LOS ANGELES — There’s an assumption, at least from folks on the outside, that people in the entertainment business are, well, a little nuts. Randy Jackson can confirm that.
“Everyone in the music business is crazy — along with me,” laughs Jackson, 48, one-third of the judging troika on Fox’s “American Idol.”
“Look, the journey to get to anywhere near the top is really hard,” Jackson says. “In order to keep on that road, you have to have a pretty strong interior and exterior. Because some things are going to fall when you do that. If you focus on your career, other things in your life may fall apart.”
A 20-year veteran — and twice-married father of three — he knows something about it. Though unlike the “Idol” talent hopefuls, Jackson’s road through musicland was paved the old-fashioned way: without television.
No relation to pop star Michael Jackson — or to actor Samuel L. Jackson, another occasional misconception — Randy Jackson picked up music early while growing up in Baton Rouge, La.
He tried the saxophone and other instruments before settling on bass guitar. “I just got the bug, like, ‘Oh my God I love music, I want to be involved.”’
For three years he performed with the band Journey, landing gigs with everyone from Tracy Chapman and Bob Dylan to Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey and Patti LaBelle.
He then moved to the music industry’s executive suites, spending eight years as vice president of artists and repertoire (A&R) at Columbia Records and four years heading A&R at MCA.
What's up, Dawg?
Along the way, Jackson recalls a couple of “Idol” moments of his own.
His first big break was at 17, when he played with ’60s icon John Fred and the Playboys. Then, after graduating from Southern University with a dual bachelor’s degree in music and psychology, he was hired by jazz fusion drummer Billy Cobham.
“When you play with people that are that legendary,” says Jackson, “everyone goes, ‘Wow, this guy can really play because Billy wouldn’t have no slouch ... I guess this guy’s really good because John Fred can have whoever he wants in his band and he’s got this guy.’ It’s the company you keep.”
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Not having that, he says, is a major hurdle for young hopefuls today, including “American Idol” notables. “You can be the best that you can be, but you need qualified people to tell you where you really are in terms of your development.
“Everyone fancies themselves a shower singer, people sing in their cars. Some people sing in choirs, and it’s, ‘Man, you can sing, why don’t you get a deal?’ But how good are you compared to the competition? You have to be able to gauge that, work on that, practice.”
Taking these, and other tips, Jackson — who goes by the nickname The Dawg — published the book “What’s Up Dawg: How To Become a Superstar in the Music Business.”
“As I look back on it, I wish I hadn’t titled it that,” he says, “but it’s really an educational book for someone really trying to make it because I see a lot of people with a dream and want to make it happen as a reality in their life.”
Over his career, Jackson has worked on more than 1,000 gold and multiplatinum album and his contributions as an artist and producer have helped to sell 200 million-plus albums worldwide. But now he’s trying to make it in a different way: acting.
“I’m just doing a couple of little step-outs,” he says of his stints on NBC’s “American Dreams” and UPN’s “Kevin Hill.” And having successfully lost over 100 pounds since his 2003 gastric bypass surgery, he’s ready for his close-ups.
“I think I might have some of what it takes. Acting, now that’s a difficult profession.”
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