~ The History of Tony Jackson ~

Jackson with Hofner Bass
(Born July 16, 1940 - Liverpool, England)

~ Tony Jackson's Early Contribution ~

One of the most intriguing mysteries of The Searchers' early days surrounds the talented Liverpudlian bassist and vocalist, Tony Jackson. He was, for a time, the popular lead singer of the group and was well known for his vocals which became a hallmark of their sound in the early 1960's. He was the lead singer on the group's first LP and had a lesser but nonetheless important role in their second album release. So then, it came as quite a surprise to many Searcher's fans when Jackson left shortly after the rock classic "Needles and Pins" soared to fame in March 1964. An understanding of group dynamics and recording politics behind the scene, however, makes his departure less dramatic. The demo tapes made for Pye Records had Chris Curtis singling lead with Tony Jackson's only contribution being "Sweets for My Sweet." Moreover, recordings from the Star Club performances reveal both Tony and Chris sharing the majority of lead vocals, followed by a lesser contribution by Mike Pender and only a single performasnce by John McNally. Interestingly, at the time of their first record contract, Pye was more impressed with Jackson's demo performance and he was given the lead vocal honours. More than 35 years after the event, the circumstances surrounding his departure remain illusive. The burning question lingers, did he quit the group or was he encouraged to leave by his fellow band members. At the time of this writing, there were only a few sources that could shed any light on this dark issue and an erie silence accompanied most questions pertaining to his short career with the group or his life in the years that were to follow. There have been precious few comments regarding Tony in music reviews or even in Frank Allen's most interesting group history entitled "Traveling Man." The "Traveling Man" did go so far as to suggest that Jackson's strong personality and love of alcohol may have strained his relationship with the rest of The Searchers.

Tony and Searchers in Studio
Mike Pender, Tony Jackson, John McNally and Chris Curtis
Photo courtesy of Michael Denger

~ Why did Jackson Leave? ~

Why would Tony Jackson leave at a time when success seemed almost a certainty? Suffice it to say, that there would be few musicians on the verge of reaching rock and roll heaven who would voluntarily end their journey several steps from entering the Pearly Gates. It is tempting to speculate, therefore, that the lead singer and front man was asked to leave his post. Liverpudlian lore has it that Tony Jackson was also known as "Black Jake" which also suggests that his somewhat caustic personality may have played a role in his leaving the group. But what would have been the motivation of group members to have Tony ousted. A watershed for Jackson and The Searchers surfaced with the recording of "Needles and Pins" which without a doubt had the once lead singer on "pins and needles" to be sure. There had been a longstanding tension between Chris Curtis, the group leader, and Jackson that was not to be resolved. Curtis seems to have preferred his own falsetto on Mike Pender's version of "Needles and Pins" in contrast to Tony's somewhat emotionless rendition. When all was said and done, Tony Jackson did not sing on "Needles and Pins", "Don't Throw Your Love Away" or "Some Day We're Gonna Love Again". It was argued, by Curtis, that the success of Mike Pender's version was proof enough that Jackson's style had paled and that it was time to capitalize on this success. Some students of Searchers' history have gone so far as to indicate that Jackson was not informed of the time and place in which recording sessions were scheduled thereby limiting his contribution. In the end, Curtis may be said to have orchestrated Jackson's removal seemingly because of an interest including Frank Allen, the bass player for Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, in the group. Apparently he had the support of their producer, Tony Hatch, with respect to this idea. Taken together, it would seem that Tony was pushed from the Searchers, although Jackson's somewhat forceful personality perhaps made it somewhat easier for Curtis than it might otherwise have been.

"Black Jake"
Tony enjoying early success
Photo courtesy of Michael Denger

~ Life After The Searchers ~

Following his stint with The Searchers, Tony Jackson formed The Vibrations. Their first single on Pye Records was "Bye Bye Baby" and became a hit under the name of The Tony Jackson and the Vibrations. A second single was released by The Tony Jackson Group and entitled "Stage Door". Their recording contract with Pye fizzled in 1965 and a second with CBS met a similar fate. Information has surfaced that Tony had plastic surgery performed on his nose at the time he left The Searchers which seems to have had an adverse effect on the quality of his voice. Others have argued, that in spite of being blessed with talented musicians to back him up, Jackson's material lacked the originality required to compete with the competition at the time. It would seem that he left at a time, when for one reason or another, he needed The Searchers more than they needed him. There were to be no other hits for Tony over the years as two additional releases were not well received. The group toured the southern European circuit until approximately 1968. Tony had a number of jobs following his performing days, one of which included managing a golf course.

"Ain't That Just Like Me"
A portrait of Tony as a Searcher
Photo courtesy of Michael Denger

~ The Comeback Trail ~

In 1985, Mike Pender left The Searchers to begin a new performing and recording career with his newly formed group "MIKE PENDER'S SEARCHERS. As reported in the Spring 1996 issue of MPS NEWS, Tony Jackson considered joining the group. Tony Sherwood, the MPS agent and manager writes

"Do you know that when Mike originally left the Searchers to form his own group, there was a distinct possibility at that time of Tony Jackson being included? Sadly this did not come to fruition. Tony and Mike remain close friends to this day and the reason that I particularly mention Tony is that I now see him occasionally as he has come to live in my home town of Nottingham."

As it turns out, there was a "test shot" photo taken of Tony Jackson with the MPS using a polaroid camera in 1985. In the end, Barrie Cowell was to take the place as bass player for MIKE PENDER'S SEARCHERS with Jackson never performing with the group.

In 1991, Paul Francis (who was the drummer with the Tony Jackson Group) convinced Tony to reunite The Vibrations and the group did perform a number of engagements. Personal communication received from those who witnessed a portion of the early 1990's reunion commented that Jackson continued to have a voice that showed some of the sparkle of "the old days" although he now left bass playing to others. Apparently this was due in part to his deteriorating health including arthritis and a heart condition. A 1990's British television documentary portrayed a man who did not look well. Apparently, he was convicted of threatening a woman with a fake gun for which he received a brief period of incarceration in Walton Jail.

A review of The Searchers' history and music makes it abundantly clear that Tony Jackson's creativity, musical talent and popularity in England was instrumental in the groups' success during the early part of their career. It is most unfortunate that the historical information available with regard to this once controversial performer pales in comparison to his fine contribution to The Searchers' beginnings.

~ Acknowledgments ~

Thanks goes to Michael Denger for his critical review of an earlier draft of this article on Tony Jackson and to those who have emailed or posted to alt.music.searchers providing additional comments.

Submitted May 26, 2000 - Revised October 12, 2000
2000 Peter McCormack. All rights reserved.

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