By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
It was sometime around 1977, Southern soul singer Millie Jackson recalls, when she realized she had "a reputation that preceded me."
"I was booked to appear on The Merv Griffin Show, and everybody was runnin' around lookin' scared," she remembers. "I came on to sing Merle Haggard's 'If You're Not Back in Love By Monday,' which was the second single off Feelin' Bitchy. Merv kept looking at the record, sayin', 'Uh, uh, can we say the title on TV?', real nervous and smilin' too much. Charlie Pride was another guest, and while I was singin', he kept lookin' over there like, 'Hey, hey! That's my song! Somebody stop her!'" (Pride had covered the tune as well.)
"Well, by the time I went over to the couch to talk, there was a countdown to the end of the show," she chortles. "They did not want me to talk. Merv was like, 'Uh, uh, so this is your new album, Millie?' and then he'd say, 'Yes, this is your new album.' He was answering every question he asked. I never got a chance to open my mouth."
By the time of that appearance, a reputation for foul-mouthed irreverence and political controversy had stuck to Jackson as steadfastly as one of the "Warning: Adult Content" stickers that inevitably accompanied her records. Since the release of her definitive soul "concept" album Caught Up in 1974, the Georgia native had been selling records and stirring ire, mostly within the black community. The Rev. Jesse Jackson tried to warn potential listeners away from her recordings and live shows, where she'd segue into long, obscenity-spiked tirades about religious hypocrisy, black male sloth, black female vanity and the sexual comedy and tragedy that marked their relationships. Anti-apartheid activists decried her South African appearances, despite the fact her contract stipulated she'd only perform for integrated audiences. Her unpopular political and cultural views, of course, inflamed leaders mostly within the black community; in the larger world, it was her fondness for words such as "shit" and "motherfucker" that limited her appearances on TV and radio.
"They didn't realize I could talk for three hours without saying a curse word," she said. "So that's what I'm doin' now, every week."
On weekday afternoons, The Millie Jackson Show on Soul 73 KKDA has Jackson ensconced inside the demo studio in her Atlanta home's basement, spinning new and classic R&B from her own collection (including a liberal dose of her own tunes), making brief sponsor announcements, but mostly "acting the fool" with co-hosts Trish Hodge, Munchie and traffic man Dubya B, all broadcasting from Dallas. They laugh over bizarre news tidbits, occasionally tackle hot-button subjects like the Christian church's treatment of gays and lesbians (Jackson is--surprise!--an outspoken advocate for gay and lesbian issues, oftentimes baiting the strangely hostile Hodge when she raises such topics), and make extensive fun of Michael Jackson's entire clan as well as gun-toting millionaire hip-hop performers. Every now and again, there is raucous coarseness--a disagreement over whether you should or shouldn't look before you flush the toilet--and innuendo--all kinds of leering suggestions about a real news report of a moose humping an Ontario car--but no outright cursing or sexual explicitness.
"This is to let the rest of the world know I can resist those seven words you're not supposed to say," Jackson notes. "Except it doesn't have much to do with those seven words. It has everything to do with who's listening and who decides they're 'moral.' This radio station in the Midwest, the DJ played the wrong cut on Eminem's Slim Shady album. Now the government's fining them $17,000. And that DJ didn't even say anything."
This is not Jackson's first foray as a KKDA personality. She'd extensively toured Texas during the late '70s and early '80s and began to acquire close friends in Dallas, including then-promoters Dwayne Carraway (who's currently running for Dallas City Council) and Al Wash. She even briefly considered moving here to escape the "craziness" of her adopted New York City (she chose Atlanta because it was near her stepmother). In 1992, KKDA morning DJ Willis Johnson called and asked if she'd join him on Monday mornings as a co-host. That gig was demanding, but she accepted--she flew into Dallas very early Monday mornings for two years. She had to quit her "Monday madness" to begin a three-year North American tour of Young Man, Older Woman, a loosely plotted revue with dancers, comic vignettes, a drag queen host and, of course, Jackson blasting out ballads and rockers decrying all the bullshit that passes for "communication" between the sexes.
Jackson has always insisted on singing songs her way despite current sales trends, which scores her points for artistic integrity but doesn't always pay career dividends. Her first big chart single, 1973's "Hurts So Good" was a sanctified piece of gut-bucket soul arriving just as that studio-slick pop music democracy known as disco was beginning to dominate the radio. It's a tribute to Jackson's sandpaper-satin delivery that her anachronistic ode to romantic masochism became a hit. The vocals on that tune pretty much locked her into the sensual screams, bellows and moans that were typically regarded as distractions on a dance mix. She never really tried to jump the disco train that brought so many artists of her era to multiplatinum sales from racially diverse audiences. Still, through the second half of the '70s, Jackson sold hundreds of thousands of albums--all of them cut from sessions at Alabama's Muscle Shoals--that asserted her raw-throated style: She'd approach covers as diverse as Bad Company's "Feel Like Making Love" and Kenny Loggins' "This Is It" and make them feel like born-to-be Southern soul scorchers.