Released and recorded in 1963, “Jackson” was conceived by Billy Edd Wheeler and Jerry Leiber. It was first recorded by Wheeler but remained unpopular until 1967. In that year, the song was released as a pop and a country hit. Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood released it as a pop single reaching no.14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 39 on Easy Listening.
On the other hand, country music couple Johnny Cash and June Carter released a country version of it. Their recording clinched no. 2 on the Billboard Country Singles chart. Interestingly, Cash and Carter’s version has become more appreciated by non-country audiences in recent years.
“Jackson” talks about a married man and woman who realize that the “fire” has already gone out of their relationship. In the song, they express their desire to make a trip to “Jackson” where they each expect to be welcomed as someone far better suited to the city’s lively nightlife than the other is.
After finishing the song in 1963, songwriter Wheeler explained the evolution of the song as well as Leiber’s contribution. He stated:
“‘Jackson’ came to me when I read the script for Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (I was too broke to see the play on Broadway)…When I played it for Jerry [Leiber], he said ‘Your first verses suck,’ or words to that effect. ‘Throw them away and start the song with your last verse, “We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout.”‘ When I protested to Jerry that I couldn’t start the song with the climax, he said, ‘Oh, yes you can.’ So I rewrote the song and thanks to Jerry’s editing and help, it worked.”
Also, he added:
I recorded the song on my first Kapp Records album, with Joan Sommer, an old friend from Berea, Kentucky, singing the woman’s part. Johnny Cash learned the song from that album, A New Bag of Songs, produced by Jerry and Mike.”
However, many fans were quick to express their speculations regarding which Jackson the song is about. However, Wheeler replied that there was no definite Jackson in their mind when they were conceiving the song. He said:
“Actually, I didn’t have a specific Jackson in mind. I just liked the sharp consonant sound, as opposed to soft-sounding words like Nashville.”
Subsequently, many still attribute the song to Jackson, Tennessee. Meanwhile, another source quotes Charlie Daniels recording “Jackson” with the lines,
“I ain’t talking ’bout Jackson, Mississippi. I’m talking ’bout Jackson, Tennessee.”
Finally, one of the popular singers who made it famous, Johnny Cash, was also quoted saying:
“Well, I was gonna take her down to see Carl Perkins in Jackson.”
To note, Carl Perkins hailed from Jackson, Tennessee.
Cash & Carter’s Version
In 1967, Johnny Cash and June Carter collaborated and recorded “Jackson,” which was earlier released by Billy Edd Wheeler. Moreover, their country version was released on February 6, 1967, and was produced by Don Law and Frank Jones for Columbia Records. Also, it is one of the tracks included on the joint album of the couple called Carryin’ on with Johnny Cash and June Carter. And, it is the A-side of the single “Pack Up Your Sorrows.”
Watch the powerful duet of “Jackson” by Johnny Cash and June Carter at the Grand Ole Opry in 1968.
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