Born on July 13, 1952 and passed away on July 26, 2008
I moved to Forks, WA in 1987, not long after Shotgun broke up. It wasn’t meant to be a permanent move on my part, but it turned out that way. Jackson had a couple of different bands after that and I got to catch their act a time or two when I was visiting family back in Idaho. He had taken one of the bands on the road…, and even played the opening act for Molly Hatchet somewhere. For a few years he and Linda ran the Greer Café and Tavern. It was a historic old roadhouse on a little railroad siding along the middle fork of the Clearwater River. Upstream about seven miles from Orofino, just at the base of the mountain highway that leads to Weippe and Pierce. I heard tell of some of the kick ass parties that took place there…, but only made one of them myself. On one of those trips to Idaho Jackson gave me a tape he had recorded on a four track machine like Springsteen used to record his Nebraska album. It was mostly just song fragments that hadn’t been fully developed yet and a few cover songs with the band at the time. Back in Forks I wrote him a letter filled with as much praise and encouragement as I thought I could get away with and not come off like I was being phony about it. As the years rolled along, the trips to Idaho became fewer and farther between. Logging in Alaska for a few years, then a serious career change that didn’t allow me to build up the necessary vacation leave time for several more years didn’t help. Plus, Julie and I were busy clearing the brush, drilling a well, putting in a septic system, running power and water lines, building sheds and fences on the property that would come to be The Ranch. Somewhere in the middle of that hectic time we made it over to Idaho again and Jackson gave me another tape, along with the refrain that it was the only one of its kind and please don’t lose or abuse it. The tape deck in the little blue Toyota had long ago given up on us, so we couldn’t listen to the tape right away. And with all we had going on back in Forks, the tape got put up somewhere…, unlistened to.
Then I got the call in 2008 from a friend in Idaho saying that Jackson’s condition was indeed, terminal. As we made ready to go to Idaho for the April Birthday Party and the Benefit Auction, I made a frantic search for that tape. Julie’s daughter, Jamie still lived in our trailer house in town and she had boxed up all of our stuff there and “stored” it in closets, bedrooms, and the garage for us. We hadn’t needed a lot of stuff in the camp trailer we were living in while we were waiting for a house to materialize on The Ranch. I made as concerted an effort as I could to track down the tape, but couldn’t possibly go through every box that Jamie had packed for us. I was pretty damn disappointed in myself. So much so that I couldn’t tell Jackson that I knew it was packed away somewhere. I didn’t mention it…, and neither did he.
The Benefit Auction was held at the old Weippe Community Hall. Though Jackson was from Pierce, he had played as much…, probably more…, music in Weippe. He probably played his first real, paying gig there at the old Community Hall. I know it was the first place me and most of my friends ever heard him play. After I had figuratively wrestled that old George Lawrence saddle away from Jim Jensen…, we got to see Jackson get up on that old stage once again and hear him play a few songs that day. I don’t know how he did it…, barely able to breathe…, with an oxygen tank strapped at his side. I take that back…, I do know how he did it. Sheer fucking determination and will power. After all…, I was the one who had to walk up behind him on the gridiron, put my hands under his butt, looked at some beast in front of me that was virtually slobbering to get his hands anywhere on me, a beast that out-weighed Jackson by 30 or 40 pounds at least…, and I didn’t worry about it. But there were a whole lot of people worried about Jackson that day in Weippe. A whole lot of people that wanted to give back to him just a little of what he had given to them over the years through his music and his friendship. From a couple of tiny timber and farming communities, both suffering along with the rest of the nation, an economic collapse that was being compared to the Great Depression…, the generosity was nothing short of amazing, phenomenal…, unbelievable. I have been to a lot of those things and I have never seen anything like it. Right at $20,000 raised…, for a few songs. Even Browne and Springsteen don’t rate that kind of pay scale. Three months later Jackson was gone. I couldn’t make it back to Idaho for the “services”. At his request, his ashes were scattered on the North Fork of the Clearwater River. A touch that he didn’t request…, but seems as fitting a tribute as could be imagined…, an acoustic guitar was set adrift in that River. The ceremony was well attended and I deeply regret having to miss it. Oh man…, yeah.
A few months back, Julie and I sold the trailer house in Forks…, so we finally had to haul a lot of stuff out to The Ranch. A lot of it got stacked in The Saddle Bar(n). A couple of weeks ago I was out there sippin’ an ice cold Hamm’s, when the tuner went out in the old Heathkit stereo receiver. I can’t go without music…, so I scrounged around and found an old tape deck that had belonged to Jamie…, and hoping that it would work, I hooked it up to the old amp. I started scrounging around looking for some old tapes and found an old Marshall Tucker that I had recorded. You’ll hear “Can’t You See” every once in a while on classic rock FM stations…, but it had been a long time since I heard, “A New Life”, or “Take the Highway”, or “Fire on the Mountain”. I was thinking about all the memories music can dredge up…, sorting through boxes of junk that I was wondering why I kept. Then, there it was amid a clutter of old photographs…, SmithSongs - A Life’s Work / Volume 2 / Copy 1. Oh man…, oh man. I put that tape on and let “Jackson” feel my butt for a change. I cranked the volume up, sat in that old George Lawrence saddle and listened.
90 minutes worth. Mostly new material. Jackson had fleshed out several of the song fragments he had done on the first tape he gave me. I kept waiting to hear the cover songs that I was expecting…, but they never materialized. The tape wasn’t any half-hearted, fooling around, let’s have some fun, effort. Every cut was an original that he had written himself and I would guess that most of the music was performed by only him…, laying down each track and mixing them together later. Though he could have had other musicians set in and he did have a female back up on a couple of cuts, I believe it’s about as close to pure Jackson as you could get. There were only a couple of the old songs that I knew from the Shotgun era. Back in those days most of the originals were geared toward a barroom boogie, get ‘um up and dancing genre. There are a few blistering rockers on this tape…, but mostly it is just Jackson and his acoustic guitar…, and he does know how to make it talk. Jackson had continued to get better and better as all those years rolled by. Most of the songs are the singer-songwriter stuff that I am partial too…, Buffett, Browne, Cougar, Crouse, Sam Neely, Tom Russell. Evidently Jackson wasn’t nearly as competent as a technician as he was as a musician. The recording level is a bit too low and you can hardly make out one cut at all. But the material…, some of it…, is awesome. I hadn’t really heard Jackson on an acoustic guitar much…, but there is plenty of that on this tape. I couldn’t help but shake my head in wonder as a chill ran up my spine when I heard, “Wannabe Cowboy”. Sittin’ in that old saddle I was thinking…, oh man…, why…, hadn’t I taken the time to listen to that tape before…, when I could have told Jackson how great it was? I have often said that I may not be proud of some of the things I have done in my life…, but I don't regret doing them. What I regret…, are the things I didn't do. And until my dying day I will regret not listening to that tape and telling Jackson how great it is. But I will tell him some day. Whatever road he has taken, or trail he has blazed on ahead…, I’ll track him down. If I have to be good to get there…, I’ll be a damn saint. If I have to raise a little hell to get there…, I’ll raise holy hell. Whatever it takes…, oh man…, yeah. And I was thinking that when I get there we’ll have the time to take another long ride of one kind or another…, whether it is in that old Camero, or the old Land Cruiser, or in a couple of old George Lawrence saddles…, and we'll have time to talk again. And I'll apologize…, and he'll laugh it off…, I hope. Then I heard this cut from the tape…, my jaw just dropped…, and some other things started to fall. Oh man…, oh man. As another Jackson once said, “Here come those tears again…”