Kristy Jackson brings it back home
WANT TO GO?
Presented by the Woody Hawley Concert Series
WHERE: Clay Center
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
INFO: 304-561-3570 or www.theclaycenter.org
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kristy Jackson said a lot of things in Charleston have changed since she was a kid living just off Lucado Road.
"It's quite different from what I remember it," the singer/songwriter said. "Back then, it was just a sketchy two-lane road leading up to Rolling Hills Road. I'm just amazed. I don't know how my parents ever navigated the thing back then."
It's been a while, but the South Charleston native, best known for penning Reba McEntire's hit "Take It Back," returns to Charleston on Saturday for the Woody Hawley Concert Series.
Jackson spent the first 12 years of her life in West Virginia. Her father worked at Union Carbide. Her family lived in South Charleston and then on Rolling Hills Road.
"But when I was 12, we moved to Connecticut," she said.
The years in West Virginia were formative ones, though. It was where she started tinkering on the family piano. Jackson thinks she must have been about 4 years old.
"I just started playing," Jackson said. "My parents tried to get me into instruction. They'd sign me up for piano lessons and I'd just quit playing. It became a job and the joy kind of went out of it for me."
Her parents finally gave up on getting her formally trained. Jackson never learned to read music, but she figured out tunes and wrote songs.
"Maybe not good ones," she acknowledged, laughing. "I was little, but I got better."
In her 20s, Jackson moved to North Carolina, played music and sent songs to Nashville, hoping one of them would attract the interest of a country star or record label.
None of them went anywhere until after 1990, when Jackson wrote and recorded "Take It Back," a pop-country song with R&B and beach music leanings.
A DJ in North Carolina heard the song, liked it and thought it would be perfect for Reba McEntire.
The DJ asked Jackson, "Hey, would you mind if mailed this to Reba?"
Jackson told him, "Sure," then considered and asked him, "Do you know anybody in Reba's camp?"
He didn't, but he knew the name of McEntire's manager, Narvel Blackstock, also the singer's husband, and he found the address to their record label.
Jackson went along with it, but expected nothing.
A few weeks later, the record label called her.
"It turns out Narvel Blackstock opens his mail -- or at least, he did back in those days."
McEntire was looking for a sassy, up-tempo song; something she could release on the follow-up to her album "For My Broken Heart," the record she did following the death of her road band, killed in a plane crash in 1990.
McEntire's camp liked "Take It Back," but Jackson was uncertain about the song's future.
She said, "A lot of the time, musicians go into the studio and cut 20 songs and then they pare those down depending on focus groups and whatever nonsense."
Jackson said she didn't know for sure the song had made the album until a neighbor heard it on the radio. It was the first single on a then-upcoming album, and it was a hit.
"It was crazy," she said.
Jackson said she's had smaller successes since then. Several independent labels recorded her songs. Country artist Georgia Middleman recorded "Kick Down the Door," but the label, Giant Records, was struggling to survive.
"Right after it charted," she said, "Giant Records closed its doors."
Without label support, the single stalled.
She also recorded the post-9/11 song "Little Did She Know (She Kissed a Hero)."
These days, Jackson still writes and records, but doesn't perform a lot.
"I could gig more if I wanted to," she said.
She doesn't and doesn't have to. Lately, Jackson has been spending a lot of time mentoring, coaching and collaborating with several singer/songwriters living around Greensboro.
"It's kind of nice," she said. "I don't travel as much."
Just the same, Jackson said she was looking forward to driving up to Charleston.
"It's only five hours from Greensboro," she added.
Reach Bill Lynch at email@example.com or 304-348-5195.