So did you hear the one about Tito Jackson? From Eddie Murphy’s hilarious 1983 Delirious routine to late night talk show monologues, over the years there have been no shortage of jokes when it comes to the most obscure Jackson brother. But a full re-evaluation of the 56-year-old guitarist may be in order. His underrated talent was on display on the The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty. The man credited with forming the Jackson 5 is a serious musician who takes his ax game and outside business pursuits seriously (peep his Tito Jackson Signature Hat Collection).
As part of VIBE’s week-long tribute to Michael Jackson—marking the 1st year anniversary of the King of Pop’s June 25, 2009 death—Tito opens up about his thoughts on the legacy of MJ; his very first solo album; the early days of the Jackson 5; and his unabashed passion for the blues.–Keith Murphy
VIBE: What are your thoughts about how some of the harshest critics of your brother changed their tune about Michael after his death?
Tito: It makes me feel good because I always knew that my brother was the greatest entertainer that we’ve ever seen. He was something special. This was [something I saw] way before the music and Motown; I’m talking about back in Gary, Indiana. I think Michael got to a point where they didn’t understand the heights that he had reached. When you are so high there is nowhere else to go but down. And the same people that put you at those heights are the very people that will bring you down. Michael had no reason to hate anything or hurt anyone. I think a lot of people knew who my brother actually was but they chose not to give him that credit or that respect.
But that outpouring of love and respect has to be bittersweet for your family.
What hurts me more than anything is that I wish he were here to see the gratitude that the world has for him. When we don’t understand that kind of love or caring for people we tend to think that there’s more to it than meets the eye, when it’s actually simple and pure.
His critics now have to go hide. The world showed how much Michael is loved. Now that he’s not here anymore, we will never have another one. [Everyone remembers that] little kid who was eight years old on The Ed Sullivan Show. But I remember him from five years before that, I remember when he was not even in school singing like a bird. It would make you shake your head [in disbelief.]
When was the last time you saw Michael before his death?
My mom and dad had an anniversary gathering for their 60th year. And we all were there—the children, the grand kids…we all got together at a restaurant for a dinner. This was in L.A. and that was the last time I saw Michael. The last thing he told me, he always would give me a hug and I’d tell him I love him and he would tell me he loves me more. Those were the last words I heard from my brother.
What were your thoughts on This Is It?
I can’t watch that movie. I haven’t seen it. It’s still too soon.
The Jackson 5’s 1968 audition for Motown has now become the stuff of legend. What do you remember most about that moment in time?
I remember Michael was like Kobe Bryant to the Lakers. That’s what he meant to the Jackson 5. We were all talented—Jermaine, Jackie, Marlon and myself. But we knew with Michael on our team we weren’t going to fail. We knew we were getting that deal. Before the audition we were at the Apollo doing a show and we had the choice of either doing the Motown [audition] or staying in New York and going on the Dick Cavett Show. Half of us wanted to stay and do that and the other half wanted to go and do Motown. If we did the Cavett show we would have been seen nationally. There would have been more than just Motown; we could have attracted maybe three or four record companies. But we decided on Motown because we have been following that label forever. Our whole style was Motown.
The irony is Gordy didn’t even want to take the audition, right?
Yes! Berry Gordy didn’t want to have nothing to do with the Jackson 5 because he had already caught hell from social workers with Little Stevie Wonder. He wasn’t used to working with children in the business and he didn’t understand it too well. His thinking was, “What do you mean the kid can’t do background vocals because he has to take a two hour break now? [laughs] What am I going to do with five kids?”