How Jake Austen found the lost Jackson Five demo | Bleader

How Jake Austen found the lost Jackson Five demo

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The Jackson Five; the "Big Boy" reel from One-derful Records - JACKSON FIVE PHOTO FROM THE COLLECTION OF JAKE AUSTEN; PHOTO OF TAPE BY JIM NEWBERRY
  • JACKSON FIVE PHOTO FROM THE COLLECTION OF JAKE AUSTEN; PHOTO OF TAPE BY JIM NEWBERRY
  • The Jackson Five; the "Big Boy" reel from One-derful Records

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Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

For many years, it was believed that the first Jackson Five recording was the single "Big Boy," made in November, 1967, at Sunny Sawyer's recording studio on West 69th Street in Englewood. The group taped four songs that day, but "Big Boy" was the best of the lot. It was released early the following year by Steeltown Records, a label based in their hometown of Gary. The record sold 60,000 copies and caught the attention of Berry Gordy of Motown Records. The rest, as they say, is history.

But in the summer of 2009, just a few weeks after Michael Jackson died, Jake Austen heard the Chicago soul historian Bob Abrahamian interview a guitarist named Larry Blasingaine (who also went by the name Hakeem) on his WHPK radio show. Blasingaine told Abrahamian that one afternoon in July of 1967, he stopped by One-derful Records on South Michigan, as was his habit. At 15, he was already a seasoned musician who'd been playing on session recordings for years. The Jacksons, who he knew from the performance circuit, were there.
"Eddie Silvers was producing them," Blasingaine says. "He wrote the song they were recording, 'Big Boy,' and he saw me when I came in and said, 'Larry, I need you for a minute. I want you to show the bass player, Jermaine, how to keep his bass from booming.'" Then Silvers asked if Blasingaine had his guitar. "Eddie said, 'Grab your guitar, I want you to play this other part with them,' and I did." Silvers had written a melodic guitar part for the song's intro that was likely too difficult for the less seasoned Tito; Blasingaine recorded it and moved on. "I can't even remember if I was there when they sang. Once we finished recording I would go. I was young, you know. We had pop machines; we had other rooms."
Austen had never heard about any association between the Jacksons and One-derful, but Blasingaine's memories were so vivid, he was intrigued. He decided to look into it. And he uncovered not only a lost piece of the early life of Michael Jackson but also a nearly-forgotten chapter of Chicago music history.

It doesn't spoil the story at all to let you know right now that it has a happy ending and a happy afterlife, which Austen wrote about more than a year later, when he got to watch Blasingaine listen to the recording for the first time.
"It just brings back the memory of how it used to be," he said. "I remember the Hammond B-3 organ sitting in the back—we always wanted [Hayes] to bring up the volume on it so we could get a Jimmy Smith sound on it, but he never would do that for us. L.V. Johnson, Mighty Joe Young, Cash McCall, it was like an everyday thing to see these cats coming in. We was like a family. George [Leaner, owner of One-derful] treated us like he was our uncle or something. He let us take equipment out of the studio to use at shows. It was nice. Every now and then I have dreams about that situation. In fact, I just dreamed that One-derful Records had opened back up—Otis and everybody came back together, Jimmy had came back. . . . "

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