips?

JJ: Chicken’s got lips.

CJ: Chicken’s a girl!


VISIT COTTON JACKSON HERE.


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