WHEN Michael Jackson announced plans for a series of 10 comeback arena concerts in 2009, the This Is It shows sold out in record time.
A further 40 dates were added.
It wasn’t the only comeback in the works, though. According to his older brother Tito Jackson, Michael had planned to reunite with his brothers after finishing This Is It.
The reunion would have marked the first run of shows the group had undertaken since the 1984 Victory Tour, which travelled across the US and Canada – and planned to extend to Europe and Australia – but ended prematurely amid tensions between the brothers.
“We were planning on touring the world with Michael because the world didn’t see the Victory Tour as The Jacksons,” Tito tells Weekender. “We were gonna give them something special, but that obviously never got to happen.”
The Jacksons – Jackie, Jermaine, Tito and Marlon – have since reunited as a group, first embarking on the Unity Tour in 2012 which took them across the US before continuing on to the Middle East, Japan, Europe, Africa, Canada and Australia in 2013 (including a show at Newcastle’s Civic Theatre).
“We never were really apart,” Tito says. “It was just a matter of timing of when we would go out.”
In January, The Jacksons return to Australia headlining the national Summer Series alongside Kool and The Gang, The Pointer Sisters, Village People, Sister Sledge and The Sounds of The Supremes. The tour kicks off at Sydney’s The Domain on January 12.
Tito recalls The Jackson 5’s first visit to Australia in 1973 when they performed in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Sydney.
“I remember we got to visit the outback and meet the Aboriginals, and they gave us didgeridoos,” the 65-year-old guitarist says. “We also went to the zoo and saw the koalas, then we got to go and get opals.”
At that point, The Jackson 5 were already veterans of the music world, even though powerhouse frontman Michael was still a year shy of his 16th birthday.
Life was anything but ordinary for the Jackson brothers, who had grown up in a tiny three-bedroom house in the town of Gary, Indiana, where they lived with their father Joseph, mother Katherine and sisters Rebbie, La Toya and Janet, along with youngest brother Randy.
“It was a very small town and the main thing to do in that town was to work for the US steel mill,” Tito recalls.
“That was the biggest opportunity and, of course, my father probably saw bigger visions for his sons.”
In the eight years before they found national success, they worked tirelessly to become a professional act under the guidance of their father who booked them shows playing at nightclubs in their hometown five nights a week – and sometimes even seven.
“We were determined, oh yeah,” Tito says. “Yes, yes, yes we were and it was all good times, too. We just wanted to become professionally good and the best at what we did.”
They graduated to perform at New York’s legendary Apollo Theatre amateur’s night, which they won. A year later, the group – led by nine-year-old Michael – scored an audition for Berry Gordy, who promptly signed the group to Motown Records to release the debut single I Want You Back which went to No.1 and sold two million copies in six weeks.
The Jackson 5 appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, then released the debut album, Diana Ross Presents The Jackson Five, a week before Christmas in 1969.
From 1970, the band’s stardom snowballed, with The Jackson 5 embarking on its first national tour – including a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden – and a string of No.1s with ABC, The Love You Save and I’ll Be There. They earned their place in the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
The exact moment the Jackson brothers started on their way to become one of the most groundbreaking pop groups in history could perhaps be pinpointed to the day Tito broke a string on his father’s guitar.
The children grew up watching him play, but it was Tito especially who closely studied his father’s work. Whenever Joseph was out of the house, Tito, Jackie and Jermaine would sneak the guitar out of the closet. One day while they were practising, a string broke. Fearing their father’s reaction, they put the guitar back in the closet and hoped he would assume it somehow broke itself.
“Yes, I got busted – I broke the guitar string,” Tito recalls with a laugh.
“I was sneaking his guitar and playing it. Actually, once he found out I was playing his guitar, I was playing guitar just as good as he was at that point [laughs]. He got a little upset because I wasn’t listening, but he ended up giving me that guitar.”
That was in 1960 and by 1973, The Jackson 5 had released seven studio albums, a Christmas record and two live albums. So how did they cope with success and fame at such a young age?
“I guess you could almost say I grew up doing that, so I was groomed to do that at a very young age,” Tito says.
When the band return to Australia next month, fans can expect to hear the The Jackson 5 and The Jacksons’ big hits (I Want You Back, Blame It On The Boogie, Can You Feel It, ABC) as well as a few of Michael’s classics (Wanna Be Startin’ Something, Rock With You).
“They’re always a lot of fun to perform because they bring joy to me just knowing that he recorded them and they were major hits for him,” Tito says.