The songwriting/production duo of Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy produced gold and platinum, career-launching hits for Natalie Cole ("This Will Be," "Inseparable," "Sophisticated Lady [She's a Different Lady]," "Our Love," and "I've Got Love on My Mind," among many others). They also produced hits for Ronnie Dyson, including "The More You Do It (The More I Like It Done to Me)" and "Don't Be Afraid."
Chuck Jackson -- not to be confused with the singer of "Any Day Now"/"I Don't Want to Cry" fame -- was primarily the lyricist half of the duo. The Greenville, SC, native's interest in music was nurtured by his mother who was a member of the church choir. This is where Jackson received his core musical training. He also sang in the high school choir. After high school, Jackson earned a M.A. in Commercial Art from Fermin University and taught for a year. In 1969, he moved to Chicago to work for Playboy as an art director. During his lunch break, Jackson would scribble down song ideas. A friend told him about a songwriting workshop that was held by R&B/soul singer Jerry Butler. The Butler Workshop was funded by Chappel Music and rewarded promising songwriters with a salaried staff writing position and a publishing contract. By now, Jackson had written around 135 songs. He approached Butler with one of his songs, "If It's Real What I Feel." Butler liked it but didn't feel that the song was right for him, so Jackson made a demo with a church friend, Brenda Lee Eager. Butler accepted the tape and Jackson wrote a couple of songs. Butler recorded two of Jackson's songs, "If It's Real What I Feel" and "Walk Easy My Son."
During an Operation Breadbasket (now PUSH) expo, pianist Marvin Yancy was backing legendary gospel group the Caravans. After the show, Jackson approached Yancy about co-writing eight songs for Aretha Franklin. Nothing happened with the songs, but it did start the pair's collaboration. One of the duo's songs, "Just As Long As You Need Me," caught the ear of former Impressions manager Eddie Thomas who suggested that Jackson and Yancy form a vocal group. Choosing the name the Independents, the group included Jackson on lead vocals with Yancy recruiting vocalist Helen Curry and Maurice Jackson -- no relation to Chuck -- to fill out the sound. Thomas got them a deal with New York-based Wand/Scepter Records. "Just As Long As You Need Me" was a hit, going to number eight R&B and number 84 pop on Billboard's charts in spring 1972. The follow-ups were "I Just Want to Be There" (fall 1972) and the million-selling number one R&B hit "Leaving Me" in the spring of 1973. Recorded at Paul Serrano's Recording Studio using Chess Records' staff musicians, as well as arrangers Gene Barge and Tom Tom Washington, the track became the group's signature tune. Barge would work closely with Jackson and Yancy in the coming years. The Independents had several R&B hits between 1972-1974: "Baby I've Been Missing You," "It's All Over," "The First Time We Met," and "Arise and Shine (Let's Get It On)." Their LP, The First Time We Met, was a hit in early 1973. The group has two greatest-hits sets, Discs of Gold (issued in November 1974) and a 1991 Collectables CD, Their Golden Classics. Amid record company squabbles, the group broke up, though Jackson and Yancy wanted to continue writing and producing.
Later, their manager, Bob Schwaid, was visiting his friend, artist manager Kevin Hunter in New York. Hunter said that he was looking for songs for a female singer, Natalie Cole, whom he'd just signed. Cole was the daughter of music legend Nat "King" Cole. Performing mostly on the lounge circuit, Cole covered jazz/supper club tunes and was becoming peeved with club owners who would bill her only as "Nat Cole's daughter" on the marquee. Going to Chicago, Cole met with Jackson and Yancy to see if they could all work together. The trio hit it off and began working at Curtis Mayfield's Curtom studios at the end of 1974, along with arranger/saxophonist Gene Barge. Initially turned down by every label, Cole finally gained the interest of Capitol Records executive Larkin Arnold through demos done with Jackson and Yancy. Capitol Records was her late father's label, too.
Jackson and Yancy wrote her first hit, "This Will Be," at the end of sessions done for Arnold just as he and Cole were about to leave town. The single, released on June 30, 1975, parked at number one R&B for two weeks, peaking at number six pop on October 4, 1975. There's a curious connection between the careers of Cole and Aretha Franklin. Upon first hearing, many thought "This Will Be" was a new record from Franklin. There is an uncanny resemblance to Franklin's style. Some surmise that with Franklin being in a top hit record slump during the time, it sort of "left the door open" for Cole. Several were calling Cole "the new Queen of Soul" as her hits continued. In 1976, Cole broke Franklin's eight-year winning streak by capturing the Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "This Will Be," the Best New Artist of the Year, and was nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance for her gold album, Natalie. Those close to the situation say that after the success of "This Will Be," Franklin approached Jackson and Yancy several times about writing and producing her. But the duo declined, saying doing so would be a conflict of interest. Though Franklin did have a number 15 R&B hit in 1976 with one of their tunes, "You" (originally included on one of Cole's early demos initially rejected by Capitol), and years later Jackson did produce some tracks for her 1986 Arista album, Aretha.
More number one R&B singles followed: "Inseparable" (February 14, 1976), "Sophisticated Lady (She's a Different Lady)" (June 19, 1976), "I've Got Love on My Mind" (February 26,1977), and "Our Love" (January 21, 1978, certified gold). Jackson and Yancy and Barge won an Grammy for "Sophisticated Lady." The trio earned gold and platinum albums: Inseparable (released July 7, 1975), Natalie (May 1976), Unpredictable (February 1977), Thankful (December 1977), "Natalie... Live" (June 1978), and I Love You So.
Cole hosted her own network TV special on CBS-TV, The Natalie Cole Special, that featured Earth, Wind & Fire, Johnny Mathis, and Stephen Bishop, and aired in April of 1978. She also co-hosted the NBC-TV special, Uptown: A Musical Comedy History of Harlem's Apollo Theater, that included a video montage of her late father.
Jackson and Yancy wrote and produced hits for Ronnie Dyson, including "The More You Do It (The More I Like It Done to Me)" in the summer 1976 and "Don't Be Afraid" in the fall of 1977; both are on the Collectables CD, His All Time Golden Classics. Around this time, Chuck Jackson began to work on his 1981 solo album for Capitol, Passionate Breezes, released under the name Charles Jackson. Cole and Yancy were married on July 31, 1976, had a son, Robert Adam Yancy, and divorced after a few years. Returning to Chicago, Yancy became a pastor at his late father's church and recorded several gospel albums, until in 1985, he suffered a fatal heart attack at age 34. In the '80s, Jackson produced Be Woods' "Azz Izz," Phyllis Hyman, and others. Other LPs produced by the duo include Natalie Cole's Don't Look Back, I'm Ready, Natalie... Live, and Natalie Cole; Peabo Bryson's We're the Best of Friends; and the Dells' One Step Closer. Many of the sides Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy produced of Natalie Cole are on the 1990 Capitol CD The Collection, the 1995 EMI-Capitol CD I've Got Love on My Mind, This Will Be: Natalie Cole's Everlasting Love, and the HOL CD Sophisticated Lady. ~ Ed Hogan, Rovi