If music and the ability to distill life and human experience is a gift from the soul, then Lavel Jackson has studied and learned his life-lessons well.
An immensely gifted vocalist, songwriter, producer, lyricist and musician, Jackson is a Saginaw bred artist born with a firm foundation in both church & community, who rose to national fame in the early nineties with the B.A.D. Band, which was signed to Motown Records.
Having tasted the heady heights of national tours and the roller-coaster vagaries of the recording business, he moved back to Saginaw in the mid-90's to pursue an equally successful solo career, with three top-selling original CD's of Gospel music, forging his own independent production company and taking care of his children as a 'stay-at-home' Dad.
Within the past year, Lavel assembled a powerful new band possessing the groove of seminal R&B mixed with the electrical spark and magic of the early Motown sound, which serves as the perfect foil for his hook-laden and melodic original compositions, all delivered with the divergent range of his intensely personal voice.
Busily working on yet another new CD - the debut effort with his freshly assembled group; and polishing his sound for show-case concerts while mentoring young musicians within the Saginaw Valley and beyond, Lavel Jackson is that rare find in contemporary music - an original voice, embracing divergent genres of music & influence, respectful of the past with ears & eyes open to the future.
In the Beginning . . .
Lavel Jackson's earliest memories of music were as a very young child, which he honestly states is a 'gift' he was born into. "I remember attending a Teddy Pendergrass when I was very young at the Saginaw Civic Center and the reaction of the crowd simply floored me. The emotion that I felt was something that I knew would be great to feel all the time," laughs Lavel.
"Another show that left a mark at an early age was B.B. King and Albert King," he continues. "My Mom got sick with the flu and my Dad took me to that show and it really overwhelmed me. It informed me of what I wanted to do with my life, which was really sing and get out there publicly."
Deep involvement with the Prince of Peace church choir as a youth helped give focus to the undefined yet intense desires of childhood. "I remember doing my first vocal solo in the church choir because the kid that was supposed to sing it didn't show up. The Director asked who wanted to sing lead and I rose my hand and that truly started me singing, along with High School choir."
As he matured into his adolescent and teenage years, Lavel got his first breakthrough opportunity in the local club scene through enlistment in his first band, The Crowd Pleasers. "I was the guy they would call when the lead singer quit," laughs Lavel. "And it was around this period that I became very interested in melodies and rhythm and songwriting."
Shortly thereafter, Lavel received a phone call from the seminal '80s-early '90's dance band, Valentine, after key member and front-line singer Dezi Phillips left the group to take his career to the next level with a CBS recording contract. "Valentine was a great experience," recalls Lavel. "I remember they phoned me on a Sunday night and I had to perform on Monday, but the guys knew I could sing. Plus I liked not really knowing what I was doing and going into it feet first - that experience of improvising."
In the early 1990s, Lavel started working the BAD Band. "That was the first group I worked with that wasn't a club band," he explains. "They were writing, recording, and focusing totally on original music and production."
The BAD Band quickly went on to national acclaim with two hit singles that are still played on the radio today, Stay Awhile and All I Want is You. After signing a contract with Motown in 1991 and recording an album in Atlanta, shortly thereafter the A&R man that signed the group was let go by Motown. "They told him to take all the groups that he brought into fold, but wanted us to stay. However, not having the guy that signed us present and with no one in our corner, we didn't want to stay, which turned out to be a good thing, because Dezi Phillips asked me to sing back-up with his group and we wound up on a national tour with all these new CBS artists like Michael Bolton."
"Shortly after that, I kind of went on my own by the mid-1990s."
Finding His Own Voice
After knocking around and paying his dues on the national touring circuit, Lavel reached a critical point of decision-making. "Touring and recording had taken me to a point where I wanted to experience and gain more confidence in my own writing and performing," he reflects.
That opportunity presented itself when he forged an alliance with Gee Pearce at Saginaw's UbeU Studios. "We had a bit of success and obtained a lot of publishing contacts out of New York," explains Lavel. "I worked as guest vocalist on a lot of recordings, but finally released my first Gospel CD in 2001. "
Having forged his own company by this point, Lavel was able to focus on two things that he knew he loved: working in the studio and writing. Today he has hundreds of original songs under his belt and an amazing resume of production and recording credits.
"Being an independent label is a Catch-22 situation," states Lavel. "I like the freedom but the distribution & manufacturing costs lots of money, which is the downside. But you do make more money per unit selling your own CD's, even though the up-front cost is high. I tend to sell more material overseas than I do here, but the way I see it is that until I come up with a big hit record that defines your sound and creates expectations, I'm free to experiment."
Amazingly, perhaps the most crowning achievement of Lavel Jackson's music is the fact that it is so difficult to pigeon-hole, embracing multiple genres and styles from R&B, Soul, Gospel, Rock, Pop, and even a tinge of Country here & there.
"For me having done pretty much every genre of music has allowed me to grow in terms of confidence in myself. It's not a struggle but makes creating music much easier. I get a chance to reach so many different people by not charting one particular area. I'm the same way in terms of live performance - I like mixing everything together. I think people like that fact because they have no expectation of what to expect."
Similarly, the momentum of his new band, reflective of that driving, rhythmic, and compelling Motown 'sound' is such that the music is always moving behind the vocals, supporting and carrying it, even though the voice remains front & center.
"That's what a good song will do," responds Lavel. "It's like with The Beatles in the sense that an artist from any particular genre can sing any of those songs because they are great songs. You see these guys today getting tangled in the production and visual end of it, which only gets in the way of the song. A great song is a great song and you bring what you do to the song."
Yesterday and Today
When asked about the current state of the music scene, Lavel admits that he doesn't listen to enough of it to say where's it exactly at. "I'm too focused on my own music, though I have heard some stuff that's grabbed my ear like the 'Neo-Soul', which has a few artists really trying to take it back and reinvent it. Unfortunately, they don't get enough airplay; but I'm thinking artists like Anthony Hamilton and Careen Bailey and Tracey Chapman."
"Actually, it's funny, because apart from listening to a lot of Gospel most of the music I listen to is old, classic stuff that I grew up with. Frankly, I don't feel enough conscience in a lot of music today. I think there was a conscience back then to make great music. It wasn't all about the cribs and the bling, although now that I'm older I'd really like to be on a show like 'Cribs', only it would be boringŠ.showing the one car in my garage," he laughs.
"Seriously, what I like to teach young artists coming up is the business aspect to music like how to copyright songs and select a manager and publish the song. I'm getting to a point where I'm trying to mentor more young artists in terms of how to prepare themselves. Saginaw is a great market, but if you want to take things to another level, you don't necessarily have to move there, but you do have to spend a few weeks there to build contacts. That's what I did when I was in Atlanta. Just try different places to get into the pocket. That's a healthy thing, I think." Lavel says it took him a little under a year to get his new band together and they are finishing their debut CD in the studio, which should be released later in '08. With regular local gigs at White's Bar and Spencer's, Lavel's commitments with his church choir still keep him busy. "I want to get the band really tight and then put out some feelers for some showcase gigs in larger markets like Detroit and Chicago," he notes.
"The most challenging thing about the music business for me right now is the opportunities," he continues. "Showcase venues are harder to find these days, but I'm working with a company out of Memphis right now and they're very excited about the band, so that is going to open us some doors."
"Rehearsal is important for a band and an artist. You don't want to go out there prematurely. The more rehearsal the better because you can never get it tight and polished enough, in my opinion. That's what makes it special and the sacrifice is worth it. Peoples' ears hear the difference."
Fortunate enough to make enough money from his music to the point it's a full time professional job for him, Lavel also devotes whatever spare time he has to his children as a 'stay-at-home' Dad.
"I was teaching at Kempton for awhile, but it became too time consuming. But now that my Kids are getting older into their teens and more independent, they want to see me get out more."
"I'd really like to work on some original projects with big names from the area like Larry McCray, Donny Brown, and other All Stars from the area not only because they're great musicians and writers, but also because they've been out there. To me it's all about connecting."
"It's funny, because the way I was introduced to Top -40 kind of sums it all up," concludes Lavel.
"All my life growing up I always listened to 'WTLZ-3-Soul', but then one winter the power went out and all we had was an AM radio that worked on batteries, so I turned it on and had never listened to AM radio." "The first song I heard was Stevie Wonder and I thought, 'Wow, I'd never heard that on AM radio; and then after that I heard The Turtles do Happy Together, which is a song I'd never heard before. I went, 'Wow, this is great - the harmonies, the melody. Then I'd listen to Elton John and Billy Joel and that was how I became introduced to WSAM." "Everyone would say, 'Why are you listening to that station? But I was always into melody. And then one time my Dad had this truck and the button on the radio was stuck to a Country & Western station. After awhile, he never got it fixed because that was all he enjoyed listening to. He loved it. If you rode with him, that's what you heard."
"To sum it all up, different styles of music have always intrigued me, and my goal is to forge a fresh sound with original material that is new yet borne from musical values that are ageless."
To learn more about Lavel Jackson and his music or to purchase any of his numerous CD's go to his website at www.laveljackson.com