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Joe Jackson (musician)

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Joe Jackson
Jackson performing in Arizona, November 1982
Jackson performing in Arizona, November 1982
Background information
Birth nameDavid Ian Jackson
Born (1954-08-11) 11 August 1954 (age 69)
Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, England
OriginPortsmouth, Hampshire, UK
  • Musician
  • singer
  • songwriter
  • Vocals
  • keyboards
  • saxophone
Years active1970–present
LabelsA&M, Sony Classical, Virgin/EMI, Rykodisc, E1/Koch

David Ian "Joe" Jackson (born 11 August 1954)[1] is an English musician, singer and songwriter. Having spent years studying music and playing clubs, he scored a hit with his first release, "Is She Really Going Out with Him?", in 1979. It was followed by a number of new wave singles, before he moved to more jazz-inflected pop music and had a top 10 hit in 1982 with "Steppin' Out". Jackson is associated with the 1980s Second British Invasion of the US.[3] He has also composed classical music. He has recorded 20 studio albums and received five Grammy Award nominations.[4]

Early years[edit]

Born in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, England,[5] David Jackson spent his first year in nearby Swadlincote, Derbyshire. He grew up in the Paulsgrove area of Portsmouth, where he attended the Portsmouth Technical High School. Jackson's parents moved to nearby Gosport when he was a teenager. He learned to play the violin but soon switched to piano, and prevailed on his father to install one in the hall of their Paulsgrove council house. Jackson began playing piano in bars at the age of 16, and also won a scholarship to study musical composition at London's Royal Academy of Music.[5]


Jackson's first band, formed in Gosport, was called Edward Bear,[note 1] later renamed Arms and Legs.[5] The band broke up in 1976 after two unsuccessful singles. He was still known as David Jackson when he joined Arms and Legs, but he picked up the nickname "Joe", based on his perceived resemblance to the British television puppet character Joe 90, a genius child spy. Jackson legally changed his name to Joe at age 20.[6][7] Jackson then spent some time performing on the cabaret circuit to make money to record a demo.

Joe Jackson Band[edit]

In 1978, a record producer heard Jackson's demo tape and signed him to A&M Records.[5] The next year the newly formed Joe Jackson Band released their debut album Look Sharp![5] The band consisted of Jackson, Gary Sanford on guitar, Graham Maby on bass, and David Houghton on drums. A mix of rock, melodic jazz, and new wave, it mined a vein similar to contemporaries Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. The album enjoyed wide critical success: in 2013, Rolling Stone magazine named Look Sharp! number 98 in a list of the 100 best debut albums of all time. Some commercial success also followed, as the debut single "Is She Really Going Out with Him?" reached the top 40 in five countries, and No. 9 in Canada.

The Joe Jackson Band released I'm the Man in 1979.[5] The album followed a similar musical pattern, and received good, though not as strong, reviews. It did produce the single "It's Different for Girls", which became Jackson's highest charting UK single, peaking at no. 5.[8] Beat Crazy followed in 1980.[5] Jackson also collaborated with Lincoln Thompson in reggae crossover.[4]

Jackson at El Mocambo, Toronto, 21 May 1979

The Joe Jackson Band toured extensively until it broke up at the end of 1980, when Houghton, weary of touring and fame, left the band.[9] Though Maby would continue to work with Jackson in the following decades, the full band would not reunite until 2004's Volume 4.

Change in style[edit]

In 1981, Jackson produced an album for the British power pop group the Keys. The Keys Album was the group's only LP.[10]

After the Joe Jackson Band disbanded, Jackson recorded an album of old-style swing and blues tunes, Jumpin' Jive, with songs by Cab Calloway, Lester Young, Glenn Miller, and Louis Jordan.[5] The album, and associated single release, was credited to the band "Joe Jackson's Jumpin' Jive".[4]

Jackson's 1982 album, Night and Day,[5] was his only studio album to chart in the UK and US Top 10, peaking at No. 3 (UK)[8] and at No. 4 (US).[11] Two singles released from the album, "Steppin' Out" and "Breaking Us in Two", were US top 20 hits. The tracks "Real Men" and "A Slow Song" referred obliquely to New York City's early 1980s gay culture, critiquing its exclusiveness and asking for a slow song in the disco respectively.[12] "Real Men" also became a top 10 hit in Australia.[13]

By 1984, New York had become Jackson's home base,[5] and he recorded Body and Soul there,[5] an album he later said was "from the point of view of a relative newcomer".[14] Heavily influenced by pop and jazz standards and salsa, it had the US No. 15 hit single "You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)".[15]

In 1985, Jackson played piano on Joan Armatrading's album Secret Secrets, and in 1986 he collaborated with Suzanne Vega on the single "Left of Center" from Pretty in Pink's soundtrack. Jackson's next album was Big World, with all-new songs recorded live in front of an audience instructed to remain silent while music was playing. Released in 1986, it was a three-sided double record; the fourth side consisted of a single centering groove and a label stating "there is no music on this side".

The instrumental album Will Power (1987), with heavy classical and jazz influences, set the stage for things to come later, but before Jackson left pop behind, he released two more albums, Blaze of Glory (which he performed in its entirety during the subsequent tour) and Laughter & Lust.[5] In 1995, Jackson contributed his version of "Statue of Liberty" on a tribute album for the English band XTC called A Testimonial Dinner: The Songs of XTC.


In the late 1990s, Jackson expanded into classical music; he signed with Sony Classical in 1997 and released Symphony No. 1 in 1999, for which he received a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album in 2001.[16] In 2000, he released a follow-up album, Night and Day II.[17]

In 2003, he reunited his original quartet[4] for the album Volume 4, and a lengthy tour. In 2004, he contributed vocals to a cover of Pulp's "Common People" with William Shatner for Shatner's album Has Been (produced by Ben Folds). In 2005, he teamed up with Todd Rundgren and the string quartet ETHEL for a tour of the US and Europe. A dedicated smoker, he gave up his New York apartment in 2006 partly in protest over the ascendancy of smoking bans, and made the Berlin neighbourhood Kreuzberg his new home. It was there that he recorded, with longtime collaborators Graham Maby and Dave Houghton, his eighteenth studio album, Rain (Rykodisc, January 2008); the album was followed by a five-month tour.[18]

In 2015, Jackson announced the completion of his follow-up to 2012's The Duke via his official website. The album's title, Fast Forward, and track list were confirmed in addition to North American tour dates. The titular first single was released for streaming via his official SoundCloud page. The entire record was briefly posted before being taken down a day later.[19]

On 18 January 2019, Jackson released the album Fool. Jackson said about the album on his website: "One of my inspirations for this album was the band I've been touring with on and off for the last 3 years. I've had many different line-ups but this one is special." Jackson and the band performed "Fabulously Absolute" on Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show on 21 January 2019.[20] Fool debuted in the top 20 album charts in Holland, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. In the US, it debuted at No. 25 on Billboard's Top Album Sales Chart. In the UK, it entered the Indie Albums Chart at No. 13.

Personal life[edit]

Jackson spent a number of years living in New York City, which served as an inspiration for his 1982 song "Steppin' Out". In a 2018 interview, Jackson said "I don't like New York much these days. It's as if the city and I had a hot love affair and now we're just friends, but we still have to see each other to remain friends. Today I live in Berlin. The New York I knew in late '81 and '82 is gone."[21] Jackson currently resides in Berlin, but also owns homes in New York and Portsmouth.[22]

Jackson was married to his wife, Ruth, for two years, but the marriage ended in divorce and was later called a "disaster" by Jackson. In a 2001 interview with the Irish Independent, Jackson stated that he was in a relationship with a male partner.[23] Jackson had previously discussed his bisexuality in his autobiography A Cure for Gravity.[24] His questioning of potential homosexuality and same-sex attraction is explored in the 1982 single "Real Men".[25]

Other activities[edit]

Jackson has actively campaigned against smoking bans in both the United States and the United Kingdom, publishing a 2005 pamphlet (The Smoking Issue)[26] and a 2007 essay (Smoke, Lies and the Nanny State),[27] and recording a satirical song ("In 20-0-3") on the subject.[28]

Jackson wrote an autobiography titled A Cure for Gravity, published in 1999, which he described as a "book about music, thinly disguised as a memoir". It traces his working-class upbringing in Portsmouth and charts his musical life from childhood until his 24th birthday. Life as a pop star, he said, was hardly worth writing about.[6]



  • A Cure for Gravity, 1999, autobiography ISBN 1-86230-083-6


In 2004 the first-ever tribute album to Jackson, Different for Girls: Women Artists and Female-Fronted Bands Cover Joe Jackson, was released.[29][30] Among the female artists covering Jackson was Joy Askew, whose album credits include Jackson's Big World, Live 1980/86, Blaze of Glory, Laughter & Lust and Heaven & Hell. A brief presentation of the album indicated: "Mr. Jackson himself has said: "I LOVE the idea of an all-female tribute album! Let them know I can't wait to hear it."[31]


  1. ^ Not to be confused with the band of the same name, which disbanded in 1974.


  1. ^ a b "Allmusic biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  2. ^ "The Duke". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 12 March 2016. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  3. ^ Chiu, David (4 July 2013). "A look back at 1983: The year of the second British Invasion". CBS News. Retrieved 8 February 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 274. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 1247. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  6. ^ a b Jackson, Joe. A Cure for Gravity, 1999, ISBN 1-86230-083-6
  7. ^ McGuinn, Jim (15 February 2019). "Catching up with Joe Jackson". The Current. Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 9 April 2021.
  8. ^ a b "Official Charts > Joe Jackson". The Official UK Charts Company. Retrieved 4 December 2015.
  9. ^ "The Joe Jackson Band: Jackson thrives". The Independent. 22 May 2003. Retrieved 22 March 2023.
  10. ^ Mike Paulsen (2009). "The Keys : The Keys Album". New Wave Outpost. Archived from the original on 22 December 2010. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  11. ^ "Chart runs for Joe Jackson: US albums". UKmix.org. Retrieved 4 December 2015.
  12. ^ ""NPR Weekend Edition Sunday: Gay Pop Music", 22 June 2003". Npr.org. 22 June 2003. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  13. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, N.S.W., Australia: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  14. ^ Bessman, Jim (14 October 2000). "Artists & Music: New York Inspires Joe Jackson Again on Night and Day II". Billboard. p. 24. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  15. ^ "Billboard > Artists / Joe Jackson > Billboard 200". Billboard. Retrieved 4 December 2015. N.B. Peaks for albums released prior to Big World are not listed.
  16. ^ "Allmusic ((( Joe Jackson > Charts & Awards > Grammy Awards )))".
  17. ^ "CD REVIEWS: Lenny Kravitz, Megadeth, Ron Hawkins and more"[usurped]. Chart Attack, 24 October 2000, By: Debbie Bento
  18. ^ McNair, James (11 February 2008). "Joe Jackson: Catching up with the maverick singer-songwriter". The Independent. Archived from the original on 9 June 2022. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  19. ^ "FAST FORWARD: A NEW ALBUM + US TOUR DATES". Official Joe Jackson. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  20. ^ Watch The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon Highlight: Joe Jackson: Fabulously Absolute, 22 January 2019, retrieved 22 March 2023
  21. ^ Myers, Marc (13 June 2018). "The Story Behind Joe Jackson's 'Steppin' Out'; A night on the town in a vanished New York City inspired Joe Jackson's hit 'Steppin' Out'". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 6 July 2018.
  22. ^ "Official Joe Jackson Website". Joejackson.com.
  23. ^ Jackson, Joe (24 June 2001). "Is Joe Jackson really going out with him?" Irish Independent. Retrieved 30 December 2014. Author is not to be confused with the subject of the article.
  24. ^ Allen, Jim (26 June 2017). "35 Years Ago: Joe Jackson Reinvents Himself on 'Night and Day'". Diffuser. Retrieved 19 July 2019.
  25. ^ Molloy, Susan (30 August 1982). "Joe forgets Billy". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  26. ^ "The Smoking Issue". 8 May 2008. Archived from the original on 8 May 2008. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  27. ^ "Smoke, Lies and the Nanny State" (PDF). Joejackson.com. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 December 2012. Retrieved 4 December 2015.
  28. ^ "Joe Jackson.com". Joe Jackson.com. Archived from the original on 11 April 2010. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  29. ^ Various Artists - Different for Girls: Women Artists and Female-Fronted Bands Cover Joe Jackson Album Reviews, Songs & More | AllMusic, retrieved 23 January 2024
  30. ^ "Joe Jackson". Trouser Press. Retrieved 23 January 2024.
  31. ^ "First-ever tribute album to JOE JACKSON". 8notes.com. Retrieved 23 January 2024.

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