Editor’s Note: Wayne was recently admitted to the ICU with a heart issue, so we’re re-releasing this article to help spread Wayne’s stunning musical accomplishments and send the blues power his way. He is showing promising signs of recovery. Feel free to post words of encouragement to his Fanpage.
“You must be my new friend,” says trumpeter Wayne Jackson, cheerfully reaching hard to shake my hand. It’s a casual remark that in one sentence, fully embodies the joy and laughter of a man who spent decades giving a brass voice to music, and playing perhaps the single most pivotal role in creating the trademark sound for an entire city. His gentle, enthusiastic smile embodies the essence of “the gentle man with the trumpet”.
Nearly every person with ears in America has undoubtedly heard Wayne Jackson play. That’s what happens when you arrange and play horns on eighty gold records. Few may know his name directly, but many have fallen under the spell of The Memphis Horns, arguably the most popular horn section in music. Jackson formed the Memphis Horns with his longtime brass partner Andrew Love on June 19th, 1969 — forty five years ago today.
From the first moment Jackson set foot in the Stax Records studio, he made musical history. “My first experience in the studio was that record,” he points to a ornately framed gold record of the Stax/Volt single, Last Night. “They put that out and it went to number one. And I thought that was the way it worked! Go into the studio, cut something, they’d pay you a lot of money, put you on the Dick Clark Show… ”
“Last Night…” pausing in thought, Jackson looks back at the offbeat accomplishment. “We were seventeen years old when we had that hit.”
Jackson may well be the most accomplished trumpeter since Louis Armstrong. Winning a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012, he’s played and arranged horn parts on a list of hits longer than is reasonable to print, including on Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”, (“Sweeeet Caroline… Bum! bum! bum! I did that!” he beams), Steve Winwood’s “Roll With It”, U2’s “Angel of Harlem”, Robert Cray’s “Strong Persuader”, Elvis Presley’s “In The Ghetto”, Willie Nelson’s “City of New Orleans”, Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man”, Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”, Neil Young’s “Prairie Wind”, Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone” and “Let’s Stay Together”, as well as a countless number of Stax Records singles and work with Sting, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Rod Stewart, and many others. Jackson and Love were the driving, secret weapon horn section in Stax Record’s hit making machine, giving what would become the “Memphis sound” to scores of Stax tracks.
He doesn’t dwell or focus too much on the people he played with or the hits. Instead, he talks about the special moments, what the Stax studio looked like, the fun times with his friends at the label. But then, Jackson’s eyes light up, he talks faster as he gets excited about one man. And he cries.
“You know, I love to play my trumpet and I always have. And I love to play the Carnival of Venice just as much as I like playing ‘Dock of the Bay’. But Otis Redding was my favorite singer. He just lights ya up, you know? He was just magic. And he knew how to do it… Otis did. He knew how to capture the room. It was just second nature to him, to walk around like he struts.”
“I loved him.”
Wayne met (and played with) Otis Redding the day that the soon-to-be soul giant would finally get his chance to sing for a living. It was the first of many, many nights that Jackson played horn with Redding. “He drove up in the rain in a Cadillac touring car and he was with Johnny Jenkins or somebody, and we were gonna record [Jenkins] and we did. And Otis was carrying his clothes bag. So we got through with the whole thing that night, and Otis sang a song and it turned out to be a record. ‘These Arms of Mine’, I think.”
“These Arms” eventually became a hit, and that night, the relationship between Otis and his horn men was born. It was a relationship that took the band all over the world making music that made people happy. It was a relationship that still lasts, even through the fateful December day in 1967 that would end Redding’s life in the plane he’d bought just months before. Jackson can barely talk about the moment, choking down tears.
In 1969, Jackson and Love struck out on their own, forming The Memphis Horns as a floating horn section for anyone who needed “that fat Memphis sound” which was, in large part, created by the duo. “That’s what designates Stax Records, is the horn sound,” Wayne laments. Jackson’s trumpet and Love’s tenor saxophone were an unmatched force in music, and as it turned out, everyone needed that fat Memphis sound, from Sting to Jack White to Bonnie Raitt.
In 2002, Love was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a progressive and incurable disease that destroys the memory. In 2012, Love passed away, but not before The Memphis Horns were given one of the highest honors in music; the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Jackson used to be booked months, even years out. Lately, the phone hasn’t rang often with gigs for the gentle man with the fat horn — despite being one of the most magnanimous trumpet players in the world. Wayne’s not complaining though. He never does. With his beautiful wife Amy, who he affectionately calls “my treasure”, Jackson runs a business giving personal tours of the Stax Museum to fans and enjoying a Memphis retirement and a legacy very well earned. The tours are a fascinating, guided first-person look into the true magic of the label, from one of the men that gave the Soulsville it’s magic.
“You’re looking at a guy that’s had a happy life,” he explains. “Come from West Memphis, Arkansas, that dinky ass little high school… I didn’t learn nothing about music in there… ‘cept how to play the trumpet. I learned that. That’s all I needed. The rest was a handshake and a big smile, willing to play day and night. Happy to play.”
“It’s been my key to open the door to paradise to me. I was a natural trumpet player. I was a good trumpet player. And I guess when it comes to music, you either have something to do or you don’t. And me and that trumpet had it all. That was my ticket.”
Jackson pauses, laughs and flashes a wide grin.
“I punched that ticket and I rode that bus.”