The second half of my encounter with Jackson Browne from November, 1973.
Ultimately Denny Cordell was hired to produce Jackson’s first album but this, too, proved unsatisfactory. Jackson was under the impression that Cordell would hire top session men to work on the album, and in this way guarantee fine music for his songs. But Jackson was unable to exert his influence over the musicians and the sessions stopped.
“Denny saw that either we would have to do the album real quick and it would be real bad, or he would have to put in a whole load of work on it which he didn’t have time to do. I wasn’t even on his label and he had his hands full with Shelter which was just opening, so we decided to pass.”
Another six months elapsed before he finally made the album with Richard Orshoff, an engineer who produced it along with Jackson. “Now I’m always like that. I’ve got to the stage where I always do things myself. If I need a plumber, I’ll go out and buy a wrench and try to do the job myself rather than call a man to do it for me.
“I’d rather figure things out and make my own mistakes, rather than have those decisions made for me and never be confronted with them and never learn anything. That was what happened with that Elektra sampler. For years I knew it was terrible but didn’t know why because decisions were made for me.”
Since the release of the first album, Jackson’s career has taken a more organised path. He’s made a couple of trips to England, one of which saw him appearing at the Festival Hall in London – a concert he’d rather forget as the sound system failed half way through his set.
“I think I got through four numbers in half an hour. It was one of those scenes where the mike would whistle for half a minute during a song and then go off completely. Nothing. It was funny because it was so stupid, and so impossible.
“Join Mitchell was on too, and she played through the house system. She did one of the best sets of her life there because there was so much to get across in such circumstances. The audience probably never realised it. English audiences are funny. They’re like time bombs. If they like you at all, they’ll wait until the end and then really let you know.”
His writing, he says, relies entirely on personal experiences. His material has been covered by many, including former Velvet Underground vocalist Nico, for whom he played back-up guitar at the New York Electric Circus when he lived in the Big Apple between 1966 and ’67
Three of Jackson’s songs were featured by Nico on her first album Chelsea Girl, though more recently the Eagles (which includes his old friend Glen Frey) recorded and had a big hit with ‘Take It Easy’. Tom Rush recorded Jackson’s ‘These Days’, and the Jackson 5 recorded his ‘Doctor My Eyes’. Linda Rondstadt, the Byrds, Bonnie Raitt, Ian Matthews, Greg Allman and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band have also recorded Jackson’s material.
“All the time it comes from personal experience,” he says. “Even when I thought I was writing a pure fantasy, I stopped to think and realised that I was writing about something that actually happened. I have written lots of songs that are completely true; ‘Song For Anna’ is word for word true, though ‘Jamaica’ was a song for a girl I knew. Many of the songs are for people I know.
“I’m not very prolific. The last year or two it’s been hard, as I don’t like being pressured. A second album is always a product of a short period of time, though a first album can be the product of years of work.
“I know the old saying of ‘I’m not going to let success spoil me’, but that’s really pretty funny as you can never tell. Other people’s attitudes have changed. I’ve woken up six months after I’ve said that and realised I’d been rotten to some people who really loved me. I didn’t mean to, but I didn’t realise it. In the long run this career can isolate you as people always want to talk about music. I really like to go places, and there are still a lot where I’m not known at all.”
He writes most of his songs at the piano. He taught himself to play and, he says, it shows. On stage he flits between guitar and piano, using a three-piece back up band of David Lindley (who used to play with Terry Reid) on fiddle, lap slide guitar, and guitar, Doug Heyward on bass and Larry Zack on drums. They’ve been together around a year.
“I’ve always played with people that tended to play right whatever they were doing, and I’m only just learning to get the most out of my musicians by saying what I want. Ultimately I always find people who play things right, but now I’m being influenced by David Lindley even though he’s playing my tunes. I’ve found some incredible players in studios.”